How to Treat a Frozen Shoulder

A frozen shoulder has a good prognosis, In fact, in most cases, you can expect a full recovery, without repeat issues. Continue reading to learn more about this injury.
How to Treat a Frozen Shoulder

Last update: 06 August, 2020

Suffering from a frozen shoulder is fairly common. Still, it’s very important to treat it effectively as it can worsen and become chronic with the passage of time. In this article, we’ll discuss the most effective therapeutic methods for this condition. Keep reading!

Frozen shoulder: what is it exactly?

Most people know this condition as a frozen shoulder but the correct name for it is adhesive capsulitis. It refers to a pathology that occurs when there’s inflammation in the connective tissue capsule that surrounds the shoulder joint.

As a result, this capsule becomes rigid, which gives place to adhesions. In addition, there’s usually less amount of synovial fluid, which favors proper joint movement.

There’s still no clarity regarding the causes of this condition. Nobody knows for sure what causes adhesive capsulitis. However, there are some situations that can cause its onset. For example, prolonged immobilization of the shoulder and illnesses such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, or thyroid pathologies.

A woman suffering from a shoulder injury.


The first point to clarify about treatments for a frozen shoulder is that it’s a fairly long process and can last for several weeks. Regarding treatment options, many professionals affirm that a multidisciplinary approach is the best way forward.

However, at the beginning of recovery, you should start with physical therapy and medication for a period of six to twelve weeks. In the event that there isn’t much progress, you can consider other options including various surgical possibilities.

The acute phase

In the earliest phase, it’s vital to focus on decreasing pain, inflammation, and preserving the maximum range of motion possible. Therefore, cryotherapy, passive mobilizations (with someone’s help), anti-pain, and anti-inflammatory medications are necessary. We must emphasize that anti-inflammatory medication should be taken only when strictly necessary.

Other beneficial physiotherapeutic techniques to consider during this phase are electrotherapy and relaxing massage therapy for the neck and shoulder muscles.

The chronic phase

The second phase of recovery begins once the swelling and pain are at levels that allow for active exercise. First off, the physical therapist will change cryotherapy for thermotherapy, which means applying heat instead of cold.

This change is made in numerous pathologies when passing from an acute phase to a chronic one. This is due to the fact that heat provides elasticity to the tissues and favors the circulation of the area, which helps to recover and eliminate harmful cells.

In addition to this, the physiotherapist will apply joint mobilizations to prevent the structures that make up the affected joint from becoming worse.

Later, you can add active exercises to the routine, just as long as the joint allows. Among the most important are stretching and muscle stabilization, as well as strengthening exercises.

A person in physical therapy.

The final phase

Now, once the condition is under control and there’s a notable improvement, the goal will be to rebalance the muscle. A frozen shoulder causes weakness in certain periarticular muscles. Therefore, you must work them all to avoid decompensation, which can subsequently bring about other problems. Rebalancing includes identifying those muscles that have been the most affected and performing specific exercises for them.

It’ll also be essential to work thoroughly on proprioception. After a period of immobilization or limited mobility, the soft tissues will ‘relax’.

Due to this, they must be returned to their previous state. In this sense, ensuring those muscle tendons, ligaments and receptors react appropriately is vital to be able to return to normal life.

Frozen shoulder recovery

The positive aspect here is that the frozen shoulder condition has a good prognosis. If the patient adheres to the treatment, they’ll be able to regain shoulder mobility, in most cases without repeat issues. Only in very serious situations can a surgical intervention be necessary. This, of course, would entail a much longer recovery process.

In short, if you suffer from a frozen shoulder, you need to have patience. Don’t force yourself to move your shoulder if you have a lot of pain in the early stages. Before you do anything, visit your physical therapist. They’ll guide the recovery process and will tell you what to do.

In addition, the medical professional will let you know when you’re in one phase or another. Once you can move without restrictions, do this frequently. In this way, in addition to mobilizing all the structures of the body, you’ll also prevent relapses.

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All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • C. Robinson, K. Seah, Y. Chee, et al. Frozen shoulder. The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. British volume, Vol. 94-B, No. 1. 2012.
  • R. Dias, S. Cutts y S. Massoud. Frozen shoulder. BMJ 2005;331:1453

The contents of this publication are written for informational purposes. At no time do they facilitate or replace the diagnoses, treatments, or recommendations of a professional. Consult your trusted specialist if you have any doubts and seek their approval before beginning any procedure.