3 Frozen Shoulder Exercises for Pain Relief

Although we all have occasional aches and pain in our shoulders and joints. However, without proper care, these so-called minor issues can quickly progress into painful and debilitating conditions such as “adhesive capsulitis,” or frozen shoulder. 

What is a Frozen Shoulder?

Adhesive capsulitis, or frozen shoulder, refers to the temporary loss of normal range of motion in the shoulder. Although the symptoms often begin gradually, those with a frozen shoulder often panic when they find they are unable to move their shoulder joint. The extreme pain and stiffness are paralyzing. Frozen shoulder symptoms often worsen exponentially with time; if you are experiencing any frozen shoulder symptoms, always seek treatment quickly.

The cause of adhesive capsulitis remains unknown, although some people are more at risk. In most cases, you can successfully manage adhesive capsulitis with simple frozen shoulder exercises. 

Who’s at Risk for a Frozen Shoulder?

Although this condition can affect anyone, certain people are more at risk. If you are at greater risk for joint issues, always watch for new signs of pain and stiffness and try to establish the cause. 

Increased risk factors for adhesive capsulitis include

  • Recent trauma (surgeries or injuries in the chest or shoulders)
  • Medical conditions such as strokes, diabetes
  • Chronic inflammatory conditions (fibromyalgia, arthritis)
  • Age (40-70 years old)
  • Sex (post-menopausal women)
  • Common Symptoms and Stages

Everyone experiences this condition somewhat differently, but there are specific warning signs to watch for, particularly if you fall under any of these increased risk factors. 

Physical Therapist stretching the shoulder of a female patient

The 3 Stages of Adhesive Capsulitis/Cold Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is divided into 3 main stages that can last anywhere from weeks to months in length. If you start experiencing any of these symptoms, call your doctor and begin performing adhesive capsulitis exercises. 


1. Freezing Period

Increasing pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint make it extremely difficult to move. Any type of stretching or movement causes extreme pain. Your shoulder’s range of motion decreases drastically.


2. Frozen Period

Although the pain seems to lessen somewhat, your shoulder is trapped in one position with no range of motion or ability to move. You are unable to lift or stretch your arm.


3. Thawing Period

This stage only occurs after seeking proper treatment. With time and the proper frozen shoulder physical exercise, your shoulder will begin to relax and regain movement. Although still sore, the pain will continue to diminish with time and care. Continue frozen shoulder exercises as indicated by your doctor. 

Physical Therapy for Frozen Shoulder

While injections and surgery are common treatments for adhesive capsulitis, they aren’t always the best options for true relief. Studies show that most frozen shoulder patients who’ve tried physical therapy for as little as four weeks experienced tremendous relief and overall recovery. 

Finding a trusted physical therapist is key. With their guidance and support, you can learn the proper adhesive capsulitis exercises and stretches to “thaw” out the inflammation and stiffness in your shoulder.

The Top 3 Frozen Shoulder Exercises for Relief

When treating a frozen shoulder with physical therapy, we recommend three primary exercises to regain movement and relax muscles. However, always check with your physical therapist first and learn the proper methods before doing any frozen shoulder exercises at home.

Top 3 Exercises for Shoulder Pain 

When doing these adhesive capsulitis exercises, ensure you use proper positions and never force your shoulder through any exercise that is too painful or awkward. Start with small, gentle motions and work your way up to large ranges of motion. Although some soreness is normal, resting and treatment will reduce it with time.

When performed correctly, these exercises for frozen shoulders should help relieve your pain and stiffness. 


1. Pendulum Exercises

Using a firm table, bend slightly, so one foot is out further in a partial “lunge” position. Rest one hand securely on the tabletop and let your other arm hang (this should be the arm on your “frozen shoulder” side). Tilt your body forward and back to produce a small but gentle swinging motion for your dangling arm. Repeat this several times in a “front/back,” “side-to-side,” and “circular motion” for clockwise and counterclockwise. Never swing your arm too hard, and keep your body posture firm and secure. Repeat the exercise about 20-25 times, but try for several sets of each type. If it makes it easier, break up the sets throughout the day to prevent over-working your shoulder.

Pendulum exercises for frozen shoulder


2. Overhead Wand Exercise

For this frozen shoulder exercise, lie flat on a firm, soft bed or mat with your shoulders flat and evenly balanced. Use a section of PVC piping or a broom handle and hold it securely with both hands at your waist. Keep your elbows straight and slowly raise the wand upward in a sweeping arc motion. If you still lack most of your mobility, you won’t be able to raise the wand up very far. This is perfectly fine; with time and physical therapy, your range of motion will improve. Raise the wand upward to produce a comfortable stretch. Hold for several seconds and slowly bring it back down to the waist. Start with about 15 repetitions, but try to increase the number gradually each time.


Frozen shoulder overhead wand exercises


3. Internal/External Rotation Wand Exercises

This final frozen shoulder physical exercise is very similar to the overhead wand exercise. Lie in the same flat position with your knees relaxed straight or slightly bent. Keep your shoulders flat. However, roll up a small towel tightly and tuck it under your frozen shoulder arm just above your elbow. Use the same wand and hold it with your frozen shoulder hand at the very end. Use your other hand to grasp the wand near the middle. Use this hand to push the wand carefully, so your frozen shoulder arm moves backward towards your head. Your hand should rest close to your head. Hold for 2-3 seconds and release pressure so your arm returns to the starting position. Concentrate hard on using your shoulder for a moment, not your elbow. Repeat about 15 times, and stop immediately if the pain or stiffness is too severe.

Internal/external rotation wand exercises


Bonus Adhesive Capsulitis Exercise! 

Using a basic hand towel, toss one end over your unaffected shoulder and allow the bottom half to dangle down your back. First, hold the opposite ends in each hand. Then pull the end over your shoulder upward in a slow stretch. Release the position by pulling the bottom end downward. 

This exercise is also available to watch as a video demonstration


Shoulder internal rotation towel stretch


Although a frozen shoulder is painful and frustrating, early and effective treatment is key for relieving the symptoms and regaining your mobility. Never hesitate or ignore your symptoms. 

For more treatment information or to plan your first consultation, please contact Cawley PT and Rehab at 570-208-2787 or email us at cawleyptfrank@gmail.com. Check out our YouTube Channel for quick physical therapy tips and treatment plans.

Are you looking for physical therapy for your frozen shoulder pain today? Click below to sign up for one of our limited Free Discovery Visits!