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Frozen Shoulder – Why You Have It and How to Fix It

pain relief shoulder pain

Frozen shoulder.  Stiff, painful, and hard-to-reach-your-bra-strap kind of shoulder pain.  

In TCM, we call it "50-year-old shoulder."  Although I had it in my 20s.  The good news is that it's very much fix-able.    

What you DON’T want to do if you’re in pain is stop moving altogether. 

MOVE IT OR LOSE IT.  What we want to do is move SLOWLY and CONSCIENTIOUSLY. 

However, if you suspect a tear or if you’re just come out of shoulder surgery, wait to do rehab movements until it’s cleared by your doctor.  

Moving too fast through exercise causes injuries. 

Trying to whip out as many chin- ups or push-ups as possible, straining your body, and not paying attention to form can hurt.  Doing a slow and conscientious chin-up or push-up can help you strengthen and heal. 

But if your shoulder is actively hurting and your range of motion is not good right now, let's focus on improving mobility before we get into strengthening.  Save the planks for another day.  

First, let’s focus on scapular engagement. 

Lack of scapular engagement is the third reason why people end up with shoulder pain.  (The first reason being not moving it at all and the second is moving too roughly.)

To engage your scapulae, try this:  stand up, bring your hands by your side, palms facing forward.  Now picture that you’re pinching your shoulder blades together behind your back.  As if you’re squeezing juice out of an orange between your shoulder blades.  Keeping this sensation, slowly bring your arms up with your breath staying nice and slow.  Try to breathe easy. 

When you start to feel a little stiffness through your arms or shoulders, pause the movement for a second, keep breathing, readjust your shoulder blades, and continue. 

About halfway up, you’ll notice that you’ll be unable to continue pinching your shoulder blades together.  Now, what we do is focus on is keeping your shoulders away from your ears. 

Come back down the same way you went up.  Do this 8 times slowly. 

Modifications:  if you can’t move your arms up without pain, stop where you feel the pain start and breathe there. Then come back down and repeat.  

When we're looking to relieve pain in a joint, there's a process to consider.

1. Posture - engaging through the big, supportive muscles in your shoulder.  The lower trapezius, rhomboids, and latissimus dorsi help keep your shoulders in their "parking spot."  The ideal position (aka "parking spot") for your shoulders is DOWN AND BACK.  So much of what we do is forward motion (driving, computers, cleaning, etc.).  At least 10 times a day remind yourself "down and back."  And physically put them there too.  I like to do little shoulder circles to remind myself.

2. Rehab process - as you're recovering from frozen shoulder, work on the stretches and home-therapies at least twice a week.  At first you may feel more sore, but eventually you'll notice better range of motion, less intense pain, and ability to do more than you could before.  

3. Strengthening - once your frozen shoulder is 85% recovered, it's time to work on strengthening the joint so it stays well.  Using the same good form, we slowly incorporate planks, scapular pushups, wall push-ups, and scapular pull-ups.  But remember, there's no shame in moving forward slowly.  

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