A painful, stiff shoulder is often a sign of a frozen shoulder and can really impact exercise and quality of life. If you find yourself with this condition, you may be wondering what you can do to help fix it – or at least relieve some of the pain and discomfort.
Frozen shoulders can be common, especially in adults over the age of 40. It’s still unknown exactly what causes it, but some type of inflammatory response is likely involved (Source).
Thankfully, full recovery is possible, but it will take time and consistent work to get your shoulder back to normal.
We’ll go over different exercises that can help with frozen shoulder, what you can do to avoid making it worse, and more.
Can Swimming Help Shoulder Pain?
Yes, swimming can help ease shoulder pain, but it’s always important to consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise.
Swimming is a low-impact activity that allows the body to go through the movement without excessive pressure on the joints. This can help alleviate some symptoms related to frozen or “locked” shoulders, provided the individual is able to perform this motion.
Of course, it’s important not to jump right into swimming if you’re experiencing significant shoulder pain. There may be an underlying cause and you can risk a greater injury.
Your first step should be to visit a doctor to see what may be causing the pain. They will likely refer you to a physical therapist who can prescribe specific movements to help reduce your shoulder pain.
Frozen shoulder is usually caused by having to keep an arm still for a long period of time, like while it’s in a cast, or just due to sedentary habits. It often begins slowly and worsens over time as the joint stiffens (Source).
Also, check out “Why is Swimming and/or Hydrotherapy Often a Popular Choice for Physical Therapy?“
- Can Swimming Help Shoulder Pain?
- How Do You Swim with A Frozen Shoulder?
- What Is the Best Exercise for Frozen Shoulder?
- What Aggravates Frozen Shoulder?
- Does Exercise Make Frozen Shoulder Worse?
- What Should You Not Do with A Frozen Shoulder?
- Things to Keep in Mind
How Do You Swim with A Frozen Shoulder?
First and foremost, make sure you have approval from a doctor or physical therapist before you begin swimming with a frozen shoulder. You don’t want to risk making it worse or causing a different injury.
Fortunately, swimming or other water-based exercises can be a good exercise to help improve your shoulder’s range of motion (Source).
You’ll want to begin gently and slowly build up your efforts. For example, you may do a simple front stroke with an inflatable support so you don’t need to pull your full weight through the water.
As your shoulder loosens and you get stronger, you may be able to push yourself harder. Just make sure you check in with your physical therapist as they’ll be able to tell you which movements you’ll want to avoid.
What Is the Best Exercise for Frozen Shoulder?
There are a lot of great exercises you can do at home to help with frozen or locked shoulders. Many of these would likely be prescribed by a physical therapist, so it can help to check with them first to find the movements that would help you the most.
The focus for exercise should be gentle, progressive movement that gets the shoulder moving again (Source).
You can focus your recovery into two categories: at home stretches and a regular fitness routine. Here are some at home stretches that may help your frozen shoulder (Source):
10-20 times a day
Grab a three foot towel and hold it horizontally behind your back with both hands. Use your good arm to pull the frozen shoulder arm upward in a stretch.
10-20 times a day
Stand facing a wall at a distance of about three-quarters of an arm’s length away. Reach towards the wall with your affected arm at waist level, slightly bent, and use your fingers to walk your hand up the wall. You can go until shoulder height or as far as comfortable. Make sure your fingers are doing the work, not your muscles.
10-20 times a day
You can do this stretch sitting or standing. Using your good arm, lift your affected arm at the elbow and stretch it up and across your body. You should use gentle pressure to stretch the shoulder and hold it for 15 to 20 seconds.
10-20 times a day
Use your good arm to lift your affected arm onto a shelf or table about the height of your breast line. Slowly bend the knee to open up the armpit. Continue to deepen the stretch and then straighten back up. Each time you do a knee bend, try to go a little further, but don’t push it to the point of pain.
What Aggravates Frozen Shoulder?
There are many movements that can aggravate frozen shoulders and delay healing. You’ll want to avoid any sudden, jerky, or pulling movements that can cause added strain and pain to the shoulder. It’ll be important to limit or outright avoid any activities that involve overhead reaching or lifting. (Source)
In general, let your shoulders be your guide – if something causes pain, you don’t want to try and push through it as you might just make it worse. That being said, it’s important to incorporate at least some gentle movement to prevent it from freezing even more.
Does Exercise Make Frozen Shoulder Worse?
Yes, certain exercises can make frozen shoulders worse. For example, anything that involves quick, jarring movements of the shoulder is likely to aggravate the symptoms and cause further injury. This could require more extreme measures of treatment, such as surgery.
What Should You Not Do with A Frozen Shoulder?
People should avoid any activities that cause pain to the shoulder if they experience a frozen shoulder. While it is important to add some gentle movement to aid in recovery and “unfreeze” the shoulder, anything that causes a sharp pain should be eliminated until you reach a better range of motion. Painful, jarring movements will only worsen the pain and cause a greater strain on your muscles.
If you continue to do these painful movements, the tendons in your arm will need to compensate, which can lead to tendonitis (Source).
In addition to avoiding painful movements, it’s really important to make sure you’re not skipping any of your physical therapy sessions or exercises.
It’s very common for people to think the pain will simply go away on its own, or that physical therapy isn’t helping, but that can ultimately make the condition worse.
A physical therapist will also be able to help guide you in how hard you can push yourself when making progress, something that can be very difficult to gauge on your own.
We also recommend that you check out our post titled “Is Swimming Good for Herniated Discs And Back Pain?“
Things to Keep in Mind
If you think you may be developing a frozen shoulder, you should reach out to your primary physician. Early detection can be important, especially because the condition tends to get worse when it isn’t treated.
Follow the advice of your doctor and physical therapist for your best chances of a full and speedy recovery.