Frozen shoulder – if you’ve ever had it, you know how debilitating it can be. You may feel fine one day, then the next you attempt to put on your coat and you can’t reach behind your back without pain and stiffness.
Frozen shoulder or adhesive capsulitis, is a musculoskeletal condition that causes pain, stiffness, and limits the range of motion in the shoulder, making it difficult to elevate your arm, and decreasing the external rotation of your shoulder. This condition can greatly limit your ability to play your favorite sport like golf or tennis, limit your ability to practice yoga or workout at the gym, and just as importantly, limit your ability to perform simple daily tasks like putting on your coat, reaching up high to put something away, or even washing your back.
The exact incidence and prevalence of frozen shoulder is unknown, but it affects approximately 2% to 5% of the general population and mainly adults 40-65 years of age, with more cases appearing in women. The condition usually starts with one shoulder and commonly affects the opposing side years after the onset of symptoms in the first shoulder, but it does not affect the same shoulder twice.
Performing stretches on the isolated muscle is crucial to gaining and maintaining normal range of motion of the shoulder joint. We focus on the four rotator cuff muscles that surround the shoulder joint. But there are other muscles associated with shoulder elevation and rotation that are often overlooked and must be stretched as well. Some neck muscles like the Trapezius and Levator will be stiff on the same side of the affected shoulder. Also, part of the back muscles like the upper Latissimus play a role in shoulder rotation and depression of the shoulder. Stretching these areas as well will increase greater range of motion rather than focusing solely on stretching the shoulder joint muscles.
There are regression and progression stretches that can be executed depending on the severity of the frozen shoulder. Since the condition can affect both shoulders, our practice is to stretch both sides.
While it may be tempting strictly from a comfort standpoint, one thing to avoid is decreasing shoulder movement in the affected shoulder. Consistent stretching and strengthening exercises can get you to use more of the shoulder and greatly benefit in improving range of motion and thawing out that frozen shoulder.