Can Physio Help Frozen Shoulder?

Can physiotherapy help frozen shoulder?  In this article, chartered physiotherapist at Mid West Physiotherapy, Shane Brennan, answers the most common queries and questions we receive from patients experiencing this painful condition.  Physiotherapy plays an important role in the treatment of frozen shoulder helping to relieve pain and discomfort and enhancing recovery.


1. What is frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is a condition which results in shoulder pain and stiffness and can cause you to have difficulties using your arm day to day. There are 2 types of frozen shoulder: Primary – comes on without any known trauma, surgery, or medical condition. Secondary – comes on in the presence of a known medical condition or after trauma or surgery. There is an increased risk of developing frozen shoulder in people with diabetes and obesity, as well as coronary heart disease and thyroid problems.


2. How long will I be injured for?

Frozen shoulder can have a slow recovery. In some instances people will have pain for over a year – although some people can recover quicker than that. The good news is that although frozen shoulder is poorly understood and, in some cases, difficult to treat, it does get better.


3. What does a typical recovery trajectory look like?

Frozen shoulder is usually a 2-phase condition; throughout phase 1 the shoulder will be sore but not as stiff, in phase 2 there will be more stiffness and less pain.


4.What pain levels should I expect over the first week, 2 weeks, 6 weeks etc.

It is difficult to put a timeline on the pain levels involved in frozen shoulder, as each case is different. The good news is that physiotherapy can help with pain and stiffness.


5. What causes frozen shoulder?

The restriction associated with frozen shoulder can be as a result of your shoulder capsule tightening up, or as a result of muscle guarding around the shoulder. In most people, we see a combination of both.


6. What can I do about my frozen shoulder?

An important part of managing frozen shoulder is making sure that you have the correct diagnosis – and that your shoulder pain or stiffness is definitely due to a frozen shoulder. Getting an assessment as soon as you develop pain is useful and can help to manage the pain. Physiotherapy mobilisations and exercise are effective in the short to mid term for managing pain and stiffness.


7. Will I need an injection?

Corticosteroid injections have shown short to mid-term benefit but first line treatment should always be physiotherapy. If you have pain more than stiffness and are unable to tolerate the pain, have disrupted sleep and severe pain on movement – and physiotherapy hasn’t worked – the next step should be a steroid injection – followed by a rehabilitation program.


8. Will I need surgery?

When non-operative treatments do not achieve the desired result, surgery, such as manipulation under anaesthetic can be considered. The key research into Frozen Shoulder has said that physiotherapy should always be tried first, before opting for surgical interventions.


9. What type of rehab exercises will I get?

Physiotherapy for frozen shoulder varies from person to person but the key goals of treatment should be to maintain or improve range of movement in the shoulder; this can be achieved with strengthening & stretching exercises.


10. How often do I need to do my rehab exercises?

Your exercises will need to be done at least once a day to reduce stiffness and pain around the shoulder.


11. How long should I spend doing my exercises?

Usually 10-15 minutes once or twice per day is enough to manage pain and stiffness.


12. When can I return to my regular activities?

When pain and stiffness allow, and sleep and day to day function have improved, your physiotherapist will be able to guide you back to your regular activities.


13. Can I book an appointment with you?

Yes, we would be very happy to help you. You can book an appointment with our physiotherapists via this online link, or your can contact our Reception by ringing 061-201444 or emailing


14. Where can I find out more information about frozen shoulder? 

The HSE has a factsheet on their website which contains some helpful information for patients experiencing frozen shoulder.

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