Frozen Shoulder Syndrome

Frozen shoulder! Raise your hands if you’ve got it (or maybe not because it hurts so much, am I right?)

Frozen shoulder, also called Adhesive Capsulitis, is a condition characterized by thick bands of tissue (adhesions) forming around the shoulder joint. This can result in severe stiffness, loss of range of motion, and pain in the joint.

The most noticeable effect is the inability to move the shoulder, either on your own or with assistance. This isn’t just a pain in the shoulder that makes you hesitate or resist movement, but an actual inability to move the joint. About 2%-3% of the population experiences frozen shoulder at some point, with most being between the age of 40 and 60. While the cause of frozen shoulder is not quite understood, we do know that it often accompanies other conditions, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, and Parkinson’s Disease. An injury to the shoulder and subsequent immobility can also put you at an increased risk of developing frozen shoulder. This is one reason, after a shoulder injury or surgery, passive and active range of motion exercises are recommended as part of rehabilitation.

There are typically 3 stages to frozen shoulder.


This is the early stage, typically characterized by an increase in pain and stiffness over a period of several weeks to months. As the pain increases, range of motion decreases.


This stage generally lasts somewhere around 6 months, and while the pain typically decreases, the stiffness and loss of range of motion only worsens. Even the most routine daily activities, like brushing your hair or reaching into a cabinet can be extremely difficult, if not impossible with the affected shoulder.


Frozen shoulder doesn’t last permanently. Most people who experience frozen shoulder have a seemingly spontaneous recovery.The thawing stage is the slow progression back to normal range of motion and strength. It can last from 6 months to 2 years.

How can massage therapy help?

Along with the treatments, stretches, and exercises your doctor and physical therapist recommend, here at Michigan Massage and Wellness we kind of love shoulders and the problems they cause. If you look at the photo above you’ll see the results we achieved in a single session incorporating Lokte Method and Fascial Stretch Therapy. Was she completely healed after that? No, but we got a big increase in her range of motion and decrease in pain! With manual massage and specific passive and active movements, we can break down those adhesions and help the “thawing” process.

Also, there’s something often referred to as pseudo-frozen shoulder. What this is, is an unconscious muscle guarding that mimics true frozen shoulder. There may be an underlying condition or injury within the shoulder that, instead of adhesions limiting your range, your nervous system reacts to movement in a protective manner, tightening the muscles around the shoulder to limit range of motion, even without you realizing it’s happening. Some studies suggest that even if you are experiencing true frozen shoulder, much of the loss of mobility may be attributed to muscle guarding instead of solely the fault of the adhesions. Part of your massage sessions will include guidance and relaxation techniques to retrain your nervous system to calm and allow the shoulder to move as much as possible.

So before you just suffer through life with a frozen shoulder and chalk it up to “well that’s just how my body is now”, book an appointment for a massage and see the difference it makes. And then consider adding a weekly mobility class into the mix to learn how to treat things on your own (you know, when you call for a last minute appointment and we are booked solid for the next 3 weeks….)

In good hands,

Rebecca Tamm, LMT


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