Physical Therapy for Frozen Shoulder

Rehabilitation for Adhesive Capsulitis

Is you shoulder pain a frozen shoulder?
Your shoulder pain may be frozen shoulder, and physical therapy can help. Pixlefit/Getty Images

If you have shoulder pain and difficulty moving or lifting your arm properly, you may have a frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis.  The signs of a frozen shoulder are pretty easy to spot: difficulty lifting your arm out in front, lifting to the side, or reaching behind your back.

If you suspect you have a frozen shoulder, you may benefit from physical therapy to help improve your shoulder range of motion (ROM) and restore normal use of your shoulder and arm.

 A visit to your doctor may be in order, just to check things out and make sure your shoulder condition isn't a more serious problem.

Symptoms of Frozen Shoulder

The common signs and symptoms of frozen shoulder include, but are not limited to:

  • Difficulty lifting your arm up in front or out to the side.
  • Difficulty reaching behind your back like when you put on a belt or fasten your bra.
  • Pain in the front, side, or back of your shoulder.
  • Weak feeling in your shoulder.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, visit your doctor and ask for a referral to see a physical therapist.  You may also be able to visit a physical therapist via direct access.

Diagnosing Frozen Shoulder

There are no special tests for frozen shoulder.  Diagnosis is typically made by taking a thorough history of your condition and by observing and measuring your shoulder ROM.  If you are diagnosed with frozen shoulder, don't panic - there are a few things you can do to get things moving right away, and the typical course and outcome of a frozen shoulder, although painful, is not dangerous.

Physical Therapy Evaluation for Frozen Shoulder

Your first appointment with a physical therapist for your frozen shoulder will be an initial evaluation.  During this visit, your PT will ask you questions about how your condition started and how your condition is progressing.  Be prepared to answer questions about how your shoulder pain is changing and what makes your pain feel better or worse.

 Be sure to wear comfortable clothes to your appointment that allows your physical therapist access to your shoulder.

Your physical therapist will also perform various tests and measurements of your shoulder.  These may include:

  • Palpation
  • Range of motion
  • Strength
  • Observation of functional movements of your shoulder and arm

After your initial physical therapy evaluation, your physical therapist will work with you to develop a treatment plan for your frozen shoulder.  Your plan of care will include setting appropriate goals for your treatment, and your PT may prescribe a home exercise program so you can work on improving your frozen shoulder at home.

Treatment for Frozen Shoulder

Once your physical therapist completes your evaluation your treatment can begin.  There are many different treatments for frozen shoulder.  These may include:

  • Exercises:  Exercise should be your main tool in the treatment of your frozen shoulder.  Exercises should focus on improving the mobility around your shoulder and normalizing the way your shoulder moves.

Remember, check in with your physical therapist or doctor before starting any specific treatment or exercises for your frozen shoulder.

If you suspect you have frozen shoulder, visit your physical therapist to help decrease your pain, improve your shoulder mobility and ROM, and improve your ability to use your shoulder and arm.  

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