Frozen shoulder, also called adhesive capsulitis, is a painful condition in which the movement of the shoulder becomes limited. Signs and symptoms typically begin gradually, worsen over time and then resolve, usually within one to three years.
Treatment for frozen shoulder involves range-of-motion exercises and, sometimes, corticosteroids and numbing medications injected into the joint capsule. Physical therapy, with a focus on shoulder flexibility, is the primary treatment recommendation for frozen shoulder.
When a muscle stretches, its fibers and the surrounding fascia, or bands of connective tissue, extend to full length. This improves the ability of the muscle and fascia to extend during activity.
Shoulder stretches have numerous potential health benefits. Stretching can:
- reduce tension
- relieve pain
- increase mobility
- reduce the risk of muscle and joint injury
- improve posture
Research suggests that stretching alone is as effective as stretching alongside strength training for people looking to reduce chronic neck pain. Shoulder tension can cause this pain.
A 4-week regular stretching program with following five stretches could reduce shoulder pain and ease the shoulder stiffness which can improve neck function and the quality of life. Improving your flexibility can reduce pain. Stretching exercises also can help increase your range of pain-free motion. Breathe normally when you exercise. Use smooth, fluid movements.
Note: Follow any special instructions you are given. If you feel pain, stop the exercise. If the pain continues after stopping, call your healthcare provider.
1. Cross body arm stretch
Movement done: Adduction
This exercise helps increase flexibility and range of motion in your shoulder joint and the surrounding muscles. When doing this exercise, lower your arm if you feel any pain in your shoulder.
- Bring your right arm across your chest.
- Place it in the crease of your left elbow or use your left hand to support your arm.
- Hold this position for up to 1 minute.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
- Do each side 3–5 times.
2. Shoulder circles/pendulum stretch
Movement done: Circumduction
This exercise is good for warming up your shoulder joints and increasing flexibility. The pendulum stretch is a gentle way to increase movement in the shoulder using the force of gravity. To do this stretch:
- Stand with the feet hip-width apart.
- Lean forward and look at the ground.
- Place the right hand on a table or chair for support.
- Let the left arm hang down.
- Swing the left arm gently in small circular motions, letting gravity do most of the work.
- Continue for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- Change the direction of the motion.
- Repeat this, using the other arm.
3. Towel stretches
Movement done: Internal rotation
Your shoulder’s internal rotators are part of the group of muscles often used in overhead sports activities, such as a tennis serve or an overhead throw. To stretch these muscles:
- Hold one end of a three-foot-long rolled up towel behind your back and grab the opposite end with your other hand.
- Hold the towel in a vertical position.
- Gently pull the towel toward the ceiling with your top hand.
- You’ll feel a stretch in the shoulder of your opposite arm as your lower hand is gently pulled farther up your back.
- Hold the bottom of the towel with the affected arm and pull it toward the lower back with the unaffected arm.
- Do these 10 to 20 times a day.
4. Finger walk
Movement done: Forward Flexion
- Stand facing a wall, about 6 to 8 inches away.
- Using the hand of the affected arm, touch the wall just above waist level with the index and middle fingers. The elbow should be bent, making a “v” with the arm.
- “Walk” the fingers up the wall, until the arm is raised as high as it can comfortably reach.
- The healthy arm may need to help lower the affected one back to the starting position.
5. Standing/Lying outward stretch
Movement done: External rotation
- Hold a cane, broomstick, or piece of PVC pipe with both hands and your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle. Your thumbs should be pointed up.
- Keep the bent affected arm close to your side.
- Move your “good” arm and the stick toward your affected arm until you feel a stretch.
- Hold the stretch for 5 seconds.
- Repeat 10 times. As you get stronger, work up to 20 to 25 repetitions.
6. Seated table stretch
Movement done: Abduction
Abduction means moving your arm away from the midline of your body.
- Sit next to a table, resting your affected forearm and elbow on the surface.
- Slowly slide your forearm away from your body and stop when you feel pain.
- Your body will tilt as you move, but don’t lean on the table.
- Repeat two to three times a day.
7. Supine shoulder stretch
Movement done: Forward flexion (gravity assisted)
- This exercise uses the patient’s healthy arm for assistance.
- Lay on a flat surface, such as a physical therapy table. The legs are straight, so the body makes a line.
- Relax the arms at the sides of the body.
- Lift the injured arm vertically in the air and backward to the floor with the help of the healthy arm. The healthy arm holds the elbow of the injured arm to help guide the overhead movement.
- Keep reaching until a stretch is felt.