Dr. Murtuza Rangwala

7 Stretching & Strengthening Exercises For A Frozen Shoulder

physio therapy

What is a frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) is a condition in which the shoulder is stiff, painful, and has limited motion in all directions.

Symptoms of a Frozen Shoulder

People with frozen shoulder experience symptoms such as:

  • Pain with movement of the shoulder 
  • Limited ability to move the shoulder
  • Stiffening of the shoulder 
  • Worsening pain at night
  • Disrupted sleep

What Can Cause a Frozen shoulder?

Keeping a shoulder still for an extended period, usually after surgery or breaking an arm, increases the risk of developing a frozen shoulder. 

Risk Factors Of Frozen Shoulder:

Factors that can increase your risk of developing a frozen shoulder include:

  • Age and sex (above 40 and being a woman can increase the risk)
  • Immobility or reduced mobility (Rotator cuff injury, Broken arm, Stroke, Recovery from surgery)
  • Systemic diseases (Diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, thyroid diseases, heart diseases)

Treatment Options For A Frozen Shoulder

Physiotherapy exercises are the cornerstone of treatment for frozen shoulder. A wide range of motion exercises helps treat frozen shoulder

In some cases, treatment involves medications such as corticosteroids and numbing medicines injected into the shoulder joint. Rarely arthroscopic surgery is needed to loosen the joint capsule so it can move more freely.

7 Stretching & Strengthening Exercises for A Frozen Shoulder

1. Pendulum stretch

Step-1 Relax your shoulders

Step-2 Stand and lean over slightly, allowing the affected arm to hang down

Step-3 Swing the arm in a small circle about a foot in diameter.

Step-4 Perform 10 revolutions in each direction, once a day.

Note: As your symptoms improve, slowly increase the diameter of your swing. You can also increase the stretch by holding a light weight in the swinging arm if your symptoms get better.

2. Towel stretch

Step-1 Hold one end of a 3-foot-long towel behind your back and grab the opposite end with your other hand, as shown in the figure.

Step-2 Use your unaffected arm to pull the affected arm upward to stretch it. 

Step-3 Hold for 30 seconds

Step-4 Hold the bottom of the towel with the affected arm and pull it toward the lower back with the unaffected arm.

Step-5 Repeat these 10 to 20 times a day. 

Note: An advanced version of this exercise includes the towel draped over your unaffected shoulder.

3. Finger walk

Step-1 Face the wall three-quarters of an arm’s length away. 

Step-2 Reach out and touch the wall at waist level with the fingertips of the affected arm. 

Step-3 With the elbow slightly bent, slowly walk the fingers up the wall as shown in the figure until you’ve raised your arm as far as you can. 

Step-4 Slowly lower the arm and repeat. 

Step-5 Perform this exercise 10 to 20 times a day.  

Note: Your fingers should be doing the work, not your shoulder muscles.

4. Cross-body Reach

Step-1 Use your unaffected arm to lift your affected arm at the elbow

Step-2 Bring it up and across your body, exerting gentle pressure to stretch the shoulder

Step-3 Hold the stretch for 15 to 20 seconds.

Step-4 Do these 10 to 20 times per day.

Note: You can sit or sit while performing this exercise

5. Armpit Stretch

Step-1 Using your unaffected arm, lift the affected arm onto a shelf about breast-high.

Step-2 Gently bend your knees, opening the armpit.

Step-3 Deepen your knee bend slightly, gently stretching the armpit, and then straighten.

Step-4 With each knee bend, stretch a little further, but don’t force it.

Step-5 Do these 10 to 20 times each day.

Strengthening Exercises for Frozen Shoulder

As the range of motion improves, you can start with rotator cuff–strengthening exercises. Be sure to warm up your affected shoulder and do your stretching exercises before you perform strengthening exercises.

6. Outward rotation

Step-1 Hold a rubber exercise band between your hands with your elbows at a 90-degree angle, as shown in the figure, close to your sides.

Step-2 Rotate the lower part of the affected arm outward two or three inches and hold for 5 seconds.

Step-3 Repeat 10 to 15 times, once a day.

7. Inward rotation

Step-1 Stand next to a closed door and hook one end of a rubber exercise band around the doorknob.

Step-2 Hold the other end with the hand of the affected arm, holding your elbow at a 90-degree angle, as shown in the figure. 

Step-3 Pull the band toward your body two or three inches and hold for five seconds

Step-4 Repeat 10 to 15 times, once a day

Physiotherapy exercises are the cornerstone of treatment for frozen shoulder. Talk to your doctor to know more about the exercises