Rehabilitation & Recovery

5 Best Adhesive Capsulitis Exercises For Frozen Shoulder

adhesive capulitis exercises

Adhesive capsulitis, commonly referred to as frozen shoulder, is a very common condition that results in shoulder pain and reduced mobility of the shoulder blades.  

Frozen shoulder is what’s known as a self-limiting condition.  

This means that it can rectify itself over a period of time.  


Recommended Reading – 7 Worst Rotator Cuff Tear Exercises To Avoid Physical Injury


It’s important to note that there’s no quick fix in terms of shoulder treatment and the road to recovery can be a long one.  

Whilst it’s a good idea to get the condition diagnosed by a physical therapist, there are some great adhesive capsulitis exercises that can help to reduce symptoms and provide pain relief.  

We’ll suggest some home exercises in this article.  

But before that, let’s look at the condition in a bit more detail and discover the different phases and potential causes.  

Frozen shoulder anatomy

What Are The Phases Of Frozen Shoulder?

There are three phases of adhesive capsulitis:

1. The Freezing Phase

During the early stages of frozen shoulder, the freezing phase tends to be the most painful stage.  

This is when you may notice things such as reduced shoulder movement and pain to the shoulder joint.  

If not treated, these symptoms can last around 6 to 9 weeks, progressively getting worse.  

2. The Frozen Phase

After the initial painful symptoms of the freezing phase, pain will slowly diminish but you’ll still have stiffness to your upper arm and shoulder.  

You may notice you have difficulty performing common daily activities.  

This second phase is known as the frozen phase where symptoms can last anywhere from 6 to 9 months.  

3. The Thawing Phase

​The thawing phase is where pain reduces, your symptoms improve, and range of motion gradually returns.  

However, this can be a long process taking upwards of two years.  

What Are The Causes Of Frozen Shoulder?

Often it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of frozen shoulder.  

However, it’s suggested that a combination of the below factors can result in the condition:

frozen shoulder

Inflammation

Inflammation within the shoulder joint (the shoulder joint capsule) can lead to the build-up of scar tissue.  

These are bands of tissue that form between the joint capsule and the shoulder joint.

This can restrict movement and cause pain.

Injury or Trauma

Certain shoulder injuries, such as a fracture or rotator cuff tear, can increase the risk of developing frozen shoulder.

Immobilization

Prolonged immobilization of the shoulder due to something like surgery can lead to the development of frozen shoulder.

Lack of movement can cause the joint capsule to contract where it then becomes stiff.  

Diabetes

People with diabetes tend to have a higher risk of developing frozen shoulder.

The exact reason for this is not fully understood, but it’s suggested that it could be down to blood sugar affecting collagen which forms part of the connective tissue.  

Aging

Frozen shoulder is more common in people over the age of 40.  

As people age, muscle can break down and this can impact the shoulder joint making it more prone to stiffness and limit shoulder mobility.  

What Are The Best Adhesive Capsulitis Exercises?

Before undertaking any form of exercise it’s important to seek the advice from your health care provider.  

The following frozen shoulder exercises can help to improve the mobility of your shoulder and reduce pain.  

Adhesive Capsulitis

Towel Stretch

This is one of the most effective internal rotation stretching exercises to improve mobility to your shoulder making it making it ideal for common shoulder stiffness and, of course, adhesive capsulitis.  

As the name suggests, you’ll need a towel to perform the exercise. 

How To:

  1. Hold a rolled-up towel in your good arm and position over the same shoulder so that it hangs down the middle of your back. 
  2. Take the hand of your sore arm and place it down and behind you so you can take hold of the other end of the towel.  This is the starting position. 
  3. Slowly raise your unaffected arm up your back which will then pull up the arm which is being stretched.  Go as far as you find comfortable.
  4. You should feel a stretch to the front of your shoulder.  
  5. Hold this position for a count of 10 seconds.  
  6. Return back to the start and repeat for 5 repetitions.  

Pendulum Exercise

The pendulum exercise helps to loosen up the shoulder joint, breaking down adhesions and improving your shoulder’s range of motion.  

You’ll want to use a 1 or 2lb weight (something such a food can would be ideal), this helps to pull the arm down further opening up the joint.  

How To:

  1. Get a high-backed chair and stand facing the back of it (or stand side on to a table).
  2. Hold the can in the hand of your affected arm.  
  3. Rest your free hand on the back of the chair and lean over allowing your other arm to freely hang down. 
  4. Move your whole body in a circular motion so that your arm gently starts to swing (like a pendulum). 
  5. Perform 10 small circles in one direction and then repeat but move in the opposite direction. 

Posterior Shoulder Stretch

The posterior should stretch is designed to reduce the point of tension to your rear shoulder muscles and upper back.  

When performed regularly, it can also help to improve loss of range of motion. 

How To:

  1. Start by standing upright with your feet shoulder width apart. 
  2. Extend your right arm straight out in front of you until it’s parallel to the floor. 
  3. Now take your right arm and move it across your body towards your left shoulder.  
  4. Place your free hand on your right elbow and further increase the stretch by gently applying pressure and pushing your arm further in towards your chest. 
  5. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds and then repeat on the other arm. 

Anterior Shoulder Stretch

This is the opposite of the posterior shoulder stretch but will instead focus on reducing tightness to the front of your shoulders and the upper chest area.  

How To:

  1. Start off by standing and facing a wall. 
  2. Take your right arm and place your palm flat on the wall, your forearm and elbow should also be pressed against the wall and your upper arm parallel to the floor. 
  3. Carefully rotate your whole body away from your arm moving anti-clockwise. 
  4. You should feel a good stretch to the front of your shoulder muscles. 
  5. Maintain this stretch for 10 seconds and repeat 5 times. 
  6. Switch sides and work your other shoulder.  

Doorway Stretch

The doorway stretch is a great movement for opening up your chest and helping to alleviate tension to your shoulders.  

Aside from improving shoulder mobility it can also help to improve your posture.  

How To:

  1. Begin by standing in the middle of a doorway. 
  2. Position both arms so that your forearms and hands rest on each side of the door frame.  
  3. Keeping your feet in position and head and chest up, slowly allow yourself to lean forwards.  
  4. Continue to hold for around 30 to 60 seconds and repeat four more times.  

Final Thoughts

Aside from exercises other forms of conservative treatment that may be recommended by your Doctor may include corticosteroid injections or anti-inflammatory medications.  

As mentioned, seek advice before attempting the above stretches to ensure that your own specific needs are factored in. 

An effective stretching program, when performed often and with proper form, can help to break down scar tissue which has formed around the soft tissue of your shoulder joints.  

Over time, this will get your shoulders back to their full range of motion.  

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