Shoulder pain from a frozen shoulder can make it difficult to move, but a frozen shoulder will typically only worsen if you stop using it. This is when a frozen shoulder massage or stretches can be beneficial. While it may be difficult, especially at first, keep moving in order to keep your shoulder from completely freezing. Always check with your doctor first, but once you get the okay, here are some massages and stretches you may be able to do.
Do I have frozen shoulder syndrome?
Frozen shoulder syndrome (adhesive capsulitis) is a condition that occurs when the range of motion in your shoulder joint is so limited that it feels almost as if the shoulder is frozen in place. At the extreme end of this condition, patients are unable to move their shoulder at all. There may be intense shoulder pain as a result, and daily activities may be impossible to complete.
The cause of this type of pain is usually trauma, repetitive motions, or disuse. If a person stops using their shoulder due to pain or injury, it will naturally become stiff. Chronic health conditions such as diabetes or stroke may also cause someone to stop using their shoulder. Scar tissue can begin to develop in the shoulder capsule, effectively “freezing” it in place. The shoulder capsule then becomes inflamed and extremely painful to move.
If you believe you have a frozen shoulder, your doctor will do a thorough medical exam. This may include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or ultrasound. You will also need to provide a detailed medical history that focuses on previous injuries or family history of medical conditions that put you at a higher risk for developing frozen shoulder syndrome.
While anyone can develop frozen shoulder syndrome, it occurs most often in people between the ages of 40 and 70. Other risk factors of frozen shoulder syndrome include:
- Gender: Women are more likely than men to have frozen shoulder syndrome.
- Injury or immobility: Rotator cuff injuries, broken arms, stroke, or recovery after surgery on the arm, hand, or shoulder itself can all result in prolonged disuse. This can lead to frozen shoulder syndrome.
- Disease: Doctors are not sure why certain diseases put patients at risk. These diseases include diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, and tuberculosis. Diabetes in particular increases your risk. Ten to 20% of diabetes patients will develop this condition at some point.
Stages of frozen shoulder syndrome
There are three stages to frozen shoulder syndrome, each of which has its own symptoms.
Stage 1: Freezing
As this stage begins, patients may experience increasing pain in their shoulder accompanied by decreasing range of motion.
In response to the increased pain, patients may stop moving their shoulder, which only exacerbates the condition. This stage can last anywhere from six weeks to nine months.
Stage 2: Frozen
During this stage, patients may not experience much pain, but movement may become impossible.
Range of motion is greatly diminished or disappears completely, even to lift the arm up a few inches. Daily life becomes challenging during this stage.
Stage 3: Thawing
This recovery period of frozen shoulder syndrome can last anywhere from six months to two years, depending on the severity and amount of scar tissue built up.
Shoulder range of motion gradually returns to normal. Pain decreases substantially or is eliminated entirely once inflammation is under control.
How frozen shoulder massage or stretches can help
Massage therapy and routine stretches can significantly improve your pain associated with frozen shoulder syndrome.
By increasing blood flow to the area, your muscles can relax and inflammation will improve. This can reduce swelling and tenderness, not just in the shoulder, but also in the surrounding area. The decrease in pain typically leads to increased range of motion.
How to perform a frozen shoulder massage yourself
While massages are beneficial for frozen shoulder, it may not be possible to get them from a professional on a regular basis. Professional massages can be expensive and time consuming, making it difficult to maintain. For this reason, many people learn how to perform a frozen shoulder massage at home.
Note: Make sure to check with your doctor before adding any of these massages to your routine.
To start, one of the best ways to perform a shoulder massage is by using a foam roller. Place it underneath the armpit of your affected arm and lean on a counter or table. Extend your arm out as if you’re reaching for something and gently roll back and forth to loosen the muscles in your shoulder. You can also use this tool to gently massage your shoulder by placing it in between your shoulder and neck. See an example of this in the following video.
If you prefer not to use a foam roller, an effective method of massage for frozen shoulder involves massaging the arm and shoulder with your good hand. While you massage the shoulder muscles, slowly move your arm through a wide range of motion to gently stretch the muscles in your shoulder, as well as the surrounding area.
Some patients also find relief by using various electronic massage tools. They come in different shapes and sizes and usually operate with pulsating or vibrating movements. This can put pressure on trigger points in your shoulder, easing tension and improving circulation in the area. If you have limited range of motion because of the pain you’re experiencing, this can be a helpful option.
10 frozen shoulder stretch routines
As with any physical routine, talk to your doctor before taking up a new regimen. While it’s good to push yourself to recover, it’s important to avoid further injury.
Try the following frozen shoulder stretches at home once approved. Repeat each ten to 20 times per day, according to your own pace and pain level.
1. Pendulum stretch
For those with extreme pain, the pendulum stretch is a way to naturally relieve the day-to-day strain on your shoulder muscle.
Allow your affected arm to hang down and gently move in a circular motion. As you make progress in your recovery, feel free to gradually widen the circle or add a small dumbbell to your routine. It helps to put one hand on a table or hard surface while leaning over.
2. Fingertip walk
Start by facing a wall, standing about three-quarters of an arm’s length away. Starting at waist level, slowly walk your fingers up the wall until you’ve gone as high as your pain level will allow.
Your elbows should be slightly bent and your fingertips should be doing the work (not your shoulder).
3. Towel stretch
Hold each end of a hand towel behind your back in a horizontal position. Use your good arm to pull the affected arm upward, giving it a lengthening stretch.
If you feel like you need a deeper stretch, drape the towel over your good shoulder and use your affected arm to gently pull the towel down towards your lower back.
4. Chest opener
Stand with your affected shoulder near a wall, about one foot away. Place your hand against the wall at about chest level. Keeping the palm of your hand flat against the wall, slowly turn away from the wall as far as you can. When you reach that point, pause and take a deep breath before turning back towards the wall.
The following video shows how to do this and the previous two stretches.
5. Cross-body stretch
This particular stretch can be done sitting or standing. Simply take your affected arm and reach across the front of your body.
Use your unaffected hand to gently lift your arm at the elbow exerting gentle pressure.
6. Armpit stretch
Find a shelf or counter that is about chest-high. Lay both arms on the surface with your palms facing down. Slowly bend your knees to stretch the armpit area.
Try to increase your bend a little more each time.
7. Overhead stretch
First, lay flat on your back with your arms by your side. While taking a deep breath in, slowly lift your arms up over your head as far as you can.
Take a breath and slowly lower your arms back down. Gradually increase your stretch by reaching farther each time.
8. Outward rotation
Hold a rubber exercise band between your hands. Keep your elbows at a 90-degree angle and close to your sides. Gently rotate the lower part of your affected arm outward and hold it for five seconds.
Aim to rotate your arm about two to three inches.
9. Inward rotation
Using the same rubber exercise band, stand next to a closed door and put one end of the band around the door knob. Hold the other end of the band with the hand of your affected arm and gently pull the band toward your body about two to three inches.
Again, your arm should be at a 90-degree angle. Aim to hold this position for five seconds.
10. Puppy pose
If you’ve ever done yoga, puppy pose will be familiar to you. It’s really a cross between child’s pose and downward-facing dog.
Start on all fours with your shoulders above your wrists and your hips above your knees. Breathe while slowly walking your hands forward, keeping your hips above your knees. When you reach as far as you can go, release your chest or your chin to the ground. Hold for 30 seconds to one minute in order to let your spine and arms lengthen.
Other frozen shoulder treatments
If you’re interested in adding to your daily routine of exercises and self-massage, there are other non-invasive treatment options you can try. The following activities may help relieve pain associated with frozen shoulder:
- Yoga: Gentle exercise can increase your range of motion and help loosen scar tissue. Yoga is a great way to stretch, whether at home or in a group class. Be sure to modify when necessary to avoid further injury.
- Swimming: Water-based exercise or therapy is another beneficial activity if you are experiencing limited range of motion due to pain. Swimming and even gentle water aerobics are non-weight-bearing activities that can take pressure off your shoulder.
- Physical therapy: A physical therapist can help design an exercise plan to open up the shoulder joint. Exercises may be similar to the ones discussed here, but done in a controlled manner. A therapist is especially useful when you’re suffering from severe or chronic shoulder pain.
- Chiropractic care: Chiropractors use alignment techniques to ease the symptoms associated with frozen shoulder syndrome. In many cases, chiropractic care is a great way to prevent frozen shoulder before it happens, if you believe you may be at risk.
If you have a severe case of frozen shoulder, talk to your doctor about steroid injections. This type of injection can reduce inflammation and pain so that you can begin to exercise or undergo physical therapy to break up scar tissue.
When all other options have been unsuccessful, your doctor may recommend surgery. There are two main surgeries associated with frozen shoulder syndrome. Manipulation is when a doctor places you under anesthesia so that they can physically move the arm in the socket to break up scar tissue. Arthroscopic capsular release involves cutting through tight tendons and tissues to release what’s holding your shoulder.
Surgery is a last resort. The vast majority of patients will find relief using massages, stretches, or other complementary therapies.
If your shoulder pain persists day and night, interrupting your everyday activities, it’s probably time to talk to a doctor. If you’re in the Arizona area, our doctors at Arizona Pain can help you get on the road to recovery.
Our team consists of highly qualified chiropractors, pain specialists, and more. We strive to help our patients alleviate their pain, as well as provide solutions for future options.
If you’re ready to learn more about treatment options for your frozen shoulder pain, reach out to one of our pain specialists today.