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Understanding Frozen Shoulder: Expert-Approved Exercises to Regain Mobility

Has a medical professional diagnosed you with a frozen shoulder? Did they tell you to do that exercise where you dangle a weight and swing it around? I'm sharing what exercises are WAY better than that to ACTUALLY fix your frozen shoulder!

Frozen shoulder or adhesive capsulitis could be caused by many different things. Just look it up and you’ll see some wild-wild theories about viruses invading that shoulder capsule. But if you want to go with my theory on it, I think it’s more simple than that.

When you move improperly in a repetitive way, your shoulder starts to hurt. When it hurts, we underuse it or "rest". Then, when we try again to use it and it hurts it becomes inflamed and our body creates these “calluses” or scar tissue in and around that shoulder joint. Think about what happens when you wear bad shoes. Your body will make a blister and it will be super painful. You'll discontinue wearing that shoe until the blister heals and then you'll do it all over again. Eventually, that callus builds up. This may not be much of a problem if it's just a knob of skin on the back of your heel. But imagine what that would look like inside your shoulder joint.

To fix it, we need to battle an immobility problem with a mobility solution. Granted I know it may hurt to move with this exercise so be very gentle. The #1 goal is to regain full range (within reason of course). Motion is lotion!

Start by using a dowel to help get us some range in the early stages of frozen shoulder. If you don't have a dowel, try a broomstick or a long umbrella. Lay down and hold the dowel with both hands parallel to your body but slightly at an angle. Slowly rock the dowel back and forth into the painful range and back off. As you do this exercise, working into your restricted range will become easier.

Once the mobility starts getting easier, you’re probably ready to progress to part two, which is STABILITY. Working on the first exercise might take days or weeks before you feel fully comfortable moving onto the next exercise. Be patient with it.

This exercise progression works well to achieve slow, dynamic stability in the shoulder joint.

As a warm-up, you'll need a towel to perform an exercise I call shoulder setting. You'll fold up that towel and hold it between your arm and your body, wedged up in your armpit. Use a downward and inward force to hold the towel in place while you slowly try to pull it out with your opposing hand. This gets those muscles in your armpit to activate.

Once you feel like you've woken up those muscles in your armpit, we'll move on to the window washing exercise. The exercise is performed exactly the way it sounds. Grab a hand towel or slider and head toward a wall, a door or a window. Hold your arm out to the wall and pretend to wash the window in slow, small, circular motions. You should have your arm straight out in front of you. Don't shrug your shoulders up or bend your elbow. Stay fully extended out. You can try both clockwise and counterclockwise.

If you find this is still too difficult for you, you can do a modified version of this exercise that I call table washing. The premise is the same but use a surface such as a table that isn't straight out in front of you.

After you've worked through these range of motion exercises, you should be feeling more mobility and less pain. Remember, frozen shoulder may not go away on its own and it's important to seek out a professional if you find you are experiencing persistent pain or range of motion problems.

Hopefully, these exercises helped and remember, we heal smarter, not harder

Dr. Justin C. Lin


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