Exercises for a Frozen Shoulder

By Contributing Writer

Frozen shoulder is a common term for a very stiff shoulder joint that has lost a vast amount of its normal range of motion. People affected by frozen shoulder have difficulty performing their tasks of daily living, because reaching can be extremely limited. Exercises aimed at restoring range of motion help people heal from a frozen shoulder. As with any medical condition, always consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise or treatment programs.

Pendulum exercises

Pendulum exercises are the first exercises usually recommended for cases of frozen shoulder. These simple range of motion exercises help maintain some joint mobility, stretch the space where the muscle tendons pass through the shoulder, and may help lubricate the joint capsule. Start by sitting or standing, with the affected arm dangling straight down by your side. Then, slowly swing your arm side to side, front to back, and in circles, in very small (typically less than a foot), pain-free motions. After completing these exercises successfully for a week, perform the same exercises while holding a one pound weight. Weights can gradually be added, one pound per week max, up to about 10 pounds max.

Passive Stretching Exercises

Passive stretching exercises come after pendulum exercises. These exercises should help restore range of motion. Passive stretching exercises mean that an outside source will be used to actually stretch the affected shoulder, so that the muscles in that shoulder should not be activated during the stretching process at all. Overhead flexion stretches are performed while laying on your back on a table. The good arm grasps the affected arm just above the elbow, and slowly lifts the arm to the point of slight discomfort or stretch. All stretches should be held at least 10 to 20 seconds, and performed 6 to 10 times. Behind-the-back towel stretches help with rotation. With both elbows at a 45 degree angle, roll up a towel lengthwise and hold onto it with both hands. Then, use your good arm to slowly pull your affected arm toward your lower back. Also while laying on your back, use your good arm to pull your affected arm across your body.

Strengthening Exercises

Once the shoulder has improved range of motion, light strengthening exercises should be performed within that range of motion. External and internal rotation exercises can be performed using exercise bands. Close one end of the band in a door, and hold the other end in your hand. Your elbow should be at a 90 degree angle. For external rotation, stand with your opposite side facing the door, and pull your hand across your body out to the side. For internal rotation, stand with your affected shoulder facing the door. Still with a 90 degree angle, pull your arm from your side across your body. For abduction exercises, hold the band in both hands, then bring your hands up and out, until your arms are almost fully extended and your hands are at shoulder level (or as high as possible in pain-free range). Always keep a slight bend in your elbow when performing this exercise. Flexion exercises should be performed with extreme caution and only under the advisement of your physical therapist, due to the potential to irritate tendons and nerves in your shoulder.

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