Frozen shoulder means your shoulder is painful and stiff for months, sometimes years. It can be treated with shoulder exercises and painkillers.
Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:
- you have shoulder pain and stiffness that does not go away – pain can be worse at night when sleeping
- the pain is so bad it makes it hard to move your arm and shoulder
These are symptoms of frozen shoulder.
Treatment for frozen shoulder
Broadly, treatment works in 3 main steps:
- Pain relief – avoid movements that cause you pain. Only move your shoulder gently. Use paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease the pain.
- Stronger pain and swelling relief – prescribed painkillers. Maybe steroid injections in your shoulder to bring down the swelling.
- Getting movement back – shoulder exercises once it's less painful. This can be at home or with a physiotherapist.
You may get a mix of these treatments depending on how painful and stiff your shoulder is.
Stronger pain relief is usually only used for a short time because it can cause side effects.
Physiotherapy for frozen shoulder
Physiotherapy can help you get movement back in your shoulder.
A physiotherapist will decide the number of sessions you need. The exact number depends on how your shoulder responds to treatment.
The physiotherapist will first check how much movement you have in your shoulders.
Treatments from a physiotherapist include:
- stretching exercises
- strength exercises
- good posture advice
- pain relief advice
If you're still in pain after you have finished your sessions, go back to your GP or physiotherapist. They might prescribe more physiotherapy or try another treatment.
Many physiotherapists work at GP surgeries. In some areas, you can ask to see a physiotherapist without seeing a GP first.
You can also get physiotherapy privately.
How long frozen shoulder lasts
Frozen shoulder can take at least 1.5 to 2 years to get better. Sometimes it can be up to 5 years.
But the pain and stiffness will usually go away eventually.
How you can ease pain from frozen shoulder yourself
- follow the exercises from your GP or physiotherapist
- keep an upright posture and your shoulders gently back
- move your shoulder – keeping it still will make the pain worse
- try heat or cold packs on your shoulder
- do not make up your own strenuous exercises – for example, gym equipment can make the pain worse
- do not slouch when sitting – do not roll your shoulders and bring your neck forward
Putting heat or cold packs on your shoulder
Try either of these on your shoulder:
- a pack of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel for 5 minutes, 3 times a day
- a hot water bottle wrapped in a tea towel for 20 minutes, 2 to 3 times a day
You can also buy heat or cold packs from the pharmacy.
Causes of frozen shoulder
It's often not clear why people get a frozen shoulder.
Frozen shoulder happens when the tissue around your shoulder joint becomes inflamed.
The tissue then gets tighter and shrinks, which causes pain.
Frozen shoulder can happen because:
- you had an injury or surgery that keeps you from moving your arm normally
- you have diabetes – it's still unclear why this is, but it's important to have your regular diabetes check-ups to catch any problems early
Page last reviewed: 8 January 2018
Next review due: 8 January 2021