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What’s the Deal with Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, makes simple activities like lifting up kids above your head, reaching for a mark, and attempting a tennis serve impossible. Simple tasks like getting dressed can also be very tricky. Most often affecting people over 40, frozen shoulder is (for unknown reasons) more common in women than in men.

The condition gets worse if not treated. Self care is key as it improves recovery time.

Frozen Shoulder Causes

Frozen shoulder is due to the connective tissue around your shoulder becoming inflamed and stiff.

A clear infographic from Harvard describes the anatomy:

Frozen shoulder is caused by:

  • impact while playing contact sports, or activities with a risk of falling such as cycling or horse-riding
  • repetitive bad posture over time which can overstretch the shoulder ligament.
  • not receiving exercise therapy after tendinitis or injury.
  • wearing a sling for over 10 days without regular stretching.
  • enforced mobility from surgery.


Approximately 10% of people with rotator cuff issues develop frozen shoulder. (medic8; Harvard).


What Does Frozen Shoulder Feel Like? 

Frozen shoulder literally feels like your shoulder is glued in one position(!) It is very common, and causes stiffness, pain and loss of range of motion in the shoulder.

Symptoms vary and can develop slowly in phases that last up to several months. Phases you may experience include:

  • Freezing and painful phase. Pain gradually worsens and range of motion gradually decreases. Pain can be felt from the shoulder all the way down your arm.
  • Frozen phase. Pain begins to decrease but stiffness remains.
  • Thawing phase. Pain lessens and movement starts to improve.

(My Doctor)


Recovery time can be from 1 to 3 years. Consistent range of movement exercises (and strengthening exercises later on), can help decrease your pain and increase recovery time.


Frozen Shoulder Exercises – Prevention and Treatment

To help prevent the onset of frozen shoulder after undergoing surgery, gentle stretches and range of motion exercises are key during the recovery phase.

Staying conscious of your daily posture is also just generally important!

Similarly, keeping up the self care routine as recommended by your physical therapist is fundamental to recovery. While everyone always recovers from frozen shoulder one way or another, regular exercises (including strengthening exercises towards the end of recovery) speed up the process.

Two common evidence based stretches include:

Pendulum Swing 

  1. From standing, place your unaffected hand on the edge of a table or chair.
  2. Lean forward slightly and place your affected arm alongside your body.
  3. Swing your arm forward and backward.
  4. Then swing it side-to-side.
  5. Swing your arms in circles in both directions.
  6. Do each movement 10 times.

As you progress, do this stretch while holding a light dumbbell.



Cross Body Stretch 

  1. From standing, place the hand of your affected arm on your opposite shoulder.
  2. Use your opposite hand to gently press your affected elbow toward your body.
  3. Hold this position for a few seconds.
  4. Repeat 5 times.



More detailed advice on recovery exercises can be found in these University of Washington, and Harvard articles. 


Frozen Shoulder – Can Massage Help?

Ongoing massage treatment can benefit anybody suffering from frozen shoulder. Therapists work with the clients limitations and aim to reduce inflammation in the affected joint, loosen up surrounding tissue, improve shoulder mobility and flexibility; as well as reducing pain which may be present during movement. 

If you are experiencing symptoms of frozen shoulder, first visit your GP to assess the underlying causes, then on the advice of your GP visit your physical therapist for targeted relief, and an ongoing treatment plan (including home exercises between appointments). 

A single appointment will most likely provide immediate relief but there is no magic bullet for chronic aches and pains. Long term improvements will happen only with ongoing therapy and an active treatment plan.

Book an appointment with an experienced therapist today on 03 8598 9804 or online