By: Coco Ang, PT
Frozen shoulder—medically known as adhesive capsulitis—is a musculoskeletal condition marked by pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint. Symptoms of the condition gradually increase and worsen over the course of time and resolve with the help of treatment within 1–3 years. The condition is more common in women than in men, especially those over 40 years of age. In addition, the risk of developing it increases if a person has recently suffered an injury towards the shoulder is improperly managed.
Symptoms and Treatment
Some of the key symptoms of the condition include stiffness in the shoulder, severe pain that increases at night and restriction of movement. The treatment for frozen shoulder may include range-of-motion exercises and in more severe cases, the administration of injections. However, most cases of the condition can be managed by physiotherapy, manual therapy and an exercise program, most of which the patient can practice at home, as per the recommendation of their doctor or therapist.
Here are a few range-of-motion exercises that are recommended for frozen shoulder. It’s recommended that before starting these exercises, you begin by taking a 10–15 minute long shower to warm up your shoulders. Alternatively, a moist heating pad or a damp towel may also be used. During these exercises, the stretch should be brought to the point of tension but not to the point of pain.
The Pendulum Stretch
Begin by relaxing your shoulder and standing, leaning over slightly at the edge of a desk or table. The position should allow your arm to hang down. Then, swing the affected arm in a circle, not more than a foot in diameter. Repeat this up to 10 times, clockwise and counter-clockwise. As your symptoms improve, you may increase the diameter of the swing but make sure to never force it.
The Towel Stretch
Take a 3-foot long towel and hold it behind your back in a horizontal position using both hands. Use the unaffected arm to pull the affected arm upward in a stretch. An advanced version of this exercise may be practiced as your symptoms improve; this constitutes draping the towel over the unaffected shoulder and holding the other end of the towel with your affected arm, behind your back. Gently pull the affected arm toward the lower back.
Repeat this exercise for up to 10–20 reps per day, making sure not to force or exert yourself during the stretch.
The Finger Walk
This is another simple exercise that you can try out at home. Begin by facing a wall at a distance of three-quarters of your arm length. Use your affected arm to reach out to the wall at waist length, keeping your elbow slightly bent. Using your finger muscles (and not your shoulder muscles), gradually walk your fingers up the wall to a comfortable height. Then, repeat the motion downward. Use the unaffected arm for help if necessary and repeat this exercise for 10–20 reps a day.
In addition to these exercises, you may also benefit from physiotherapeutic intervention in which a trained physiotherapist will manually mobilize, stretch and manipulate the joint capsule around your shoulder to help decrease the stiffness. To get in touch with a reliable physiotherapist in the greater Toronto area, be sure to reach out to us at SEMI.
Sports & Exercise Medicine Institute clinics are greater Toronto area based sports medicine, physiotherapy and massage therapy clinics that offer a myriad of services such as PRP injections, pelvic health programs, sports podiatry and acupuncture, among others.