Frozen Shoulder – Passive Exercises to Restore Movement

Medically referred to as adhesive capsulitis, frozen shoulder is a painful and disabling condition affecting the shoulder joint. Pain is constant and becomes worse in cold weather and at night restricting movement and positions which in turn greatly interfere with sleep.

Frozen shoulder leads to severely restricted movements making even simple tasks such as cleaning teeth, dressing or brushing hair excruciatingly painful.

The condition mostly affects people over 40, can last months, sometimes years and is thought in most cases to be triggered by injury or trauma to the shoulder.

Treatments for Frozen Shoulder

After diagnosis from your family doctor the condition may be treated with medication, physiotherapy, massage therapy or surgery. Over time, most people will regain about 90% of shoulder movement.

Once all measures have been taken to reduce pain and inflammation and your family doctor or physical therapist think you are ready, it is important to work on restoring movement to the shoulder. One way you can help yourself is to learn about passive exercise.

Passive Exercises for Frozen Shoulder

Due to pain and restricted movement it is very difficult to exercise the affected arm and shoulder. However, there are exercises you can do using ‘props’ to start moving without pain. This is known as passive exercise. These exercises move and stretch the shoulder joint to the point of pain only. You are in control and will know when this point is reached.

Before starting these passive exercises, make sure you are in a warm environment and wearing loose clothing that will not hinder or restrict movement.

Shelf Stretch

Lift the affected arm with your good arm and place on a shelf, mantel piece or something just below shoulder height. Take 3 deep breaths, relax affected shoulder and bend at the knees slowly opening up the arm pit. Stretch to the point of pain then slowly stand up straight again, breathing evenly as you go (don’t tense up and hold breath). Repeat several times pushing the stretch a little further each time, but only to the point of pain. At first you may think very little has been achieved, but practiced at least 3 times daily with 15 to 30 stretches at each session soon produces results.

Scarf Stretch

Tie the end of a long scarf securely around the wrist of the affected arm. Thread the other end over a secure bar or fitting above head height. A strong curtain pole works well. Grasp the end of the scarf with the good hand and gently pull to raise the affected arm to the point of pain. Stay relaxed, breathing evenly and let the arm back down again. The good arm is used to raise and lower the affected arm at a pace and to a point that suits. As with the shelf exercise, repeat 15 to 30 times at least 3 times daily.

It is important to ensure all props used are very secure as any instability could lead to sudden movements and further pain or trauma to the affected joint. Ask a friend or family member to try out your chosen props first for safety and security. Only then will you be able to fully relax which is essential for passive exercise to be effective.

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