If you have experienced pain and stiffness in your shoulder joint, you may be suffering from adhesive capsulitis, or ‘frozen shoulder’ as it is more commonly known. This condition comes on gradually, gets worse and then resolves over a one- to three-year period. So, it can impinge significantly on your quality of life over a lengthy spell.
Causes of Frozen Shoulder
Your shoulder joint is made up of connected bones, ligaments and tendons. These are encased in a capsule made up of connective tissue. When this capsule thickens and gets tighter around the shoulder, it restricts the movement of the shoulder.
Risk Factors for Frozen Shoulder
It is most common in people over 40 and women, in particular, but your chances of developing it are enhanced if you have certain diseases or had to immobilise your shoulder for a long period, such as after surgery, an arm fracture, a rotator cuff injury or a stroke. The following diseases make people more prone – diabetes, overactive or underactive thyroid, cardiovascular disease, TB and Parkinson's disease.
Exercises are the foundation of treatment for frozen shoulder. Your doctor may prescribe some anti-inflammatory and pain relief medication in some instances, but range of motion exercises are the key to making a recovery as quickly as possible. In rare instances, surgical procedures such as steroid injections, joint distension, shoulder manipulation under anaesthetic or arthroscopic surgery can offer relief.
7 Exercises for Frozen Shoulder
Always make sure to do a good warm-up before you perform these exercises.
1. Pendulum stretch
This is the first exercise to do, and you should do it every day. Stand over a table/surface where you can lean your good hand on it. Bend over a bit, allowing the arm on the affected side to hang down. Then just swing your arm in a circle, maybe about a foot in diameter. Do this 10 times clockwise, then repeat anticlockwise. As you get better, increase the size of the circle a bit but don’t force yourself such that you feel pain. As you improve at this, you might like to introduce a small weight into your swinging hand.
2. Towel stretch
Grab a towel and hold one end of it behind your back. Then take the other end with your other hand and bring it up to a horizontal position, using your good arm to pull the weak one up to stretch it.
A variant on this is to drape the towel over your shoulder. Then hold the bottom of the towel with the affected arm and pull it toward the lower back with the unaffected arm. Repeat this 10-20 times daily.
3. Finger walk
Stand facing a wall, at a distance of three quarters of an arm. Place the fingertips of your affected arm against the wall at waist level. Keeping your elbow bent, walk your index and middle fingers up the wall until you have raised your arm as far up the wall as is comfortable. Make sure not to use your shoulder to perform the work on this, but your fingers. Lower your arm slowly, using your good arm if it makes it easier. Repeat this 10-20 times daily.
4. Cross-body reach
You can do this one sitting or standing. Just use your good arm to take your affected arm by the elbow and bring it up and across your body. As you do so, exert some gentle pressure to stretch out the shoulder and hold the stretch for about 15-20 seconds. Repeat this 10-20 times daily.
5. Armpit stretch
Find a shelf about chest-high and use your good arm to raise your affected arm onto the surface. The gently bend your knees, in so doing opening out the armpit. Bend a little further, stretching out the armpit, and then straighten up again. With each bend of the knee, see if you can go a little further without forcing yourself or feeling pain. Repeat 10-20 times daily.
The exercises above should lead to an improvement in your range of motion. You can then add the following exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff. Make sure to warm up well and do your exercises above before doing these last two.
6. Outward rotation
Take a rubber exercise band and hold it out in front of you. Keep your elbows tucked in by your sides and hold each hand out at 90 degrees. Then just keep your good arm static and stretch the band out horizontally for two or three inches with your affected arm. Hold this position for five seconds. Repeat this 10 to 15 times, once a day.
7. Inward rotation
Standing next to a door, hook one end of a rubber exercise band on to the door handle. Using your affected arm, hold your elbow at 90 degrees and pull the other end of the band two or three inches across your body. Hold this position for 5 seconds at a time. Repeat this 10-15 times, once a day.
N.B. Exercise recommendations are followed at your own risk
These exercise descriptions are meant to act as an aid to completion of exercises prescribed by your chartered physiotherapist. Stop doing exercises if you feel pain. T&T physio is not responsible for any injury or loss suffered as a result of performing any of these exercises
If you are suffering with a frozen shoulder or some other ailment, please get in touch for an assessment at either our Terenure Physio clinic or our Tallaght Physio clinic