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The Best Exercises for a Frozen Shoulder

author image Jody Braverman
Jody Braverman is a professional writer and editor based in Atlanta. She studied creative writing at the American University of Paris and received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Maryland. She also received personal trainer certification from NASM and her 200-hour yoga teacher certification from YogaWorks.
The Best Exercises for a Frozen Shoulder
The Best Exercises for a Frozen Shoulder Photo Credit: ChesiireCat/iStock/GettyImages

A frozen shoulder causes pain and gradually reduces mobility to the point that you may hardly be able to use your arm. This frustrating condition occurs when the shoulder capsule thickens and stiff bands of tissue develop. The causes of frozen shoulder aren't well understood, so the goal of treatment is to reduce the symptoms. Anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections and exercises to increase range of motion are the first line of treatment before surgical methods are considered.

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The best way to do these shoulder exercises is when your shoulder joints are warm. Harvard Health Publications website recommends taking a warm shower or bath for about 10 to 15 minutes prior to doing your exercises.

Stretching Exercises

Shoulder stretches help loosen up tight tissues and improve range of motion. They should be done very gently, as the muscles are much more easily injured when they are stiff. As you regain more flexibility, you can go deeper into each stretch. Do each of these stretches one to three times per day.

Pendulum Stretch: Lean over slightly and let your affected arm hang down. Slowly swing the arm clockwise in circles about 1 foot wide. Do 10 repetitions in one direction, then switch directions. Increase the diameter of the circle as your range of motion allows.

Read more: A Closer Look at Shoulder Pain

External rotation: Stand inside a doorway with your arms at your sides. Bend your affected arm to 90 degrees, and place the palm of your hand on the door frame. Rotate your body away from the door until you feel a stretch through your outer shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds, relax and repeat.

Crossover Stretch: Bring your affected arm across your chest, grasping the upper arm with your other hand. Pull it in until you feel a stretch on the back of your shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds, relax and repeat.

Forward flexion: Lie down on your back. Use the hand of your unaffected arm to lift your affected arm overhead. Gently press it as far as it can safely go. Hold for 15 seconds, release and repeat.

Treatment goals include stretching and strengthening the shoulder.
Treatment goals include stretching and strengthening the shoulder. Photo Credit: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/GettyImages

Strengthening Exercises

As your range of motion returns and you are able to do more things with ease, it's time to start strengthening some of the muscles that haven't been used. Warm up and do your stretching exercises before doing these strengthening exercises. You'll need a resistance band loop no wider than shoulder-width.

Outward rotation: Hold the resistance band in both hands with your elbows bent close to your sides. Keep the unaffected arm steady as you gently rotate the lower part of the affected arm outward from the elbow about two or three inches. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat for a total of 10 to 15 repetitions.

Inward rotation: Loop one end of your resistance band around a door knob or other stable anchor. Stand with your affected arm perpendicular to the anchor. Bend your elbow to 90 degrees. Pull the band toward your body about two or three inches. Hold for 5 seconds, then release. Repeat for 10 to 15 repetitions.

Read more: How to Treat a Rotator Cuff Injury at Home

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