Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is a common condition, leading to the loss of the ability to move your shoulder in all directions. Your shoulder freezes, and reaching overhead, behind your back or to the side becomes restricted and painful. Most of the time, frozen shoulder improves but some people are left with permanent stiffness and the need for frozen shoulder physiotherapy.

Frozen shoulder has three stages.

  • Painful Stage – Pain is present most or all of the time. Sleeping is difficult and all movements aggravate the pain. Usually lasts three to six months, sometimes more.
  • Frozen Stage – Pain lessens but shoulder continues to stiffen. This can last up to 12 months.
  • Recovery Stage – Pain goes away and shoulder movements begin to come back. Can last up to 24 months.



Normally tissues around the shoulder joint are well lubricated and able to stretch so your arm moves easily in all directions. If these tissues become inflamed they shorten-up, lose their stretch and cause the shoulder to stiffen. There are two causes of frozen shoulder.

Pain and stiffness starts gradually without any obvious cause. Women over 40 with a history of diabetes or thyroid problems are at greater risk.

After an injury or following surgery where the shoulder is kept still for a long time (e.g., in a sling).



Physiotherapists are highly skilled at assessing frozen shoulder and treating people with frozen shoulder exercises. Your physiotherapist will conduct a thorough examination to determine your current stage, and to develop a frozen shoulder treatment plan that is personalized to your case. Consulting a physical therapist is crucial, because pushing the movement too early can worsen the pain, not pushing enough can lead to more stiffness.



  • Focus on pain control in the pain stage (e.g., gentle exercises, treatments to gently stretch the joint, work with your doctor to get something for pain/relax tight muscles)
  • Focus on range of motion in the frozen stage (e.g., strengthening exercises, manual therapy)
  • Focus on frozen shoulder exercises and rehabilitation in the recovery stage to restore range of motion and function
  • Recovery takes time and success depends upon participation in the treatment plan provided by your physiotherapist.


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