6 Ways to Help Release Frozen Shoulder (Plus Demonstrations)


Frozen shoulder, also called adhesive capsulitis, is caused by thickening and inflammation of the shoulder capsule, which limits mobility. As the condition progresses, movement of the shoulder becomes more difficult with increasing pain that may worsen at night causing sleep disruptions that can affect overall health and well-being.

Self-diagnosis of Frozen Shoulder

If you have a frozen shoulder, you are likely well aware of it. Everyday movements such as getting dressed, reaching for things, or lifting the arms above the head become daunting and painful. Nighttime pain in the shoulder can lead to sleep deprivation, causing anxiety and stress.

When in pain, oftentimes the first instinct is to immobilize. However, moderate shoulder exercises and movements will increase blood flow to the injured area, which helps improve your body’s healing and recovery speed.

Stretching–Critical to Treat Frozen Shoulder

The best way to treat stiffness, contracture, and adhesion in the shoulder is to stretch. Therapy for frozen shoulder can take some time—often lasting three to six months and up to three years. Following the methods of treating a frozen shoulder as demonstrated below can help expedite the healing process.

Chest expansion exercise: Fingers crawling up

  • Use the fingers of the affected arm to crawl up along the wall as demonstrated in the video. When the hand reaches the highest possible position, press your upper body toward the wall for 30 seconds to one minute. Then, pull back your other shoulder for the chest expansion exercise and stretch your shoulder to relax the ligament of the shoulder joint.
  • Allow the shoulder to relax, then try crawling up again to the highest position available. Repeat the exercise five times.

Chest expansion exercise: Forearm stuck to the wall

  • Press the forearm against the wall holding the middle of the forearm or elbow at shoulder level as demonstrated in the video. Pull back the other shoulder to do the chest expansion exercise, and keep the position for 30 seconds to one minute.
  • Repeat the exercise five times with the option to adjust the forearm to different heights before chest expansion.

5-Angle arm stretching

  • As demonstrated in the video below, bring the affected arm across the upper body and hold it straight. Hold the elbow in front of the chest with the palm facing the body. Use the other hand to press the affected arm’s elbow toward the chest for one minute until the tight ligament of the shoulder joint is stretched.
  • Raise the affected arm to the neck level. Use the other hand to press the affected arm’s elbow toward the body for one minute.
  • Lift the affected arm next to the ear and bend it at the elbow. Use the other hand to press on the elbow of the affected arm for one minute.
  • Place the affected forearm behind the head and grip it with the other hand. Pull the affected arm towards the healthy side for one minute.
  • Place the affected arm behind the back and grip it with the other hand. Pull the affected arm towards the health side for one minute.

Towel pulling

  • As demonstrated in the video below, grab one end of a towel, lift the affected arm, and put your hand behind the back.
  • Use the other hand to grab the other end of the towel and pull it downward for one minute.

Palm drawing semicircle exercise

  • With the palm facing the center of the body, gradually stretch the hand upward as high as possible, as demonstrated in the video below.
  • Turn the palm outward and draw a semicircle to return to its original position.
  • Repeat the above movement 20 times. This exercise can move the shoulder joint to multiple angles and increase its mobility.

Press on trigger point, move the joint

  • Use the healthy side hand to press on the trigger point of the affected shoulder joint and moderately mobilize the affected arm for 30 seconds, as demonstrated in the video below.
  • Repeat the exercise according to different trigger points on the joint.

How Does TCM Treat Frozen Shoulders?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treats frozen shoulders with acupuncture near the affected shoulder, acupoints near the affected arm, or according to acupoints at the lower limb. In addition, TCM can treat frozen shoulders through bloodletting or small needle-knife therapy (acupotomy using a needle-knife to loosen and release adhesions to relieve tension pain). As the frozen shoulder is caused by fibrosis or adhesions of the partial shoulder joint, targeting the trigger point is effective.

TCM believes that the energy inside the human body, called “qi,” moves along the meridian system. Acupoints are points with particular functions connected to the meridian strings. Acupuncture can treat diseases afflicting the meridian channels.

For clinical treatment of frozen shoulder, Wu usually chooses the acupoints near the shoulder joint, including the Shoulder Bone Hole (TH 14), Shoulder Bone (LI 15), Front of the Shoulder (EX-UE 13), and the middle point between LI 15 and EX-UE 13. In addition, he often Suggests twisting-rotating and lifting acupuncture therapy.

After needling the above four acupoints, Wu will needle the Fish Border (LU 10), Union Valley (LI 4), Central Flow (KI 15), and Back Ravine (SI 3) on the affected arm with the retention acupuncture therapy. He also recommends the patients move their affected arm to promote its blood circulation of meridians, to reduce inflammation and pain. After the therapy, patients usually immediately gain better mobility of the affected arm.

In addition to acupuncture therapy, Wu suggests that oral TCM for promoting blood circulation and eliminating stasis can improve the symptoms of frozen shoulders and shorten the treatment.

Dr. Wu Kuo-pin is the superintendent of Taiwan Xinyitang Heart Clinic. In 2008, he started to study traditional Chinese medicine and obtained a bachelor’s degree from China Medical University in Taiwan.
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