Five frozen shoulder exercises for quick relief

by | May 2, 2024 | Blogs | 0 comments

Introduction to Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is a condition characterized by stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint. It typically develops gradually, worsens over time, and then resolves, usually within one to three years.

Signs and Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder

The main symptoms of a frozen shoulder are:

  • Limited movement of the shoulder
  • Pain, typically worsening at night.
  • Stiffness in the shoulder joint

Causes of Frozen Shoulder

The exact cause of a frozen shoulder is not fully understood, but it may involve thickening and tightening of the elastic tissue surrounding the shoulder joint. Risk factors include:

  • Age (common in people 40-60 years old)
  • Gender (more common in women)
  • Recent trauma or surgery that immobilizes the shoulder
  • Certain diseases like diabetes and thyroid disorders

Diagnosis of Frozen Shoulder

  1. History: Assess symptoms, onset, previous injuries, and medical conditions.
  2. Physical Exam: Check for swelling, stiffness, and range of motion.
  3. Imaging: X-rays rule out other issues; MRI or ultrasound may confirm diagnosis.
  4. Differential Diagnosis: Exclude similar conditions like rotator cuff tears or arthritis. 

Management of Frozen Shoulder

Medical Treatments

Pain Relief Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or aspirin can help reduce pain and swelling. In more severe cases, stronger pain relief medications may be prescribed by a healthcare provider.

Corticosteroid Injections: These are often used to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. The injections are administered directly into the shoulder joint and can provide temporary but rapid relief.

Hydrodilatation: Also known as distension arthrography, this involves injecting sterile fluid into the shoulder capsule to stretch the tissue and help improve the range of motion.

Physical Therapy

Stretching Exercises: Specific frozen shoulder exercises designed to maintain as much mobility in your shoulder as possible without overextending the joint can be helpful. Regular gentle stretching helps to restore range and ease stiffness.

Strengthening Exercises: Once pain begins to decrease, exercises to help relieve frozen shoulders aimed at strengthening the shoulder muscles are incorporated to support the joint and prevent future injuries.

Manual Therapy: Techniques such as massage, mobilization, and manipulation by a physical therapist can help decrease pain and increase shoulder movement.

Home Care Strategies

Heat and Cold Therapy: Applying heat packs or cold packs to the shoulder can help reduce pain and swelling. Heat is beneficial for relaxing tight muscles and reducing stiffness, whereas cold helps to reduce acute inflammation and pain.

Activity Modification: Avoiding activities that exacerbate the pain or restrict movement further can help manage symptoms. Learning how to modify daily activities to avoid unnecessary strain on the shoulder is also crucial.

Adequate Rest: While keeping the shoulder joint mobile is essential, giving it rest is equally important. Avoid overusing the shoulder when it is inflamed, as this could worsen the pain.

Surgical Options

Capsular Release: If symptoms do not improve with non-surgical methods, arthroscopic capsular release, which involves cutting the tight portions of the joint capsule, may be recommended.

Manipulation Under Anesthesia (MUA): This procedure involves moving the shoulder joint through its range of motion while the patient is under anesthesia, breaking up the adhesions.

Alternative Therapies

Acupuncture: Some patients find relief from symptoms of frozen shoulder through acupuncture, which can help to manage pain and stimulate blood flow.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS): Using a TENS unit can help reduce pain by numbing the nerve endings in the shoulder.

Top 5 Exercises for Quick Relief from Frozen Shoulder

Here are top 5 best frozen shoulder exercises

Pendulum Stretch

  • Stand and lean over slightly, allowing the affected arm to hang down.
  • Swing the arm in a small circle — about a foot in diameter.
  • Perform ten revolutions in each direction once a day.

Towel Stretch

  • Hold one end of a three-foot-long towel behind your back and grab the opposite end with your other hand.
  • Use the good arm to pull the affected arm upward to stretch it.
  • Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds and repeat three times.

Finger Walk

  • Face a wall, standing a few feet away.
  • Reach out and touch the wall at waist level with the fingertips of the affected arm.
  • With your elbow slightly bent, slowly walk your fingers up the wall, spider-like, until you’ve raised your arm as far as you comfortably can.
  • Hold for a few seconds, then slowly lower the arm and repeat ten times.

Cross-Body Reach

  • Sitting or standing, use your good arm to lift your affected arm at the elbow and bring it up and across your body, exerting gentle pressure to stretch the shoulder.
  • Hold the stretch for 15-20 seconds.
  • Do this 10 to 20 times per day.

Armpit Stretch

  • Using your good arm, lift the affected arm onto a shelf about breast-high.
  • Gently bend your knees, opening up the armpit.
  • Deepen your knee, bend slightly, gently stretching the armpit, and then straighten.
  • Repeat ten times.

These frozen shoulder exercises can help relieve the symptoms of a frozen shoulder, but it’s crucial to perform them regularly and with gentle movements to avoid exacerbating the condition. Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimen.

Manipulation For Frozen Shoulder 

Manipulation techniques for frozen shoulder, often referred to as closed manipulation, involve physically moving the shoulder through its range of motion while the patient is under anesthesia. Here’s an overview of the procedure and considerations:

What is Manipulation Under Anesthesia (MUA)?

Manipulation under anesthesia for a frozen shoulder is a technique used by healthcare professionals to improve shoulder mobility and decrease pain. This procedure is typically considered when conservative treatments like physical therapy and medications have not been effective.

Procedure

  1. Anesthesia: The patient is put under general anesthesia to relax the muscles and prevent pain during the procedure.
  2. Movement: The doctor forcefully moves the shoulder to stretch or tear the adhesions (scar tissue) within the joint. It is done without making any incisions.
  3. Ranges of Motion: The shoulder is moved through all possible ranges, including rotation, extension, and lifting movements.
  4. Immediate Care: After manipulation, immediate physical therapy is often initiated to maintain the range of motion achieved during the manipulation.

Benefits

  • Quick Improvement: Many patients experience rapid improvement in movement and reduction in pain.
  • Non-Invasive: The technique does not involve incisions or surgical instruments.

Risks

  • Pain: Post-procedure pain can be significant, although it’s usually temporary.
  • Joint Damage: There is a risk of damaging the joint capsule, ligaments, or the bone itself.
  • Anesthesia Risks: General anesthesia always carries its risks.

Aftercare

Post-manipulation care is crucial and typically involves:

  • Physical Therapy: Immediate and ongoing physical therapy is essential to prevent the shoulder from becoming stiff again.
  • Medications: Pain management might include medications to help manage pain and inflammation post-procedure.
  • Home Exercises: Continued home exercises are recommended to maintain the shoulder’s range of motion.

Conclusion 

Consistency and proper technique are crucial to maximizing the benefits of these five frozen shoulder exercises. Incorporating them into your daily routine, along with any other prescribed treatments, can help alleviate pain, improve flexibility, and promote faster recovery from a frozen shoulder. Remember to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimen, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or concerns. With dedication and persistence, you can work towards regaining full mobility and function in your shoulder.

Phil Austin:

Osteopath Sydney

I’ve worked as an osteopath for over 25 years and have worked in the UK, New Zealand, Sweden and currently Australia. Through working as a researcher, I’ve developed a patient-centered approach that considers, physical, psychological, social and spiritual factors, all of which affect how people think and react to painful situations.

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