How can massage help with a frozen shoulder?


Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) is a common source of shoulder pain. It causes your shoulder joint capsule to shrink and significantly thicken, which leads to pain and a stiff shoulder joint capsule. This results in a reduced range of shoulder movement.

It occurs in about 2% to 5% of the population and commonly presents in 40 to 60-year-olds. It is more prevalent in women (70%) over the age of 50 who are largely inactive.

Your shoulder capsule is the deepest layer of soft tissue around your shoulder joint and plays a

major role in keeping your humerus (upper arm bone) within the shoulder socket.

While frozen shoulder is commonly missed or confused with a rotator cuff injury, it has a distinct pattern of symptoms resulting in potentially severe shoulder pain, loss of shoulder function and eventually stiffness. In my experience, pain is not always present, but severe restriction of range of movement is a significant problem.

Common issues include:

  • The inability to reach above shoulder height

  • The inability to throw a ball

  • The inability to quickly reach for something

  • The inability to reach behind your back eg bra or tuck shirt

  • The inability to reach out to your side and behind. eg reach for seat belt

  • The inability to sleep on your side.

There is still much unknown about frozen shoulder, including what causes the condition. There are many theories however there has been no consensus reached by the medical community.

Health conditions such as diabetes, cardiac disease, hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism conditions do increase the prevalence of frozen shoulder. For example, the incidence of frozen shoulder in diabetics can be 10 to 38%. Researchers are unsure why the risk is increased in these patient groups - but coincidentally, diabetes is often a condition caused by inactivity and poor diet.

A sufferer of frozen shoulder will find themselves progressing through three stages: freezing, the

frozen stage and thawing. The progression of these stages can last for as long as two years.

At each stage the following might help:

Freezing stage

Muscle release and shoulder mobilisation through the entire shoulder complex.

Frozen stage

Specific shoulder joint mobilisation and stretches, muscle release techniques, acupuncture, dry

needling and exercises to regain range and strength.

Thawing stage

Strength training exercises to take you forward as your symptoms reduce.

Remedial massage can be helpful in alleviating pain and increasing mobility across all three stages,

hastening recovery and enabling a return to normal function of the shoulder. But please be aware

that while there are three stages to recovery, it’s still a process which will take place over time and

it can’t be simply fixed in just three easy steps!

Suffering with frozen shoulder? Want to get your range of movement back? Book in with a Fitlife

massage therapist here.

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