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How to Deal with Frozen Shoulder

January 16, 2016 3 min read


How to Deal with Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is undoubtedly a debilitating and painful condition, and it is all too common. Massage therapists the world over will be well aware of this condition and the struggles that its sufferers present to them in the hope of some relief. The challenge is in knowing exactly how to manage this condition within the confines of the massage education you’ve received. A therapist who has only studied basic Swedish massage may not feel overly confident in treating frozen shoulder with everyday strokes because it is very painful for the client.

The pain and stiffness in the shoulder can be so severe that your massage client is unable to lift their arm over their head. It causes stiffness and a restricted range of movements in the affected shoulder. There is a medical term for it – ‘adhesive capsulitis’ and most sufferers will be familiar with the term because the pain can be so testing that they visit a Doctor at some point. The worst thing about frozen shoulder is that it is persistent. Unfortunately the medical industry are more likely to inject the affected muscle with steroids than recommend a course of massage treatments, however, most frozen shoulder sufferers are likely to want to go down the massage route at some point anyway.

The condition of adhesive capsulitis usually entails a gradual onset of stiffness and increasing pain in only one shoulder; the joint capsule tightens and inflamed.

As usual, massage to the rescue

The good news is what we massage therapists already know it to be: Massage is the wonder treatment that can alleviate most of these symptoms if regular treatments are booked in and adhered to by the client.  It is obvious to us that massage works by loosening and relaxing the stiff or seized shoulder muscles. There are other methods of treating frozen shoulder that could be used in conjunction with your massage therapy, such as heat therapy, exercise, physiotherapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) or steroid injections. At Massage Warehouse we feel that it would be of more benefit to the client’s health to avoid chemical injections or invasive treatments wherever possible, but it is an extremely difficult condition to tolerate, so it’s little wonder that clients resort to seeking instant relief in other ways.

Immediate treatment naturally means quicker recovery times, but it can sometimes take between twelve and eighteen months to fully recover from frozen shoulder and regain the entire range of movements in the muscles. In worst-case scenarios it has been necessary for a surgical procedure to be carried out in order to release the seized joint capsule.

How Massage Helps Frozen Shoulder

A professional massage therapist can use various combinations of techniques to treat frozen shoulder. Massage is of great benefit to the affected muscles due to the increased blood circulation; it is also great at breaking down scar tissue. Regular massage is necessary as there is no way that something so severe could be relieved by only one treatment, so it would be worth suggesting to your client that they book in for regular treatments until they notice lasting relief. Below are some of the most popular forms of massage for frozen shoulder treatment:

Swedish Massage

Those therapists who only use Swedish massage will be happy to know that this therapy can be enough. The sweeping strokes and kneading can work well to alleviate the tension within the surface muscle tissues.

Deep Tissue Massage

It is quite obvious the frozen shoulder would benefit the most from deep work. Deep tissue massage techniques are great because the consistent pressure on the muscles can release the scar tissue and adhesions that are causing the painful condition. Shiatsu is a great type of massage for this condition, requiring a lot of pressure on the ‘acupressure points’ and positively affecting the energy flow throughout the body. If there is a lot of inflammation and acute pain, it may be better to avoid deep tissue massage because it can be quite intense and result in even more pain for the client.

Trigger Point Therapy

Frozen shoulder can also benefit a lot from trigger point therapy, because the steady pressure being applied to specific points on the muscles can help to relieve muscle spasms and pains. This can be quite tough on the hands of the massage therapist, but there are certain tools available that have been designed specifically to make this kind of treatment easier.

Heat Therapy

Heat can be applied to the affected area either before or after the massage treatment. It assists in the relaxation of the affected muscles, this relieving the tension and pain. This can be done several times per day in the client’s own time as well, and especially before they come to you for a treatment in order that they gain the maximum benefit.


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