How to Treat a Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is when you have pain with and difficulty in moving your shoulder. You might experience it after an injury, but it can also occur with certain diseases, like diabetes and Parkinson's. You go through three stages: slow onset of pain and stiffness, less pain but increased stiffness and slow easing of stiffness and pain. Here's how to treat the condition.

Treat your frozen shoulder pain with oral medications. Start with over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen and aspirin. Ask your doctor about prescription pain relievers if these don't help.

Consider cortisone injections if oral pain medication isn't helping. Because the injection targets your shoulder area, it may be more effective in reducing the inflammation. Cortisone injections work best in conjunction with physical therapy.

Work with a physical therapist to develop an exercise routine for your frozen shoulder. They can also use techniques like ultrasound, ice and heat to make movement easier.

Do stretching exercises daily to help your frozen shoulder. These bring motion back to your joints and prevent stiffness of the muscles due to immobility. The University of Michigan Health System has some exercises on its website you can do at home (see link in Resources).

Use moist heat to relieve shoulder pain and loosen up the joint. Apply a washcloth soaked in hot water for 10 minutes and perform your stretching exercises. Do this three times a day for best results.

Consider surgery if your frozen shoulder doesn't respond to the above therapies. A doctor can force the arm to move under anesthesia and stretch or tear the portions causing the stiffness.

Ask your doctor about arthroscopy. By using a small camera and special instruments, your doctor can cut through the tight adhesions causing your frozen shoulder.


A frozen shoulder may take 2 to 3 years to heal completely. Ask your doctor to screen for other conditions like rotator cuff tear. Physical therapy is crucial after surgery to prevent frozen shoulder from returning.

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