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How to release a frozen shoulder: 5 stretches to use

May 27, 2024

How to release a frozen shoulder: 5 stretches to use

As we’re moving ahead, many people are making it their goal to get healthy again. Half of adults experiencing pain list pain relief as their top priority. Most patients with this condition experience shoulder pain that a frozen shoulder can cause.

Frozen shoulder (also called adhesive capsulitis) is a common condition that causes pain, stiffness, and loss of normal shoulder movement. It results in the inability to free movement, and if left untreated, it will worsen over time. The most common way to feel better is through physical therapy. Some suggest rest, while others believe that exercise can bring relief in such cases. 

Understanding Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) is a common condition where shoulder movement becomes increasingly difficult and pain increases. It is associated with inflammation of the joint (synovial) capsule and capsular contracture (thickening and hardening of scar tissue). 

Patients typically complain of difficulty sleeping on the affected shoulder and less difficulty raising the arms overhead or dressing (for example, putting on a shirt or holding a bra strap). 

Frozen shoulder is most common in people in their 60s, with a peak age of 50 to 60 years, and is slightly more common in women than men. Shoulder stiffness usually occurs after trauma, such as fractures, dislocations, or soft tissue injuries. Non-traumatic accidents, like osteoarthritis, rotator cuff tendinopathy, and calcific tendinitis, can also lead to frozen shoulder symptoms. Besides, it is often associated with conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disease, and heart and lung disease. 

Who Can Get Frozen Shoulders? 

The following factors increase the risk of frozen shoulder or shoulder stiffness:

  • Absence of exercise therapy after tendinitis or injury
  • Sometimes, it is possible to wear a sling for more than a few days without stretching
  • Rotator cuff disorder (stiffness of the shoulder occurs in about 10% of people with this condition)
  • Forced immobilization due to stroke, heart disease or surgery
  • Other conditions, such as thyroid disease or Parkinson's disease

Top Five Exercises for Frozen Shoulders

Always warm up your shoulders before exercising. The best way is to take a warm shower or bath for 10 to 15 minutes or perform some mild exercise sizes like shoulder rotation for warming up. When performing the following exercises, stretch to the point of tension, not pain. Let's learn the top five exercises for a frozen shoulder

Pendulum Stretch 

  1. Keep your shoulders relaxed. 
  2. Sit and bend slightly forward so that the affected arm hangs down. 
  3. Roll your hands in a small circle about 1 foot in diameter. 
  4. Rotate 10 times in each direction once a day. 
  5. As symptoms improve, increase the diameter of the bend, but do not bend excessively. 
  6. When you're ready, increase the intensity of the stretch by holding a lightweight (3 to 5 pounds) on the swing arm.

Towel Stretch 

  1. Grab a 3-foot towel with both hands and hold it horizontally. 
  2. Use your good hand to pull the affected arm up and straight. 
  3. You can also perform an advanced version of this exercise using a good shoulder wrap. 
  4. Grasp the bottom of the towel with your affected hand and pull it toward your lower back with your non-affected hand. 
  5. Perform this stretch 10 to 20 times a day.

Finger Walk

  1. Look at the wall three-quarters of your arm's length away. 
  2. Reach out with the fingertips of the affected hand and touch the wall at hip level. 
  3. Bend your elbows slightly and raise your arms to shoulder height or as high as is comfortable. Slowly raise your fingers on the wall like a spider. 
  4. The fingers should be doing the work, not the shoulder muscles. 
  5. Slowly lower your arm (use your better arm if necessary) and repeat. 
  6. Do this exercise 10 to 20 times a day.

Cross-Body Stretch 

  1. Sit or stand and then raise the elbow of the affected arm, using your good hand to lift the arm above the body and apply gentle pressure to straighten the shoulder. 
  2. Hold the stretch for 15 to 20 seconds. 
  3. Perform this stretch 10 to 20 times a day.

Armpit Stretch 

  1. Using your good hand, raise the affected arm of the board to about chest height. 
  2. Bend your knees slightly and open your armpits. 
  3. Bend your knees slightly and straighten your armpits slightly. 
  4. Extend slightly each time you bend your knees, but don't overdo it. 
  5. Perform this stretch 10 to 20 times a day.

Possible Treatments for Frozen Shoulders 

Adequate treatment is necessary to ensure the normal recovery of patients and to reduce the burden of daily life. Conservative treatments include oral medications, physical therapy, exercise, steroid injections, and hydroxylation, all with positive results. 

Now, the treatment depends on the stage and severity of the frozen shoulder. The pain is especially noticeable during periods of frost. Therefore, steroid injections and anti-inflammatory pain relievers can help relieve symptoms. Applying heat to the shoulder can also relieve pain. 

During the freezing phase, treatments aimed at improving the range of motion, including mobilization techniques, exercise regimens, and education, are helpful. Besides, it is recommended to incorporate additional functional movements and regain strength through physical therapy.

Other Treatments for Frozen Shoulders

If the medications and exercises do not work to improve the condition, then surgical procedures are the last option to treat a frozen shoulder. The surgery usually involves manipulation under anesthesia for arthroscopic capsular release. 

  • Anesthetic manipulation involves your doctor moving and rotating your arm forcefully to mobilize the scar tissue while you are under general anesthesia. 
  • However, if the scar tissue is too thick, an electric knife may be used to cut away both the capsule and the scar in a procedure called capsular release.
  • In most cases, frozen shoulders can last up to a year, and in some cases, they can last for two years or more. 
  • It is important to visit our clinic early to begin the proper training and rehabilitation process. 
  • It's also a good idea to talk to your doctor about recovery options using conservative treatment methods and the risks associated with surgery.

Wrapping up,

The road to recovery from a frozen shoulder can be a long process, and people can experience frustration when dealing with limited mobility. However, performing a gradual, progressive stretching routine to expand contracted shoulder capsules can alleviate most persistent cases of frozen shoulder. That's why the top five exercises for frozen shoulders can help to get more control over their shoulder movements and enhance their mobility over time.

Apollo Spectra experts can help you provide relief from a frozen shoulder when the exercises do not seem to work. Our experienced orthopedic surgeons offer personalized treatment to relieve stiffness, restore mobility, and bring comfort back into your life. Schedule a consultation today for an advanced treatment tailored to your needs. 


How long does it take to get rid of frozen shoulders?

Usually, if you take your time and consistently follow the prescribed treatment schedule, frozen shoulders will disappear almost completely. This process can take 6 to 9 months in some patients but only a few months in others.

How do you sleep with a frozen shoulder?

One of the best sleeping positions for a frozen shoulder is to sleep on your pain-free side with pillow support. If you don't have a body pillow, you can use a regular bed pillow or a small pillow to support your body when sleeping on your side.

Does a frozen shoulder happen overnight?

The clinical name for frozen shoulder is adhesive capsulitis, and this condition can develop overnight. The sheath (capsule) covering the shoulder becomes inflamed and hard, causing pain during certain arm movements. Eventually, the shoulder becomes "stiff" or immobile for several months to a year or more.

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