Skip to main content

Frozen shoulder

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.

Information:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: how to contact a GP

It's still important to get help from a GP if you need it. To contact your GP surgery:

  • visit their website
  • use the NHS App
  • call them

Find out about using the NHS during COVID-19

Treatment for frozen shoulder

Broadly, treatment works in 3 main steps:

  1. Pain relief – avoid movements that cause you pain. Only move your shoulder gently. Use paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease the pain.
  2. Stronger pain and swelling relief – prescribed painkillers. Maybe steroid injections in your shoulder to bring down the swelling.
  3. 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 on 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.

Find a registered physiotherapist on the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy website

How long frozen shoulder lasts

Frozen shoulder can take at least 1.5 to 3 years to get better. Sometimes it can be longer.

But the pain and stiffness will usually go away eventually.

How you can ease pain from frozen shoulder yourself

Do

  • follow any exercises from your GP or physiotherapist

  • move your shoulder – keeping it still will make the pain worse

  • try heat packs on your shoulder

Don’t

  • do not make up your own strenuous exercises – for example, gym equipment can make the pain worse

Putting heat packs on your shoulder

Try putting a hot water bottle wrapped in a tea towel on your shoulder for up to 20 minutes.

You can also buy heat packs from a 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: 26 April 2021
Next review due: 26 April 2024