5 Ways to Get Relief from Frozen Shoulders: A Detailed Guide

May 12, 2024

5 Ways to Get Relief from Frozen Shoulders: A Detailed Guide

Ever reach for something high on a shelf, only to be met with a searing pain or tightness in your shoulder that limits your movement? Suddenly struggling to get dressed or comb your hair? These could be signs of a frozen shoulder, a condition that significantly restricts the mobility of your shoulder joint.

Facing this pain in the shoulder can be incredibly frustrating. Simple tasks you once performed without thought can become difficult. I know what you're thinking now. How to get rid of this pain, right? 

Chill! This blog post is here to address your concerns and provide a comprehensive guide to frozen shoulders. From symptoms to relief to prevention, we have a lot to cover! So, let’s get started!

What is a Frozen Shoulder?

A frozen shoulder is a condition that restricts movement in your shoulder joint. This limitation manifests as pain and stiffness that gradually worsen over time. Simple tasks like raising your arm or reaching behind your back have become increasingly difficult.

The reason for a frozen shoulder isn't always clear, but it's linked to inflammation and thickening of the capsule surrounding your shoulder joint. This capsule, normally a smooth sac, becomes tight and restricts the movement of the ball (upper arm bone) within the socket (shoulder blade).

Frozen Shoulder Symptoms

Frozen shoulder develops gradually, often presenting in three distinct stages:

Freezing Stage (2-9 months)

During this stage, the pain gets worse whenever you move your shoulder.  You'll likely experience a dull ache in your shoulder, possibly radiating to the upper arm and muscles around the shoulder joint.

The most annoying thing about this step is that you can't move your arm in different directions as easily as you used to. During this phase, pain at night can also get worse, making it hard to sleep.

Frozen Stage (4-12 months)

At this point, the pain might get a little better. As a result, though, it becomes much stiffer.  It gets visibly tighter in the shoulder, making it harder to move it all the way through its range of motion. Doing everyday things that use your shoulder becomes harder and harder.

Thawing Stage (5-24 months)

Good news! At this time, your shoulder's range of motion is slowly getting better. The pain and stiffness start to go away, letting you get back in control and use your shoulder more easily. This stage can take the most time, anywhere from a few months to two years.

Frozen Shoulder Causes

The exact cause of frozen shoulders remains a mystery. However, researchers have identified some factors that might contribute to its development.

One key factor is inflammation within the shoulder joint capsule. Inflammation can make the capsule thicker and tighter, which makes it harder to move. Over time, scar tissue bands (adhesions) may also form, making it even harder to move around. Synovial fluid, the lubricating fluid inside the joint, may also decrease, making it harder to move smoothly.

While the cause isn't always clear, certain situations seem to increase the risk of a frozen shoulder:

  • Immobilization :  Keeping your shoulder still for an extended period, such as after an injury, surgery (including mastectomy), or a medical condition like a stroke, can increase your risk.

  • Age and Sex :  Women and people over 40 are more likely to develop frozen shoulder.

  • Medical Conditions : Certain medical conditions like diabetes, thyroid problems, Parkinson's disease, and heart disease may elevate your risk.

It's important to remember that these are just risk factors, and not everyone who falls into these categories will develop frozen shoulder.

Frozen Shoulder Diagnosis

Diagnosing a frozen shoulder typically involves a doctor's assessment without relying on a single specific test. Here's what you can expect:

Reviewing Your Symptoms and Medical History

Your doctor will ask questions about your pain, stiffness, and any recent injuries or surgeries.

Physical Examination

This involves assessing your shoulder's range of motion through various movements.  Your doctor will likely move your arm as well as observe you moving it yourself.  They'll compare the difference between your "active" (when you move it) and "passive" (when they move it) range of motion.

Imaging tests (X-rays in most cases)

While not always necessary, X-rays can help rule out other potential causes for your shoulder pain, like arthritis or a torn rotator cuff. In most cases, MRI or ultrasound imaging is not needed to diagnose a frozen shoulder. However, if needed, it could be used for a more in-depth look.

In some cases, your doctor may use an additional test:

Injection Test

An anesthetic injection might be given to your shoulder to temporarily numb the area. This way, the doctor can see how much movement you really have in your shoulder without you being in pain.

How to Get Relief from Frozen Shoulder?

While there's no quick fix, several strategies can help manage pain and gradually improve your shoulder's mobility. Here's a breakdown of some methods that can bring relief:

Rest and Pain Management

While complete immobilization can worsen frozen shoulders, avoiding activities that make your pain worse can help your body heal naturally. Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can give you relief for a short time. Talk to your doctor about stronger options if needed.

Physical Therapy

A physical therapist can design a personalized exercise program to improve your range of motion and strengthen the muscles surrounding your shoulder joint. These exercises will likely focus on gentle stretches and strengthening exercises to promote flexibility and stability.

Heat and Ice Therapy

Putting a heating pad or warm rub on your shoulder before you work out can help loosen up tight muscles and ease pain. Also, ice packs can help reduce swelling after working out or when pain is at its worst.

Anti-inflammatory Medication

In some cases, your doctor might prescribe stronger oral anti-inflammatory medication or cortisone injections for more targeted pain relief and inflammation reduction. (Read how to reverse inflammation in joints here)

5 Frozen Shoulder Exercises for Quick Relief

Although these movements won't completely cure frozen shoulders, doing them regularly and correctly can help make you more flexible and lessen your pain.

Pendulum Swing

Stand with your good hand supporting yourself on a stable surface. Leave the affected arm hanging at your side. Gently swing your arm back and forth in small circles, gradually increasing the range of motion as tolerated.

Towel Stretch

This stretch targets the muscles in the back of your shoulder. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a towel behind your back with both hands, palms facing each other. Gently pull the towel up towards your buttocks, feeling a stretch in your shoulder blade area. Hold for 15-30 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times.

Towel Stretch | Levator Scapulae, Stretch, Stretching and more | Niel Asher  Education Exercises and Stretches blog

Finger Walk Up the Wall

Stand facing a wall with your aching arm stretched out and fingers spread wide. Gently "walk" your fingers up the wall as high as you comfortably can, feeling a stretch in your shoulder. Hold for 15-30 seconds and slowly walk your fingers back down.

Frozen Shoulder Home Exercises 1. Pendulum Stretch 2. Towel Stretch 3. Finger  Walk

Cross-body Reach

As you stand, reach your arms out to the sides and hold them at shoulder height. Gently reach one hand across your body towards your opposite armpit. Use your other hand to hold the reaching arm gently against your body, feeling a stretch in the shoulder area. 

Hold for 15-30 seconds. Repeat on the other side. This stretch targets the front and side of your shoulder capsule.

stretching-exercises-frozen-shoulder - Harvard Health

Armpit Stretch

This stretch targets the muscles underneath your shoulder joint. Place your arms at your sides and stand still. Gently raise one arm overhead, reaching your hand towards your opposite shoulder blade. 

With your other hand, gently pull the raised elbow across your body towards your chest, feeling a stretch in your armpit area. Hold for 15-30 seconds. Then repeat on the other side.

How to stretch your latissimus dorsi

Bonus: Strengthening the Rotator Cuff

The rotator cuff muscles are necessary for shoulder stability.  Here are two gentle strengthening exercises you can incorporate after consulting with your doctor or physical therapist:

Outward Rotation

Sit or stand with your elbows bent at 90 degrees and forearms resting by your sides. Hold light weights (water bottles can be a good option) in each hand. Rotate your forearms outwards, turning your palms away from the body as far as comfortable. Hold for a few seconds. Then slowly return to the starting position. Repeat 10-15 times.


Inward Rotation

Perform the same exercise as above, but rotate your forearms inwards, turning your palms towards the ceiling as far as comfortable. Hold for a few seconds. Now, slowly return to the starting position. Repeat 10-15 times

Rotation Pt 7 Banded Shoulder External And Internal Rotation ...

Note: It's very important to pick weights that are light enough to let you use the right form. Try to move slowly and steadily, and don't swing the weights around. Stop working out if you feel any pain and talk to your doctor or physical trainer.

Tips to Prevent Frozen Shoulders

While the exact cause of frozen shoulder remains unclear, certain strategies can help reduce your risk and potentially prevent its development:

Maintain Shoulder Mobility

Regularly incorporating gentle stretches and exercises into your daily routine can help keep your shoulder joint flexible and mobile. Consider exercises like arm circles, reaching motions, and doorframe stretches.

Stay Active After Injury or Surgery

Focus on physical therapy to get your shoulder's range of motion back as soon as possible after an accident or surgery that keeps you from moving. This helps prevent stiffness and potential progression to frozen shoulder.

Maintain Good Posture

Poor posture, especially hunching, can contribute to shoulder tightness and discomfort. Practice good posture throughout the day by keeping your shoulders relaxed and back straight.

Warm Up Before Exercise

Always warm up your shoulder muscles with light cardio and gentle stretches before engaging in any strenuous activity. This gets your body ready to move and lowers your risk of getting hurt.

Listen to Your Body

Pain is your body's way of communicating. If you experience any shoulder pain, particularly during activities, take a break and avoid pushing through it. Ignoring pain can lead to further injury and potentially frozen shoulder.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Obesity is a risk factor for frozen shoulders. Maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet and exercise can help reduce your overall risk.

Talk to Your Doctor

If you have any concerns about shoulder pain, stiffness, or a history of conditions linked to frozen shoulder, consult your doctor. Early diagnosis and intervention can potentially prevent the progression to frozen shoulder.


And there you have it—the final chapter of our frozen shoulder journey. We’ve explored its symptoms, causes, relief strategies, and prevention tips. Remember, frozen shoulder might be an unwelcome guest, but it doesn’t have to set up camp forever.

By understanding the stages, seeking professional guidance, and staying committed to exercises, you’ll thaw out that icy shoulder. So, keep those shoulders moving, and don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor if you need a helping hand.

Stay well, stay mobile, and here’s to pain-free shoulder days ahead!


What is the Best Remedy for Frozen Shoulder?

There's no single cure, but a combo of treatments can work effectively. Physical therapy stretches and strengthens your shoulder, medication manages pain, and injections target inflammation. Heat/ice therapy can also ease discomfort.

What Causes Frozen Shoulders?

Frozen shoulder's exact cause remains unclear. However, factors like shoulder joint inflammation and prolonged immobilization may contribute. Inflammation thickens the joint capsule, forming scar tissue bands and reducing synovial fluid. Immobilization, post-injury or due to medical conditions like stroke, heightens risk.

Will a Frozen Shoulder Heal on Its Own?

Frozen shoulder might get better over time, but it can take years. You could have pain and stiffness for a long time. The good news is that you can take actions that can help improve much faster. Physical therapy and exercises can get you moving again and help manage pain. Don't wait - see a doctor to thaw out that frozen shoulder!


  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/frozen-shoulder/symptoms-causes/syc-20372684#:~:text=Frozen%20shoulder%2C%20also%20called%20adhesive,risk%20of%20developing%20frozen%20shoulder .
  2. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-a-frozen-shoulder
  3. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/frozen-shoulder/
  4. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/frozen-shoulder-adhesive-capsulitis
  5. https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/how-to-release-a-frozen-shoulder
  6. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/frozen-shoulder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20372690

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