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All too often we hear of these so-called “overuse” injuries preventing us from living our fullest lives. But there are also hidden underuse injuries that plague us… like those that affect the shoulder. Learn these exercises for frozen shoulder to kiss discomfort away.
The sun wakes us from our dreams, and as we go to stretch overhead, we’re frozen in pain…
“Oh, I guess I slept on the wrong side last night,” we tell ourselves as we push up out of bed with our good arm.
As the day continues, we find ourselves saying things like:
“Ow! I guess I’ll go with the button-up shirt today.”
“Honey, can you reach that top shelf for me? I can’t lift my arm.”
“Maybe some ice will help? Or rest? What did I do to make this hurt so much?”
This achy frozen shoulder you feel is actually called adhesive capsulitis… and is often caused by underuse. Previous injuries, tendinopathy, or simply avoiding certain ranges of motion have left our shoulders vulnerable to being frozen… stiff… and restricted.
Frozen shoulder typically affects women over age 40, however, anyone who has had to restrict their arm movements for a prolonged period of time can be affected.
But before you slip that arm into a sling, thinking you’ll never be able to move pain-free again, try these simple effective shoulder stretches and strengthening exercises:
Table of Contents
Guide to Rehabbing and Exercises for Frozen Shoulder
There are two strategies to eliminating frozen shoulder, and when used in unison, provide accelerated results.
As you do both of these, inflammation and pain will decrease, getting you back to your daily activities without discomfort or limitations.
NUMBER ONE: IMPROVE MOBILITY
By increasing the range of motion as much as possible, we can “unfreeze” the ligaments, tendons, and muscles that are locking your shoulder in place.
NUMBER TWO: INCREASE STRENGTH
Multiple studies have correlated strength improvements with reducing inflammation and improving joint function, and these improvements don’t need a lot of weight.
Before doing the below exercises, place a heating pad or warm towel over your shoulder for 10 to 15 minutes to help increase the muscles’ temperature and help loosen up the joint a bit.
Mobility Exercises for Frozen Shoulder
1. Shoulder Rolls
- Sit or stand as tall as you can and keep your shoulder blades down and back with a proud chest.
- Pinch your shoulder blades back and up, shrugging to your ears. Hold this position for 2 seconds.
- Next, slowly release forward and down.
- Repeat this circle (or “roll”) 3-5 times before reversing the direction.
This dynamic stretch helps to loosen the larger muscles of your shoulder without aggravating the joint further. Make sure your shoulder blades are doing the work to avoid and unnecessary rotation within the shoulder joint.
2. Hanging Oscillation
Lean over, resting your hand on the nearest table or chair.
Drop the affected shoulder towards the ground, as if someone is pulling your hand down.
While keeping your shoulder muscles relaxed, let gravity swing your hand around in a counterclockwise circle for about 30 seconds.
Switch directions in a fluid motion, still keeping the shoulder relaxed while doing so.
Perform this exercise for 3 minutes.
This mobility movement is as low-impact as it gets. By working with gravity, this movement creates space in the deepest part of your shoulder joint — where stiffness tends to hide.
To progress this movement, grab a lightweight between 2-5 pounds. This will add a bit more gravity, creating even more space in the shoulder joint. You can also try to increase the range of motion (how big your circles are).
For more mobility exercises, click here.
Strength Exercises for Frozen Shoulder
1. Goal Post Back & Forths
- Stand tall with your back against the wall.
- While keeping your palms facing the wall, lift your elbows as high as you comfortably can against the wall. You should look a bit like a scarecrow right now.
- Slowly begin to rotate your hands up as far as comfortable — eventually working to get the back of your hands touching the wall. Control your hands back down to the starting position.
- Repeat 10 times.
Just as the previous exercise was using gravity to create space, this movement uses the shoulder and upper back muscles to fight gravity.
This is all the resistance your shoulders need to strengthen and reduce any inflammation that may cause Frozen Shoulder.
As you progress, try to get your hands closer to the wall, then move your elbows up higher until they reach about 90 degrees.
2. Wall Angels
- Again stand with your back against the wall with your palms facing forward. Keep your knuckles against the wall as you raise your arms as if you’re making a snow angel.
- Lift your arms as high as you comfortably can against the wall.
- Then, slowly lower your elbows down to your side, keeping them along the wall as best as possible.
- Repeat 10-15 times.
While the previous exercise asked the back of your shoulders to do the majority of the work, this movement calls on the tops of the shoulders.
Keeping your elbows against the wall ensures there is no compensation happening from stronger muscles, strengthening the necessary muscles for proper function.
Progress this movement by lifting higher and higher, until your arms can get straight overhead without coming off the wall.
For more strengthening exercises, click here.
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By simply incorporating each one of these moves 2 times a day for the allotted reps or time will provide dramatic results.
And as your shoulder improves, and the frozen shoulder episodes become more infrequent, you can reduce this routine to once a day… then 5 times a week… then 2-3 times a week.
However, it’s important to stay consistent in increasing your shoulder mobility and strength. After all, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.
Frozen shoulder is an under-use injury, so by making sure you are moving your shoulder in all it’s amazing ranges of motion is key to having happy, healthy shoulders.