physiotherapy for frozen shoulder

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition that causes pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint, significantly impacting daily activities and overall quality of life. Understanding what frozen shoulder is, its symptoms, causes, and how physiotherapy can help manage frozen shoulder symptoms is crucial for effective treatment. 

Understanding Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition characterized by pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint. It occurs when the shoulder capsule, which is the connective tissue surrounding the shoulder joint, thickens and tightens, thereby restricting movement and causing significant discomfort.

The symptoms of frozen shoulder can be quite debilitating. Initially, the pain experienced may be dull or aching, often becoming more pronounced at night, making it difficult to get restful sleep. As the condition progresses, stiffness in the shoulder increases, significantly limiting the range of motion. This stiffness makes it challenging to perform everyday tasks such as reaching overhead, behind the back, or to the side. The combination of pain and restricted movement can severely impact daily activities and quality of life.

Several factors can contribute to the development of frozen shoulder. One of the most common causes is injury or surgery that limits shoulder movement. When the shoulder remains immobile for extended periods, the risk of developing frozen shoulder increases. Systemic conditions such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, and cardiovascular disease also elevate the risk. These conditions can influence the body’s inflammatory response and healing processes, making individuals more susceptible to frozen shoulder.

Understanding the symptoms and causes of frozen shoulder is crucial for early detection and effective management. Recognizing the signs early on and seeking appropriate treatment can help mitigate the severity of the condition and improve the overall prognosis.

How Physiotherapy Helps Treat Frozen Shoulder

Physiotherapy plays a crucial role in treating frozen shoulder by addressing the underlying causes, reducing pain, and improving overall function. Here’s how physiotherapy can help:

  • Comprehensive Assessment: Physiotherapists conduct a thorough assessment to identify the underlying causes and determine the best treatment plan. This includes reviewing your medical history, performing physical examinations, and evaluating shoulder mobility.
  • Pain Relief: Physiotherapists use modalities such as therapeutic Ultrasound, LASER, acupuncture, and shockwave therapy to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation in the shoulder joint.
  • Manual Therapy: Techniques such as joint mobilizations help improve shoulder joint mobility, reduce muscle tension, and enhance blood flow to the affected area. This can significantly reduce pain and improve the range of motion.
  • Exercise Prescription: Tailored exercise programs are designed to improve flexibility, strengthen the muscles around the shoulder, and enhance overall stability. These exercises help restore movement in the shoulder joint and prevent further stiffness.
  • Postural Education: Physiotherapists provide guidance on maintaining proper posture and body mechanics during daily activities to reduce strain on the shoulder and prevent the recurrence of symptoms.
  • Education and Self-Management: You also receive advice on lifestyle modifications, such as activity modifications and home exercise programs, to manage symptoms and prevent future flare-ups. This may include recommendations for gentle stretches and strengthening exercises.

The Stages of Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder typically progresses through three distinct stages. The initial stage, known as the Freezing Stage, can last from six weeks to nine months. During this period, individuals experience a gradual onset of pain and increasing stiffness in the shoulder. As the shoulder begins to “freeze,” movement becomes progressively more difficult, significantly impacting daily activities.

Following the Freezing Stage, the condition enters the Frozen Stage, which can last from four to twelve months. In this stage, while pain may start to diminish, the stiffness remains. The shoulder’s range of motion is significantly reduced, making it challenging to perform routine tasks. Despite the reduction in pain, the limited mobility continues to interfere with the individual’s daily life.

The final stage, known as the Thawing Stage, can last from six months to two years. During this stage, shoulder mobility gradually improves as the shoulder “thaws.” Pain continues to decrease, and the range of motion slowly returns to normal. This gradual improvement allows you to regain function and resume your usual activities with less discomfort.

Recommended Physiotherapy Exercises for Frozen Shoulder

Physiotherapy exercises play a crucial role in managing and alleviating the symptoms of frozen shoulder. Here are some of the best exercises commonly recommended by physiotherapists:

  • Pendulum Exercises: Lean forward and let your affected arm hang down. Gently swing the arm in small circles, gradually increasing the circle size. This exercise helps improve shoulder mobility without putting too much strain on the joint.
  • Towel Stretch: Hold a towel behind your back with one hand and grab the other end with your other hand. Use the towel to gently pull your affected arm upward. This stretch helps increase flexibility and range of motion in the shoulder.
  • Cross-Body Stretch: Use your unaffected arm to lift your affected arm at the elbow and bring it across your body. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds. This stretch targets the shoulder muscles and improves flexibility.
  • Finger Walk: Face a wall and place your fingers on the wall at waist level. Slowly walk your fingers up the wall as high as you can go, keeping your arm slightly bent. This exercise helps improve shoulder mobility and range of motion.
  • External Rotation: Hold a rubber exercise band with both hands and keep your elbows close to your sides. Rotate the lower part of your affected arm outward, keeping your elbow close to your body. This exercise strengthens the shoulder muscles and improves external rotation.
  • Internal Rotation: Attach one end of a rubber exercise band to a door handle. Hold the other end with your affected arm and keep your elbow close to your body. Pull the band toward your body. This exercise strengthens the shoulder muscles and improves internal rotation.

Home Remedies to Complement Frozen Shoulder Treatment

In addition to physiotherapy, there are several home remedies and self-care tips that can help manage and alleviate frozen shoulder symptoms:

  • Heat and Cold Therapy: Applying heat packs to the shoulder can help relax tight muscles and improve blood flow, which can reduce pain and stiffness. Cold packs can be used to reduce inflammation and numb pain. Alternate between heat and cold therapy for the best results.
  • Gentle Stretching: Regularly performing gentle stretches can help maintain and improve the range of motion in the shoulder. Focus on exercises recommended by your physiotherapist and avoid any movements that cause pain.
  • Maintain Good Posture: Practice good posture while sitting, standing, and sleeping to reduce strain on the shoulder. Use ergonomic chairs and pillows to help maintain proper alignment.
  • Stay Active: Engage in low-impact activities such as walking, swimming, or gentle yoga to keep the muscles flexible and maintain overall fitness. Avoid prolonged periods of inactivity, which can worsen frozen shoulder symptoms.
  • Home Exercise Program: Follow a home exercise program prescribed by your physiotherapist. Consistent practice of these exercises can help improve shoulder mobility and prevent further stiffness.

Your Partner in Frozen Shoulder Recovery

Frozen shoulder can significantly impact daily life, but with the right approach to treatment, substantial relief and recovery are possible. Physiotherapy offers a comprehensive solution by addressing the root causes of frozen shoulder, reducing pain, and improving overall function. 

If you’re experiencing frozen shoulder pain, the experienced team at Maximum by Body ‘n Balance Physio is here to help. Our physiotherapists in Collingwood provide personalized treatment plans tailored to your needs. Contact us today to schedule an appointment and take the first step towards enhanced mobility and enhanced quality of life!