Is your shoulder hard to move? Does it cause you pain and make it difficult to get through the day? You may have frozen shoulder. If you do, it’s important to know how to treat frozen shoulder effectively.
While frozen shoulder usually goes away on its own after one to three years, it gets a lot worse before it gets better. If you learn how to treat frozen shoulder early on, you can prevent or shorten the most difficult stages of this frustrating condition.
Some people resort to surgery for frozen shoulder, but the majority of people can find success with nonsurgical options. So what is the best treatment for frozen shoulder, and what can you do from home?
Before we discuss how to treat frozen shoulder effectively on your own, let’s make sure you know what it is and if at-home treatment is the best option for you.
What is frozen shoulder?
Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a disorder that creates stiffness and pain in your shoulder joint. It is called “frozen shoulder” because people who suffer from adhesive capsulitis sometimes have very limited range of motion in their shoulder.
Frozen shoulder usually affects people ages 40 to 60, and the condition is more common in women than it is in men. It usually takes between two to nine months to develop.
Symptoms of frozen shoulder
Before you learn how to treat frozen shoulder, you need to make sure you actually have it! Symptoms of frozen shoulder include:
- Shoulder stiffness that gets worse with time
- Limited range of motion in all directions
- Aching pain that gradually increases
There are three main stages of frozen shoulder, and how to treat frozen shoulder may look a bit different depending on what stage you are in. The stages are:
The Freezing Stage
The first stage of frozen shoulder is the Freezing Stage. In this stage, the shoulder becomes stiff and increasingly painful. It may get worse at night. This stage can last between 6 weeks and 9 months.
The Frozen Stage
The second stage of frozen shoulder is the Frozen Stage. In this stage, you may have less pain, but your shoulder is even stiffer. It may be very difficult to complete daily tasks and activities. Because of that, it’s important to learn how to treat frozen shoulder in the first stage, if possible.
The Frozen Stage lasts between 2 to 6 months.
The Thawing Stage
The final stage of frozen shoulder is the Thawing Stage. In this stage, your condition slowly improves, but it can take between 6 months to 2 years to see a full (or near full) recovery.
Now that you know a bit more about frozen shoulder, you’re probably wondering what causes it in the first place!
Causes of frozen shoulder
We still don’t fully understand what causes frozen shoulder. Frozen shoulder may occur if your shoulder has been immobilized for a long period of time, such as after a surgery, injury, or illness.
Frozen shoulder is also one of the common causes of shoulder pain for people with diabetes.
When you have an injury or surgery, or an irritation such as bursitis or tendonitis, you often experience inflammation in the soft tissues of your shoulder. This inflammation creates pain and swelling in the joint. In turn, you may use the joint less and less – but this becomes a compounding issue.
If you keep your shoulder immobilized, the connective tissue gets tighter and shrinks. It even starts to lose its capacity to stretch.
Your risk of developing frozen shoulder is increased by:
- Lack of movement/physical therapy after injury
- Immobility after a surgery, stroke, or heart condition
- Existing rotator cuff disorders
- Existing thyroid disorders
- Parkinson’s disease
If you think you may have frozen shoulder, it’s important to get an official diagnosis from your healthcare provider.
Diagnosis of frozen shoulder
Only a doctor can diagnose you with frozen shoulder. During your exam, your doctor may ask you to move your arm in specific positions to check your range of motion and where you feel pain.
They may also have you relax your arm completely so they can check your passive range of motion. (Where the doctor moves your arm for you.)
Your doctor will also ask you questions about your symptoms, so you should be able to describe:
- What your symptoms are and when they began
- Medical problems you have had recently
- Medical problems that run in your family
- Any medications and supplements you take
If your doctor cannot diagnose you through these tests alone, they may request an X-ray or ultrasound to confirm. Once you have been officially diagnosed with frozen shoulder, you can then move forward with how to treat frozen shoulder.
If you are experiencing severe pain that won’t let up, or have extreme lack of mobility, your doctor may recommend surgery or steroid injections. That being said, most people can learn how to treat frozen shoulder at home with nonsurgical options.
But how DO you treat frozen shoulder at home? Let’s take a look at the best treatment for frozen shoulder.
How to treat frozen shoulder at home
Learning how to treat frozen shoulder at home is all about improving your range of motion and controlling your pain as much as possible.
Let’s take a look at your options to reduce swelling, relieve pain, and get movement back in your shoulder joint.
Here are some of your options for how to treat frozen shoulder at home:
Heat and cold
Alternating heat packs and ice packs can help reduce inflammation in your shoulder. Try applying one or the other (wrapped in a towel or cloth) for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. You can do this several times a day as needed.
Pain relief medications
NSAIDs and other pain relief medications can be very useful when learning how to treat frozen shoulder at home. While they are only masking the symptoms instead of solving them, they can help you while you wait for your other treatment options to take effect.
You can start with aspirin or ibuprofen, and if your pain is still unmanageable, your healthcare provider might be able to prescribe stronger pain relief for you.
Physical therapy exercises
The best treatment for frozen shoulder is one that helps you get your range of motion back. Targeted strengthening and stretching exercises can do just that.
We have a few exercises that are helpful when learning how to treat frozen shoulder at home, but visiting a physical therapist will help you recover more swiftly. They can give you additional exercises, and use electro-stimulation machines to help your shoulder improve.
In between appointments, it will be up to you to keep up with your shoulder exercises at home.
Before doing your exercises, it’s important to warm up your shoulder. You can use a heat pad, or take a warm shower or bath for 10 to 15 minutes before beginning your exercises.
Here are the best exercises when learning how to treat frozen shoulder at home:
The pendulum stretch
The pendulum stretch should always be the first exercise in your routine. Start by relaxing your shoulders. Then, lean over slightly so the arm that is affected hangs down.
Swing your arm in a small circle. Swing it 10 times in each direction.
You should start with a circle that is only about a foot in diameter. As your range of motion starts to improve, you can increase the diameter of your circles. Just make sure you never force anything.
The towel stretch
Grab a full-size bath towel and hold it horizontally behind your back with both hands.
Using your good arm, pull your affected arm gently upward to stretch it. Do this 10 to 20 times.
The finger wall walk
Stand facing a wall, a little less than an arm’s length away.
Reach your affected arm out until it touches the wall at waist level.
Keeping your elbow bent, walk your fingers up the wall slowly until your arm is at shoulder level. Make your fingers do the work – not your shoulder.
You can assist with your good arm to lower your arm back down. Repeat this 10 to 20 times a day.
The cross-body stretch
While sitting or standing, use your good arm to lift your affected arm at the elbow. Stretch it up and across your body. Use gentle pressure to stretch your shoulder for 15 to 20 seconds. Do this 10 to 20 times a day.
The door stretch
Stand in a doorway. Place your hands at shoulder height on each side of the door. Gently lean forward and hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat 10 to 20 times a day.
The armpit stretch
Use your good arm to lift your affected arm so it is resting on the wall or on a shelf at about chest height.
Start to slowly bend your knees to stretch your armpit. Then stand back up. Repeat, stretching a little deeper every time. Do this 10 to 20 times a day.
Rotator cuff rotations
Once your range of motion starts to improve, you can add rotator cuff exercises to your routine. Always start with your warmup and stretches before you try your strengthening exercises.
You need to perform both internal and external rotations. You will need a rubber resistance band to learn how to treat frozen shoulder with rotator cuff rotations. You can find these at sports stores, or ask your physical therapist for one.
Close one side of your resistance band in a door. Hold the other end with your affected arm with your elbow bent at a 90 degree angle. Stand with your affected side to the door. Pull the band toward the center of your body – about two or three inches – and hold for 5 seconds.
Repeat 10 to 15 times.
Next, turn your other side to the door. Rotate your affected arm away from your body (two to three inches) and hold for 5 seconds.
Repeat 10 to 15 times.
Supplements for shoulder pain
Outside of physical therapy exercises, the best treatment for frozen shoulder is using supplements for shoulder pain.
Some supplements work better than others when learning how to treat frozen shoulder, but the most effective is undoubtedly collagen.
What is collagen? Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, and it’s the main structure component of your connective tissues. Collagen is responsible for making your tendons, ligaments, muscles, and fascia more strong and flexible.
It’s that flexibility we are after here. After all, your shoulder is frozen! By supplementing with collagen, you can relieve some of the stiffness in your connective tissues caused by your condition.
Using collagen for frozen shoulder won’t work straight away. How long does it take for collagen supplements to work? Well, you will usually see full results at about the 90 day mark. That being said, you can start to notice small improvements much faster than that.
You just want to make sure you are taking a high-quality collagen supplement to ensure you see results as quickly as possible.
The best collagen for frozen shoulder
The best collagen for frozen shoulder is a hydrolyzed collagen supplement. This is the best collagen for joints because it has been broken down into small, easy-to-absorb pieces. This means your body can put your supplement to use straight away without any waste.
Of course, not every hydrolyzed supplement should be trusted. The majority of supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, so people can claim whatever they want about the ingredients or effects without having to back it up.
Because of that, you want to look for a supplement that is very well-reviewed and ideally backed up by scientific research. If you want a trustworthy collagen supplement that is easy to digest, you should look for a medical grade collagen supplement.
Medical grade collagen is overseen by medical professionals and regulated by the FDA. It is trusted for use in medical facilities all across the country.
By taking a daily collagen supplement, using occasional ice and heat, and practicing your physical therapy exercises, you will be well on your way to learning how to treat frozen shoulder from home.