Frozen shoulder can cause pain, stiffness and an inability to move the shoulder freely. Symptoms usually begin slowly and get worse over time. Getting physical therapy and doing special frozen shoulder exercises at home is the best way to find relief. The earlier you start, the better your recovery will be.
Pain relievers, anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, and/or corticosteroid injections can help ease pain and reduce inflammation. Physical therapy can help improve range of motion by loosening tight muscles and increasing joint motion. Surgery should be considered only as a last resort.
To get the most out of your physical therapy appointment, Jaclyn Smulofsky, a physical therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery, suggests writing down the things that make your shoulder feel worse, as well what makes it feel better. “That’s good information for the therapist – if we know what is painful, we know what exercises we can and can’t do right away,” she says.
At your first appointment, the therapist will assess your range of motion by comparing the movement of your two arms. They’ll also evaluate your arm and shoulder strength and do some gentle stretching to loosen up the shoulder, depending on how severe the stiffness is. The first appointment will probably be about an hour; later sessions will last anywhere from a half hour to 45 minutes, depending on the doctor’s request and where you get your PT. “I usually recommend at least one to two visits a week, and would expect to see some degree of relief within the first six to eight weeks,” says Smulofsky.
To get some relief at home, there are a number of stretches you can try. Start out doing each stretch 10 times, holding for about 10 to 15 seconds at a time. Once you can handle 10 times, work your way up to 20. You can do these every day (at a minimum, do them five days per week) and up to twice a day.
The stretches may feel uncomfortable, even a little painful, at first. “I usually tell patients to do them right after a shower or bath, when their muscles are warmed up and a little looser, which can help you get deeper into the stretch less painfully,” says Smulofsky.
In cases where physical therapy does not provide adequate relief, two surgical options are available: manipulation under anesthesia (which involves no incisions) or a minimally invasive procedure called arthroscopic capsular release.