Understanding Frozen Shoulder: Symptoms and Causes

physiotherapy for frozen shoulder kitchener

A frozen shoulder can feel like a daunting and frustrating diagnosis. Not to worry! By understanding what a frozen shoulder is, and what you can do about it, you’ll find yourself on the road to recovery in no time.

What Is a Frozen Shoulder?

Frozen shoulder or its technical name, adhesive capsulitis, is when the ligamentocapsular tissue that surrounds your shoulder joint tightens resulting in a decline in the shoulder’s range of motion. You may find it hard to reach your coffee cup on a shelf or challenge putting on a jacket.

This is because typically, loss of the shoulder’s range is greatest in external rotation (with your elbow at your side rotating your arm away from your body), abduction (raising your arm over your head) and then internal rotation (placing your hand on your tummy). Unfortunately, pain is usually accompanied by this loss of range.

In later phases of the frozen shoulder, pain is typically quite low and the range begins to return. Many individuals recover with minimal to no mobility deficits or pain.

What Is the Main Cause of a Frozen Shoulder?

There is no main cause of frozen shoulder. There are risk factors that may predispose someone to be at higher risk for a frozen shoulder. The highest reported risk factors for frozen shoulder are related to diabetes mellitus (type 1 or type 2) and thyroid diseases.

It typically occurs in individuals aged 40-65. It is more common in women than men, and having a previous history of frozen shoulder is also a risk factor for having it in the other shoulder.

Can Physiotherapy Fix a Frozen Shoulder?

Physiotherapy in Kitchener is a great conservative option to support recovery through all the phases of a frozen shoulder. During the initial phase, where the range of motion is on the decline and pain is notable, physiotherapy can support individuals with pain management and work to minimize loss of range of motion.

During the later phases when pain has come down and the range of motion begins returning, physiotherapy will work to promote the return of shoulder movement and strength. Various techniques may be utilized in physiotherapy to support you. Education about the condition and the recovery process can empower you and allow you to make decisions about the various treatments available to you.

Modalities such as heat, acupuncture, TENS, and cupping can be tools used to assist in the management of pain. Manual therapy can be used to manage shoulder pain and promote movement of the joint. In earlier stages where pain may be more present, your physiotherapist will use what are called low-grade mobilizations which is where they will move your shoulder in a smaller, more comfortable range to avoid provocation of the pain.

In later phases, where the pain is low, higher garage mobilizations will be used, which means your physiotherapist will move your shoulder joint into the tightness in order to achieve more movement. Lastly, and most importantly, an individualized exercise program will be created with you to support your recovery process outside of your physiotherapy sessions.

How Long Does a Frozen Shoulder Take To Heal With Physiotherapy?

From start to finish, typically it can take 12-18 months to go through all the phases of a frozen shoulder. Physiotherapy can support ensuring this healing process is optimized and comfortable.

Is It OK To Massage a Frozen Shoulder?

It is fine to massage a frozen shoulder as long as it does not provoke a large increase in pain during the massage or within 24 hours after. Massage can assist in relaxing the tissues around the shoulder and can be a tool to manage pain levels as long as it is done at the appropriate intensity.

This means your registered massage therapist and physiotherapist will check in with you frequently to ensure that you are feeling okay during the soft tissue massage.

Which Exercises Are Best for a Frozen Shoulder and Which Should I Avoid?

There are no best or worst exercises for a frozen shoulder, however, there are the right exercises for each individual and phase of recovery. The right exercises for you will depend on your pain, level of function, and goals.

Your physiotherapist will work with you to determine where you are at in your recovery journey and tailor your exercises to best support your recovery.


A frozen shoulder can be a painful and frustrating experience. An important first step is to book an assessment appointment with your physiotherapist. You can use our online booking tool or call our clinic at 519-895-2020 to book your assessment today.

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