Insight Orthopedics & Sports Medicine – If you are experiencing persistent dull shoulder pain that intensifies with sudden movements, trouble lifting your arm, stiffness in the morning, and difficulties performing normal activities like getting dressed or driving, you could have a common condition called adhesive capsulitis, also known as a frozen shoulder. While not life-threatening, this condition can be very painful and significantly interfere with daily life. In some cases, it can even lead to secondary issues, including overuse of other joints and muscles, from having to compensate for lack of shoulder mobility.

Whether you suspect you have a frozen shoulder or are experiencing persistent pain and stiffness in your shoulder, it is important to be aware that healing from this condition is a process that requires patience and the right care. An orthopedic specialist can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend a tailored treatment plan that promotes recovery. Here are a few tips on how to get relief in the early stages of frozen shoulder symptoms and when to see a doctor.

Try Exercises and Stretching

At the onset of frozen shoulder symptoms, incorporating gentle exercises and stretching into your daily routine is one of the best ways to prevent the development of thickened, inflamed tissues that are responsible for limiting flexibility in the shoulder. These efforts will also support overall muscle strength, which is crucial for shoulder stability. Key stretching exercises for frozen shoulder include:

  • Pendulum Stretches: Lean forward with your affected arm hanging down, slowly swing the arm in small circles.
  • Cross-Body Stretches: Use your unaffected arm to pull the affected arm across your chest.
  • Finger Walk: Face a wall and use your fingers to “walk” your affected arm up and down the wall (as far as possible).

Incorporate Heat and Ice Therapy

In addition to exercises and stretching, treating the affected shoulder with heat and ice can help you find relief. Start by applying a warm compress to the shoulder for up to 20 minutes, which will relax the muscles, reduce spasms, and improve flexibility. Follow this with an ice pack for up to 20 minutes to numb the shoulder and reduce pain signals to the brain. Be mindful of prolonged exposure, which could lead to burns or frostbite. Ice packs should always be wrapped in fabric before applying them to the skin.

Stay Active

If you are experiencing shoulder pain, refraining from movements that cause pain is a normal response. But staying active is key to improving frozen shoulder symptoms and preventing further stiffness from developing. Without overexerting the affected shoulder, make an effort to maintain a level of activity throughout the day by continuing with your normal tasks. Personal care activities like washing your hair, household chores that require minimal shoulder movement, and work or leisure activities are all great ways to prevent further stiffness from occurring. Always remember to start any activities slowly, listen to your body, and stop doing anything that is causing significant pain or discomfort.

Adjust Your Sleeping Position

Improving your sleeping position can help ease frozen shoulder symptoms and support meaningful recovery. Make an effort to avoid sleeping on the affected shoulder, which can experience increased pressure, pain, and stiffness. Sleeping positions that strain the shoulder can also reduce blood flow necessary for healing and tighten muscles around the shoulder joint. To improve your sleeping position, always try to sleep on your back with a pillow supporting your head. Pillows should be supportive and help you maintain proper spinal alignment. A warm compress before going to bed can also aid in reducing stiffness and help you fall asleep.

Don’t Overdo It

Whether it’s spending time with family, work, or our favorite activities, it can be difficult to take it easy. While it’s good to maintain regular movement with a frozen shoulder, overexertion will only set you back, causing pain and stiffness to worsen. Instead, modify your activities by breaking tasks into smaller parts and using ergonomic tools to assist with difficult tasks like reaching. It’s also important to avoid poor posture and repetitive movements, which can both put continuous strain on the shoulder.

See an Orthopedic Specialist

If at-home solutions like heat/ice therapy and stretching do not provide relief or your symptoms are worsening, it’s time to schedule an appointment with an orthopedic specialist. They will be able to provide an accurate diagnosis, as well as a comprehensive treatment plan that may include medications, steroid injections, and physical therapy. They will also monitor your recovery progress with follow-up appointments, answering your questions and providing support every step of the way. The goal is to reduce pain, improve how your shoulder functions, and help you return to your usual activities – pain-free!

From exercises and stretching to adjusting your sleep position and taking it easy, there are a number of things you can do if you experience frozen shoulder symptoms. However, if conservative treatments are not helping you get relief, it may be time to see a doctor. At Insight Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, our board-certified physicians specialize in comprehensive care and management for a wide range of shoulder conditions and  injuries. Contact us today to schedule an appointment at one of our convenient locations in Flint, Warren, or Dearborn.


Q: What causes a frozen shoulder to develop?

A: A frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, typically develops after an injury, surgery, or when the shoulder is immobilized for a prolonged period. People with certain conditions, such as diabetes or thyroid disorders, are also more likely to experience a frozen shoulder.

Q: How long does it take to recover from frozen shoulder?

A: Recovery from a frozen shoulder varies from a few months to a year or more, depending on severity. However, most people do experience gradual recovery over time. It is important to be patient and consistent with treatment recommendations such as exercises and physical therapy.

Q: Is it possible for frozen shoulder symptoms to return after recovering?

A: Although it is not common, it is possible for frozen shoulder symptoms to recur in the same shoulder or to develop in the other shoulder. Staying consistent with shoulder exercises, even after recovery, can help prevent symptoms from returning.