As Good as Their Patients' Words

Frozen Shoulder Pain Relief with Physical Therapy

Published on October 13, 2016

There are many different reasons why your shoulder may hurt. One of them is called commonly referred to as “frozen shoulder”.  Frozen shoulder is clinically known as adhesive capsulitis.  This is a condition where the ligament around the shoulder’s ball and socket joint has lost its normal mobility.

Shoulder Injuries

The shoulder or glenohumeral joint is made up of a ball on the arm side and the socket on the shoulder side.  They are both surrounded by a thick ligament called the capsule.  In normal shoulders, this capsule allows for full mobility of the ghlenohumeral joint but stops the motion at the end of the range.  

In frozen shoulder patients, this capsule becomes restricted and is thought to be adhered to itself thus reducing its mobility and limiting the normal motion of the glenohumeral joint. The patient can’t lift their arm overhead so the shoulder becomes “stuck”; hence the term “frozen”.

Frozen Shoulder Pain

The term may be “frozen shoulder” however the pain is anything but.  A frozen shoulder is an extremely painful condition and anyone who has had this can attest to the sharp lightning bolts of shoulder and arm pain.  In the acute stage of adhesive capsulitis, the patient will experience pain at rest, difficulty sleeping and very sharp pains that radiate down the outside of the arm with sudden or mild movements of the shoulder joint.

Most patients start out in the acute phase and because of the sharp and sever shoulder pain, basically stop moving their arm. This lack of motion contributes to the shoulder loosing additional range of motion.  This may go on for months until the patient finally realizes that something is seriously wrong and the range of motion in their shoulder is severe affected and they are significantly limited with their daily activities.

Physical Therapy Treatment for Adhesive Capsulitis

If a patient enters the clinic in the acute phase of frozen shoulder, the treatment of choice is to stay below the pain threshold.  This means incorporating smaller gentle movements to help decrease the pain and inflammation in the glenohumeral joint. Too much pressure and stretching will actually make the patient’s symptoms worse.  

As the patient’s shoulder pain decrease and the range of motion increases, the patient will enter into the chronic phase of frozen shoulder.  The characteristics of this phase include no pain at rest or after treatment.  The patient will still experience moderate to severe shoulder pain with moderate stretching but the shoulder pain will dissipate within minutes meaning the shoulder is no longer irritable.  At this point, the glenohumeral joint can be stretched aggressively to regain full shoulder range of motion both at home and in the clinic.

What Should You Do if Have a Frozen Shoulder?

Any physical therapist will tell you the worst think you can do is nothing.  There are far too many physicians that do not know how effective treatment can be and simply tell their patients that the frozen shoulder will self-resolve: in 2 years!!!

A skilled physical therapist can immediately help reduce the shoulder pain and quickly get the patient from the acute to chronic phase.  So at least at this point the patient is able to function in their daily lives without debilitating shoulder pain. Physical therapists can also help a patient stretch their shoulder better than any other profession. We are experts at knowing just the right angle with just the right amount of pressure to help and not hurt.  Prepare yourself for some comprehensive home exercises as well as frozen shoulder usually take time to resolve.  You’ll need a good physical therapist to guide you from injury to recovery because you can’t do this rehab on your own.

To learn more about how we can help you with your shoulder pain, frozen shoulder or many orthopedic conditons, visit us at Athletic Physical Therapy


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