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Tips to avoid frozen shoulder during recovery from a shoulder injury

Frozen shoulder or adhesive capsulitis is a common disorder that causes stiffness, pain in the shoulder as well as limiting its range of motion. It manifests over a period of time and is commonly seen in patients recovering from any injury or surgery that limits the movement of the arm. In this article, we shall explore ways you can prevent frozen shoulder after an injury or surgery.  

The causes behind a frozen shoulder are still not fully understood. Experts believe that an inflammatory process is probably involved. After any injury or surgery involving our shoulders, most of us are guilty of popping painkillers instead of facing the problem head-on. This is also because many of us are apprehensive of making our condition worse. The truth of the matter is, shoulder joints often “freeze” due to a lack of movement and use.  

Tips to avoid frozen shoulder

The key to preventing frozen shoulders is to keep it moving. The idea is to consistently move the joint to the end range and remodel the connective tissue in the shoulder to recover the maximum range of motion and flexibility. It is important to remember not to overexert yourself. If you have any doubts, consult your doctor before trying any of the following exercises to prevent a frozen shoulder.  

Wall exercises  

  • Stand with your back against a wall and keep your arms down by your sides. Slightly bend your knees and ensure your back is fully in contact with the wall.  
  • Keep your palms facing outwards and lift your arms overhead slowly while maintaining the contact between the wall and your hand.  
  • Raise your arm as far as it will go and slowly bring it down. Repeat the set 8-10 times a day. 

Stretching exercises 

  • Pendulum stretch: Relax your shoulders. Stand and lean over slightly and let your affected arm hand down (loose). Swing the arm in a small circle (based on the severity of your condition). Perform the motion ten times a day. Gradually increase the diameter of the circle. Do not overexert your shoulder 
  • Towel stretch: Hold a towel in a horizontal position with both hands behind your back. Use your good arm to pull the towel upwards and the affected arm to pull it downwards. Hold this position for a few seconds then relax. Repeat the exercise around 10-20 times a day.  
  • Finger walk: Stand facing a wall about half a meter away from you. Reach out and touch the wall with the fingertips of your affected arm. Start at waist level and slowly walk your fingers up the wall. Do this till you’ve raised your arm to shoulder level or as far as you can go. Slowly lower your affected arm. Remember to keep your elbow bent during the entire exercise. Repeat the exercise 10-20 times a day.  
  • Cross body reach: lift your affected arm at the elbow with your good arm. Bring it up and across the body, exerting gentle pressure to stretch the shoulder. Hold the position for 15-20 seconds. Repeat the exercise 10-20 times a day.  

Strengthening exercises 

  • Outward rotation: Bend your elbows at 90-degrees and hold an exercise band between your hands. Rotate the lower part of your affected arm outward as far as it would allow and hold the position for five seconds before relaxing. Repeat the exercise 10-15 times a day.  
  • Inward rotation: Fix one end of your exercise band at waist level (you can hook it to a doorknob). Hold the other end with your affected arm. Pull the band towards your body as far as your shoulder will allow, keeping your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle. Hold the position for about 5 seconds before relaxing. Repeat the cycle 10-15 times a day.  

Along with the above exercises, you can also perform simple home remedies to prevent frozen shoulders such as gently massaging the affected area with lukewarm oil to relieve stiffness and applying a cold compress to manage pain. After an injury or surgery, talk to your surgeon and/or physical therapist for exercises best suited for your recovery. Remember every case is different, hence you should be careful not to overexert yourself.   

FAQs 

Ques 1: Can I get frozen shoulders if I have diabetes? 
Ans: Although the exact reasons are still unknown, studies show that frozen shoulder develops twice as often in patients with diabetes mellitus. If you have diabetes, practice shoulder strengthening and stretching exercises to prevent the development of frozen shoulder. Also, consult your doctor if you observe any stiffness and pain in the shoulder joints.  

Ques 2: Can frozen shoulders be prevented?
Ans: Frozen shoulder or stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint develops over a period of time, usually due to lack of use. You can prevent it by gradually strengthening your shoulder and increasing its range of motion with simple at-home stretching exercises. Consult your doctor to get a tailored exercise plan best suited for your recovery. 

Ques 3: Can a frozen shoulder go away on its own?
Ans: There are typically three stages of frozen shoulder: Freezing, frozen and thawing stage. Stiffness and pain caused by frozen shoulders can decrease over time. However, chances of restoring maximum function are best if you perform stretching and strengthening exercises regularly. In severe cases, frozen shoulder might also require medical intervention wherein, the doctor would manually “release the shoulder” 

Read: Frozen Shoulder – The Mistaken Diagnosis

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Author: Dr Reetadyuti Mukhopadhyay
Dr Reetadyuti brings over 11 years of rich experience in the field of shoulder, arthroscopy and sports injury. He completed his MBBS from MAMC (Delhi) and is a gold medalist in MS Orthopaedics from PGIMS (Rohtak). Having experience of more than 4000 ACL surgeries, 2000 shoulder instability surgeries, 2000 rotator cuff repairs, and more than 1000 PCL, he has successfully treated many national & International level athletes
 
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