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what is frozen shoulder can physical therapy help

What is Frozen Shoulder and Can PT Help?

by Tara Hackney, PT, DPT, OCS, KTTPLeave a Comment

Shoulder pain is a common injury seen in physical therapy. The phrase “frozen shoulder” is often used to describe a stiff and painful shoulder.

What is Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is also known as adhesive capsulitis. Frozen shoulder presents with a shoulder that is very stiff accompanied by aching, soreness, and pain in the shoulder and upper arm. Movement in the shoulder is very limited. There are commonly three stages of frozen shoulder: the freezing stage, the frozen stage and the thawing stage.

Causes of Frozen Shoulder:

Frozen shoulder occurs when the capsule surrounding the shoulder joint thickens and tightens, which restricts movement. The exact cause of this is unknown. Frozen shoulder is more common in women, those with diabetes, and in persons who have immobility of their shoulder for a period of time such as after shoulder surgery or fracture.1

Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder:

Symptoms of frozen shoulder can vary depending on the stage and may also worsen over time. Learn more about the symptoms of each stage below:

  • Freezing stage: In this stage any movement of shoulder causes pain. This pain leads the person to not want to move, causing range of motion in the shoulder to become limited.
  • Frozen stage: Pain is lessening in this stage, but shoulder movement is difficult and very limited.
  • Thawing stage: In this stage the range of motion begins to improve in the shoulder.

Moving through all the stages of frozen shoulder can take 12-18 months to resolve. Typically the freezing stage is the most painful for patients.

Treatment of Frozen Shoulder:

Physical therapy can help treat the symptoms of frozen shoulder. Many times the pain and stiffness in the shoulder limits the ability to perform normal daily routines such as washing hair, getting dressed and reaching overhead. Physical therapy can help to address the pain and stiffness of the shoulder.

Examples of physical therapy treatment for frozen shoulder:

  • Moist heat can be placed on the shoulder to help loosen tight muscles.
  • The therapist may perform stretching of the shoulder in all directions.
  • Mobilizations of the joint to try to help stretch the capsule may be performed by the therapist.
  • The therapist can provide exercises that allow patients to stretch their own shoulder using pulleys or a dowel stick.
  • When the shoulder has improved mobility, the physical therapist will often add strengthening exercises to treatment.

Physical therapy treatment for frozen shoulder is based on the individual and their specific symptoms. If you are experiencing frozen shoulder or general shoulder pain, schedule a free assessment at Athletico. Our team will take a look at your condition and provide recommendations for treatment, which may include starting physical therapy the same day.

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The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

1. Prestgaard, Tore A, et al. “Patient Education: Frozen Shoulder (Beyond the Basics).” Up-ToDate,

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