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Real Relief for Frozen Shoulder: Experts Reveal the 3 Easy Moves That Can Speed Healing

These natural strategies can cut healing time in half!

Lifting your arm above your head or reaching around to fasten your bra shouldn’t hurt. But for women with frozen shoulder, it does. For years, the cause of this painful condition eluded experts. Now, Duke University researchers say menopausal hormone flux may be to blame. Thankfully, there are study-proven strategies that can ease the ache and get you real relief for frozen shoulder.

What is frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, occurs when the capsule housing the shoulder joint becomes inflamed. Think of the shoulder capsule as Saran Wrap that surrounds the joint, suggests Robert Gillespie, MD, chief of shoulder and elbow surgery at University Hospital Cleveland Medical Center. “Frozen shoulder is what happens if that Saran Wrap gets hit by a blow-dryer, shrinking it all the way down and limiting your ability to move,” he explains. “You can’t move in rotation, you can’t move in elevation and it just hurts.”

Frozen shoulder occurs in three phases: freezing, frozen and thawing. During the freezing stage, pain increases and mobility decreases. “You start with minimal pain that worsens over time,” says physical therapist Hilary Granat, PT, DPT, owner of Core Total Wellness and C.O.R.E. Physical Therapy in Washington, DC. The shoulder begins to stiffen, and “seemingly out of nowhere, drying and brushing your hair, putting things on a shelf, even stirring a pot can become difficult,” says Heather Hirsch, MD, author of Unlock Your Menopause Type.

This stage can last from two to nine months. In the frozen stage, the shoulder is frozen with limited range of motion. The thawing occurs as range of motion returns and pain begins to ease up.

MUST-READ: Starting Your Day With This One Simple Move Thwarts Upper Back Pain

Why frozen shoulder is more common in women

About 70% of frozen shoulder cases occur in women, and as with many conditions, it may all come down to estrogen. “Estrogen allows for a nice fluid state in the joints, as opposed to having bone-on-bone, because there are estrogen receptors in our joints,” explains Dr. Hirsch. So when levels of estrogen drop in perimenopause, joint pain is common.

Restoring estrogen levels can help, though: Duke University researchers found that women using hormone replacement therapy were nearly 50% less likely to develop a frozen shoulder than those who did not use hormones. “When women replace hormones, it improves joint aches and pains all over,” says Dr. Hirsch.

MUST-READ: The 5 Easy Tricks Experts Say Balance Your Hormones + Tame Menopause Symptoms Naturally

How to find relief for frozen shoulder

Frozen shoulder can take up to two years to heal, but Dr. Gillespie says you can speed the process to six to nine months. Here are three moves to help:

1. A simple stretch

woman stretching arms
kali9 / Getty

“Daily stretching will mobilize and stretch the joint and arm to help restore range of motion,” says Granat, who had a frozen shoulder herself in 2020. That’s why physical therapy is the first-line treatment for frozen shoulder, explains Dr. Gillespie. He advises stretching three to five times daily for about 10 minutes each time. But the multidirectional shoulder joint needs a variety of stretches to improve range of motion, so Granat suggests in-person physical therapy to speed healing and teach you at-home movements.

One exercise she finds effective is wall walks. To do: Stand in front of a wall and place your fingertips against it at chest height. Slowly walk your fingers up the wall until you feel a stretch. Walk your fingers back down; repeat 10 times.

MUST-READ: 5 Stretches You Can Do In Bed to Melt Away Neck and Shoulder Pain

2. Easy diet tweaks

leafy greens; frozen shoulder
SimpleImages / Getty

Chronic inflammation is the driving force behind pain and stiffness in frozen shoulder. “Everything we do for this condition is based on lowering inf lammation,” says Dr. Gillespie. That includes therapies like cortisone and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections. In some cases, discomfort can keep patients from moving their arm at all, and these injections quickly ease pain so stretching and daily activities are more comfortable.

But you can also lower inflammation with diet. Research in Nutrition Journal reveals that eating an anti-inflammatory, Mediterranean-style diet rich in leafy greens, omega-3 fatty acids and fresh produce lowers levels of inflammation-causing proteins in the blood.

Dr. Hirsch notes that eating foods rich in isoflavones and phytoestrogens — plant compounds that mimic estrogen found in soy, fruit and tea — can help since they support hormone- depleted joints.

3. Heat therapy

woman with shoulder pain; frozen shoulder
andreswd / Getty

Applying heat for 10 minutes three to four times daily can loosen the shoulder to improve range of motion. “In my clinical practice, I will sometimes have patients on heat for about 10 minutes before I treat them,” shares Granat. “That way, when I’m stretching them, they’re already warmed up and we can get more range of motion.”

Indeed, researchers in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine found that using a heat pack followed by 8 minutes of stretching improved frozen shoulder–related pain and stiffness by 45% in four weeks. You can also double up on techniques by doing finger walks in a hot shower. Says Granat, “Mostly everyone has tiles in the shower. Use them to mark how high you can go and check your progress over time.”

For more natural ways to find pain relief, click through:

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Sore, Creaky Knees? These Stretches for Knee Pain Ease Discomfort and Improve Mobility

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