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Massage Therapy for Frozen Shoulder

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

Shoulder pain from a frozen shoulder can make it difficult to move, but a frozen shoulder will typically only worsen if you stop using it. This is when a frozen shoulder massage or stretches can be beneficial. While it may be difficult, especially at first, keep moving in order to keep your shoulder from completely freezing. Always check with your doctor first, but once you get the okay, here are some massages and stretches you may be able to do.

Do I have frozen shoulder syndrome?

Frozen shoulder syndrome, also called adhesive capsulitis, is a condition that occurs when the range of motion in your shoulder joint is so limited that it feels almost as if the shoulder is frozen in place. At the extreme end of this condition, patients are unable to move their shoulder at all. There may be intense shoulder pain as a result, and daily activities may be impossible to complete.

The cause of this type of pain is usually trauma, repetitive motions, or disuse. If a person stops using their shoulder due to pain or injury, it will naturally become stiff. Chronic health conditions such as diabetes or stroke may also cause someone to stop using their shoulder. Scar tissue can begin to develop in the shoulder capsule, effectively “freezing” it in place. The shoulder capsule then becomes inflamed and extremely painful to move.

If you believe you have a frozen shoulder, your doctor will do a thorough medical exam. This may include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or ultrasound. You will also need to provide a detailed medical history that focuses on previous injuries or family history of medical conditions that put you at a higher risk for developing frozen shoulder syndrome.

Risk factors

While anyone can develop frozen shoulder syndrome, it occurs most often in people between the ages of 40 and 70. Other risk factors of frozen shoulder syndrome include:

  • Gender: Women are more likely than men to have frozen shoulder syndrome.

  • Injury or immobility: Rotator cuff injuries, broken arms, stroke, or recovery after surgery on the arm, hand, or shoulder itself can all result in prolonged disuse. This can lead to frozen shoulder syndrome.

  • Disease: Doctors are not sure why certain diseases put patients at risk. These diseases include diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, and tuberculosis. Diabetes in particular increases your risk. Ten to 20% of diabetes patients will develop this condition at some point.

Stages of frozen shoulder syndrome

There are three stages to frozen shoulder syndrome, each of which has its own symptoms.

Stage 1: Freezing

As this stage begins, patients may experience increasing pain in their shoulder accompanied by decreasing range of motion.

In response to the increased pain, patients may stop moving their shoulder, which only exacerbates the condition. This stage can last anywhere from six weeks to nine months.

Stage 2: Frozen

During this stage, patients may not experience much pain, but movement may become impossible.

Range of motion is greatly diminished or disappears completely, even to lift the arm up a few inches. Daily life becomes challenging during this stage.

Stage 3: Thawing

This recovery period of frozen shoulder syndrome can last anywhere from six months to two years, depending on the severity and amount of scar tissue built up.

Shoulder range of motion gradually returns to normal. Pain decreases substantially or is eliminated entirely once inflammation is under control.

How frozen shoulder massage or stretches can help

Massage therapy and routine stretches can significantly improve your pain associated with frozen shoulder syndrome.

By increasing blood flow to the area, your muscles can relax and inflammation will improve. This can reduce swelling and tenderness, not just in the shoulder, but also in the surrounding area. The decrease in pain typically leads to increased range of motion.

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