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What Is Frozen Shoulder And How Do I Treat It

Have you ever faced a morning where moving your shoulder feels like a challenge? The stiffness, the discomfort—it’s more common than you’d think, and it has a name: Frozen Shoulder.

There are hundreds of different ailments that affect the human body, so don’t feel too bad if you’ve never heard of frozen shoulder. The technical medical term for the condition is Adhesive Capsulitis and it may be more common than you think.

FIT Physiotherapy is located in Newmarket, Ontario and we treat numerous patients suffering from frozen shoulder. In this article we discuss that frozen shoulder is, the stages of frozen shoulder, as well as the physiotherapy treatment options available to to treat frozen shoulder.

What is Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen Shoulder occurs when the connective tissue around your shoulder joint has become inflamed. The tissue will then thicken and become stiff and this is what causes the pain. Just like an ice cube, there are four different stages of frozen shoulder. These are pre-freezing, freezing, the frozen stage and then the thawing. Many people who suffer from this ailment don’t always recall injuring their shoulder. However, they’ll usually feel a dull pain for several weeks and this will typically become progressively worse as time goes on. Eventually the shoulder will become so painful they won’t be able to move and use it.

This journey through discomfort typically spans three stages:

  • Pre-Freezing: Mild discomfort begins, evolving into a notable pain with movement.
  • Freezing: The pain might stagnate, but the stiffness intensifies, hindering your daily activities.
  • Frozen Stage: During this phase, the pain may slightly ease, but the stiffness remains or could even intensify, significantly limiting the range of motion and making daily activities challenging.
  • Thawing: The stiffness begins to relent, heralding the slow return to normalcy.

The exact cause remains a mystery, but certain factors like age, gender, or recent arm immobilization due to surgery or injury, up the odds. It’s not just a condition that affects the elders; even individuals in their 40s or those with specific medical conditions like Diabetes or cardiac ailments find themselves in its grip.

frozen shoulder physiotherapy

Frozen Shoulder symptoms

These are some of the most common symptoms of frozen shoulder:

1-Aching or dull pain in the shoulder at all times

2-Increased shoulder pain when sleeping

3-Range of shoulder motion is restricted

4-Difficulty in carrying out daily and routine activities such as getting dressed, driving, brushing your teeth, combing your hair, and reaching for things etc.

Understanding the underpinnings of Frozen Shoulder is the first stride towards effective management. By recognizing the signs early on, you can take timely action, be it seeking professional help or initiating exercises to retain mobility. Your shoulder doesn’t have to remain frozen in discomfort; with the right knowledge, thawing it out is within reach.


When it comes to Frozen Shoulder, accurate diagnosis is the cornerstone of effective treatment. It usually begins with a thorough clinical examination where your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms, medical history, and any recent injuries or surgeries. They may also perform a physical examination to assess the range of motion and identify any discomfort or tenderness.

Following the physical assessment, imaging tests like X-rays or MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) may be conducted. These tests are instrumental in visualizing the shoulder anatomy, ruling out other conditions, and confirming the diagnosis of Frozen Shoulder.

Differential diagnosis is another crucial step. It helps in distinguishing Frozen Shoulder from other similar conditions like rotator cuff disorders or arthritis. This precision in diagnosis ensures that the treatment plan is tailored to combat Frozen Shoulder specifically, paving the way for a more focused and effective treatment regimen.

The process of diagnosis demystifies the cause behind the shoulder stiffness, equipping you and your healthcare provider with the insights needed to embark on a structured treatment journey. Through a blend of clinical examination and modern imaging techniques, the veil over the mystery of your shoulder discomfort is lifted, setting the stage for a well-informed treatment pathway.

How Physical Therapy helps

Frozen shoulder can usually be treated with the right type of physiotherapy. A therapist will be able to help restore the range of shoulder movement by leading you through a series of helpful exercises. These will help to stretch the capsule and tissue in the shoulder and many of the exercises will be able to be done at home. When the shoulder is properly stretched and strengthened it will result in greater shoulder motion and this will assist you with your daily activities.

Once you feel unexplained shoulder pain it’s a good idea to visit a physiotherapist before it becomes worse. A physiotherapist will be able to evaluate the joint and pinpoint the problem. They’ll then prescribe the proper treatment needed to alleviate it and work hand-in-hand with you until your frozen shoulder has properly healed.

Physical therapy is pivotal for Frozen Shoulder recovery. Tailored by your physiotherapist, it aims to restore mobility and enable daily activity resumption.

Stages 1 and 2

  • Exercises and Manual Therapy: Maintain motion range and alleviate pain through a blend of exercises and hands-on techniques.
  • Modalities: Utilize heat and ice treatments for muscle relaxation.
  • Home-exercise Program: A gentle regimen to curb motion loss without exacerbating pain.

Stage 3

  • Stretching Techniques: Intensified stretching for enhanced flexibility.
  • Manual Therapy: Advanced manual techniques to loosen muscles and tissues.
  • Strengthening Exercises: Targeted exercises for shoulder and core strengthening.

Stage 4

  • Stretching Techniques: Focused stretching on specific limited positions.
  • Manual Therapy: Techniques addressing specific problematic positions and ranges.
  • Strength Training: Specific exercises to overcome any identified weakness, aiding in daily tasks and recreational activities resumption.

Additional Physiotherapy Treatments

Besides standard physiotherapy regimens, there are other treatments that can significantly contribute to alleviating the symptoms of Frozen Shoulder. Here are some additional physiotherapy treatments that have shown promise:

Shockwave Therapy

Shockwave therapy, particularly Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT), has demonstrated effectiveness in treating a variety of pain conditions including Frozen Shoulder. This treatment is directed towards alleviating pain and restoring mobility in the shoulder joint. Shockwave therapy employs shock waves to promote healing, which can be instrumental in managing the stiffness and discomfort associated with Frozen Shoulder.

Dry Needling

Dry needling is another treatment modality utilized for Frozen Shoulder, particularly during the acute pain stage. By targeting specific trigger points in the shoulder muscles, dry needling aims to provide analgesia, thereby reducing pain and making it more manageable. This treatment facilitates the release of endogenous opioids and other biochemicals that can provide a therapeutic window for the delivery of other physical therapies. Although the number of controlled trials investigating the effectiveness of dry needling for Frozen Shoulder is limited, case studies have shown notable improvement in pain and function.


Acupuncture, often employed in conjunction with electroacupuncture, has been recognized for its potential in managing Frozen Shoulder symptoms. By inserting monofilament needles at specific acupoints, acupuncture seeks to reduce muscle spasms, improve shoulder range of motion, and alleviate pain. Several studies have found meaningful improvements in shoulder pain and function, especially when acupuncture is combined with exercise. The approach of acupuncture, though rooted in traditional Chinese medicine, has found a place in modern physiotherapy practices for its ability to enhance patient outcomes in conjunction with conventional treatments.

These additional physiotherapy treatments can provide a more holistic approach to managing Frozen Shoulder. Incorporating one or more of these treatments, under the guidance of a healthcare professional, can significantly enhance the overall treatment plan, fostering a quicker and more effective recovery.

Prevention and Maintenance

Regular Exercise

Engaging in a routine of regular exercises is key to keeping the muscles around your shoulder flexible and strong. It’s advisable to follow a balanced exercise regimen that encompasses stretching, strengthening, and aerobic activities. This holistic approach not only promotes shoulder health but also enhances overall body wellness. The exercises need not be intensive; even moderate activities like brisk walking or swimming can significantly benefit the shoulder’s range of motion.

Lifestyle Modifications

Altering certain lifestyle habits can go a long way in preventing the recurrence of Frozen Shoulder. This includes avoiding movements or activities that overstrain the shoulder, maintaining a good posture to reduce unnecessary tension on the shoulder, and being cautious while lifting heavy objects. Additionally, managing medical conditions like Diabetes, which can predispose you to Frozen Shoulder, is also a crucial aspect of lifestyle modification.

Follow-up Physiotherapy Sessions

Continuing with physiotherapy sessions even after your shoulder has healed is beneficial for maintaining the achieved range of motion and preventing any future recurrence of stiffness. Your physiotherapist can monitor your progress, modify your exercise regimen as per your current condition, and provide guidance on maintaining shoulder health in the long run. Consistent follow-ups ensure that you are on the right track, providing an opportunity to address any emerging issues before they escalate.

Preventing the recurrence of Frozen Shoulder and maintaining the flexibility and strength of the shoulder is a long-term commitment. Through a blend of regular exercise, lifestyle modifications, and ongoing physiotherapy, you can ensure the enduring health of your shoulder, paving the way for an active and unrestricted life.

Learn More About Physiotherapy and Frozen Shoulder

Understanding Frozen Shoulder, securing an accurate diagnosis, and following a personalized treatment plan are fundamental steps towards recovery. Incorporating preventative measures and maintaining a healthy shoulder regimen post-recovery will ensure lasting mobility.

FIT Physiotherapy is a physiotherapy clinic in Newmarket, Ontario and specializes intreating frozen shoulder. Contact us today to learn more or to schedule an appointment.

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