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Routine stretching and exercise can help most people with frozen shoulder relieve pain and improve range of motion. Improvement usually takes time and persistent use of practices.

Read on for 10 exercises and stretches, plus a look at what other options people are using to treat frozen shoulder.

Frozen shoulder is categorized into three stages, with exercise recommendations for each:

  1. Freezing. There’s a gradual onset of shoulder pain at rest, with sharp pain at extremes of motion. It typically lasts about 2 to 9 months.
  2. Frozen. Pain is reduced at rest, but there’s a notable loss of shoulder mobility, with pain at the end ranges of motion. It can last anywhere from 4 to 12 months.
  3. Thawing. The range of motion gradually returns in this stage. It can last about 5 to 26 months.

Taking pain relievers before exercise may help. You can also use heat or ice for pain relief before you start these activities.

In the first and most painful stage of frozen shoulder, go slow. Increase the repetitions over time, without increasing the pain you’re experiencing.

One 2005 study found that when people exercised within the limits of pain, they reached near-normal, painless shoulder motion at 12 months (64 percent) and 24 months (89 percent).

In comparison, 63 percent of people receiving more intensive physical therapy reached near-normal, painless shoulder motion at 24 months.

  1. Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart.
  2. Put your affected arm behind your back.
  3. Use your other hand to gently push the palm of your affected arm up toward the opposite shoulder.
  4. Hold the stretch from 1 to 5 seconds, and stop when you feel pain.
  5. Repeat the stretch two to three times a day.

Abduction means moving your arm away from the midline of your body.

  1. Sit next to a table, resting your affected forearm and elbow on the surface.
  2. Slowly slide your forearm away from your body and stop when you feel pain.
  3. Your body will tilt as you move, but don’t lean on the table.
  4. Repeat two to three times a day.

  1. Stand in a door frame with the elbow of your affected arm bent at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Rest your palm and wrist against the doorframe.
  3. Keeping your forearm in place, slowly turn your body away from the doorframe.
  4. Stop the stretch when you feel pain.
  5. Repeat two to three times a day.

This exercise requires that you use passive range of motion to manipulate your arm and shoulder without using the muscles in your affected shoulder.

  1. Sit or stand next to a table with the affected arm dangling at your side and your other arm on the table.
  2. Lean forward from your waist.
  3. Use your body to move your affected arm in small circles, keeping your shoulder relaxed.
  4. Repeat two to three times a day for 1 to 2 minutes at a time.

As you move into the second phase of frozen shoulder with less pain, you can increase the stretch times and the repetitions, and add in some strengthening activities.

Try adding a small weight to your affected arm in exercise 4, such as a soup can. Or, push your affected arm farther up your back in exercise 1.

  1. Stand facing a wall, with the hand of your affected arm against the wall.
  2. Slide your hand and arm up the wall as far as you can without pain.
  3. Move your body closer to the wall so that you’re able to stretch higher up the wall.
  4. Hold the stretch for 15 to 20 seconds.
  5. Repeat the stretch 10 times.

Adduction means moving your arm toward your body. It’s the opposite of abduction.

  1. Tie an exercise band, also called a resistance band, onto a doorknob or something heavy.
  2. Hold the other end of the band in the hand of your affected arm.
  3. Stand far enough away from where the band is anchored so that the band is taut when your arm is outstretched.
  4. Move your arm toward your body and then away, in a gentle back-and-forth motion, 10 times.
  5. Don’t do this strengthening exercise if it increases your pain. As you get stronger, increase your repetitions.

You’ll use passive range of motion again, where you or another person gently pull on your affected arm to stretch it.

  1. Lie on your back with your legs resting comfortably.
  2. Bend your “good” arm across your body to lift the affected arm up toward the ceiling until you feel a gentle stretch.
  3. Hold the position for 15 seconds, and then slowly lower your affected arm down.
  4. Repeat as you get stronger and increase the hold time.

  1. Seated or standing, bring both shoulders up to your ears and hold for 5 seconds.
  2. Repeat 10 times.

Shoulder shrugs, forward and backward

  1. Shrug your shoulders up toward your ears while rolling your shoulders forward in as big a circular motion as you can without pain.
  2. Repeat the same exercise moving your shoulders backward. Perform each direction 10 times.
  3. You may hear some popping noises, but it shouldn’t cause you pain.

  1. Hold a cane, broomstick, or piece of PVC pipe with both hands and your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle. Your thumbs should be pointed up.
  2. Keep the bent affected arm close to your side.
  3. Move your “good” arm and the stick toward your affected arm until you feel a stretch.
  4. Hold the stretch for 5 seconds.
  5. Repeat 10 times. As you get stronger, work up to 20 to 25 repetitions.

If conservative treatment, including physical therapy and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), isn’t relieving enough to relieve your frozen shoulder pain, there are other alternative possibilities to discuss with your doctor:

  • Anecdotally, some people find relief in acupuncture, though there are few randomized studies on the effectiveness of this therapy for frozen shoulder.
  • Another potential therapy is TENS, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, though studies haven’t confirmed its effectiveness.
  • A 2019 study on yoga asana for frozen shoulder found “no added advantage” to standard treatment after one month.

Steroid, hydrodilatation, and hyaluronan injections

Some studies indicate that steroid injections are most effective for pain control in the early stages of frozen shoulder treatment. Corticosteroid injections, along with hydrodilatation, may be particularly helpful in reducing pain during the first 3 months of treatment.

Hyaluronan injections were also found to relieve pain, especially at night.

A 2017 study compared both steroid and hyaluronan injections (also known as hyaluronic acid), and physical therapy to no treatment. The study found that all three treatments significantly improved pain and mobility after 3 months, compared with the no-treatment group.

Low-level laser treatment

A 2008 study reported that low-power laser treatment significantly decreased pain after 8 weeks of treatment for frozen shoulder, compared with a placebo group. However, there wasn’t a significant improvement in range of motion during the same period.

Electrotherapy

Evidence about the effectiveness of electrotherapy treatment is scant.

Research from 2014 on different types of electrotherapy concluded that electrotherapy combined with physical therapy might be more effective than physical therapy alone. The types of electrotherapy included laser treatment, TENS, ultrasound, and pulsed electromagnetic field therapy.

Surgery

Manipulation under anesthesia and arthroscopic release under anesthesia may be used when conservative treatment is failing.

According to a 2013 study, people experiencing frozen shoulder at stages 2 and 3 may benefit most from intense physical therapy and steroid injection treatments.

Many people with frozen shoulder also regain pain-free shoulder use through treatments like exercises, although it may take up to 3 years. Research into new treatments is ongoing.

Physical therapy and a home-based exercise program are often combined with other conservative treatments, including:

It’s important to have professional physical therapy guidance so that you can tailor your exercise program to your level of pain and the stage of your frozen shoulder.

Frozen shoulder fast facts

Physical therapy, routine stretching, and exercises are useful in both the short term and long term for reducing pain and increasing range of motion in frozen shoulder.

Your doctor may advise an exercise program in combination with NSAIDs and corticosteroid, hydrodilatation, or hyaluronan injections.

It’s a good idea to have professional guidance when starting a home exercise and stretching program. There are many exercises to try, and a physical therapist can help you find treatments that suit the stage of your frozen shoulder and are realistic for you.