Imagine trying to go about daily life with one arm pinned to your side. Frozen shoulder syndrome is a condition where the ball-and-socket joint of the shoulder essentially “freezes” and is completely immobile, leading to that scenario. When an injury to the shoulder occurs, many people will become very protective of their shoulder, limiting movement and exercise. This only makes the problem worse. Frozen shoulder exercises can help keep the shoulder mobile and healthy at any stage of this process.
8 frozen shoulder exercises
There are three main stages to frozen shoulder syndrome:
- Freezing: An injury or health condition causes inflammation and pain in the shoulder joint. As this process continues, pain and inflammation may cause patients to stop moving the arm. As the injury heals, scar tissue forms in the shoulder capsule, the area of connective tissue that connects the top of the upper arm to the shallow socket of the shoulder blade.
- Frozen: The scar tissue covers the shoulder capsule to such an extent that range of motion is greatly decreased or movement is impossible.
- Thawing: With treatment and time, the range of motion is restored in the shoulder capsule.
By working through these frozen shoulder exercises during this process–while always working slowly–you can help prevent some pain.
1. Pendulum stretch
This is a good warm-up for those with extremely limited range of motion in their shoulder. Stand next to a table and place the hand of the unaffected arm on the table. Walk your feet back slightly so that you are leaning into that hand on the table, but your shoulder is still above your wrist. Let the affected shoulder hang free. Make small circles with the dangling hand of the affected shoulders. Explore the range of motion that exists in the shoulder, gradually widening the circle.
As range of motion increases, add weight with a small dumbbell.
2. Fingertip walk
Stand facing a wall. Place the fingertips of the affected shoulder on the wall at waist-level (or lower if need be). Slowly walk the fingertips up the wall until you have reached the edge of your range of motion. Allow your fingertips to do the work, not the shoulder, and stand close enough to the wall so that the elbow is bent. Repeat this exercise ten to 20 times daily.
3. Cross body stretch
This frozen shoulder exercise can be completed either sitting or standing. Lift the affected arm and stretch it across the front of your body, clasping it with the unaffected hand to gently stretch. Hold for 15 seconds and slowly release. Repeat this stretch at least ten times a day.
4. Armpit stretch
Locate a shelf or counter that is approximately chest-high. Stand about one foot from the shelf and lay both arms, palms facing down, on the shelf. Slowly bend your knees and feel the stretch as your armpits open. Try to increase the bend in your knees each time. Repeat this exercise ten to 20 times a day.
5. Overhead stretch
Lay flat on your back on the floor with arms by your side. Inhale and lift both arms up and overhead as far as you can. Breathe here, then slowly lower down. Repeat ten times daily, gradually increasing the stretch as you can and allowing gravity to help. You can use the unaffected arm to help lift the affected arm, too.
6. Chest opener
Stand about one foot away from the wall with the affected shoulder nearest the wall. Place your palm face down on the wall, fingertips facing away, at no higher than chest-level. Keeping your palm flat on the wall, gradually turn your body away from the wall. When you reach the edge of your range of motion, pause and breathe from 15 seconds before turning back towards the wall. Do this ten times daily on both sides.
7. Diagonal shoulder opener
Grasp a hand towel in each hand behind your back. Use the unaffected arm to slowly and gently exert upwards, diagonal pressure on the affected shoulder. At first, this may not result in much movement, but as you complete more frozen shoulder exercises, the range of motion will increase. Eventually you will be able to open the shoulders diagonally across the body
8. Puppy pose
Start kneeling on all fours with hands directly beneath shoulders and knees directly beneath hips (pad your knees if this is a painful position). Walk your hands forward gradually, keeping your knees beneath your hips. Breathe and keep walking your hands forward. When you reach your edge, release your chest or your chin to the ground.
This stretch is a very intense opener and should be approached gradually after the shoulders are opened with other frozen shoulder exercises.
Many people with frozen shoulder benefit greatly from a few sessions with a physical therapist, at least initially. A qualified physical therapist can help patients work properly through frozen shoulder exercises, designing a plan to gradually increase intensity and duration. Physical therapists are also able to offer guidance on balancing these exercises on both sides of the body. When an injury occurs on one side of the body, we naturally compensate in other ways that can cause injury to other parts of the body. Consulting with a physical therapist can help prevent this from happening.
As with any exercise plan, talk to your doctor before beginning. Especially with frozen shoulder exercises, listen to your body. Stabbing pain or breathing that becomes short and shallow may be an indication that you are pushing too far. Back off a bit and try again.
For videos and more guidance, take a look at Kinetic Health’s frozen shoulder exercises.