Frozen shoulder

Frozen shoulder means your shoulder is painful and stiff for months, sometimes years. It can be treated with shoulder exercises and painkillers.

See your GP if:

  • you have shoulder pain and stiffness that doesn’t 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

Book a GP appointment online

Treatment from your GP

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.

Your GP might mix these treatments. This depends 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.

How long frozen shoulder lasts

Frozen shoulder usually takes at least 1.5 to 2 years to get better. Sometimes it can be up to 5 years.

However, the pain and stiffness will usually go away eventually.

How you can ease the pain yourself

Do

  • follow the exercises from your GP or physiotherapist
  • keep an upright posture and your shoulders gently back
  • move your shoulder - keeping it still will make the pain worse
  • try heat or cold packs on your shoulder
Putting heat or cold packs on your shoulder

Try either of these on your shoulder:

  • a pack of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel for 5 minutes, 3 times a day
  • a hot water bottle wrapped in a tea towel for 20 minutes 2 to 3 times a day

You can also buy heat or cold packs from the pharmacy.

Don’t

  • make up your own strenuous exercises, for example gym equipment can make the pain worse
  • slouch when sitting - don’t roll your shoulders and bring your neck forward

Physiotherapy for frozen shoulder

Physiotherapy can help you get movement back in your shoulder.

Your GP will only prescribe a limited number of sessions (for example 6 to 8). The exact number depends on how bad your shoulder is.

The physiotherapist will first check how much movement you have in your shoulders.

Treatments from a physiotherapist include:

  • stretching exercises
  • massage
  • warm and cold therapy (thermotherapy)

If you’re still in pain after you’ve finished your sessions, go back to your GP. They might prescribe more physiotherapy or try another treatment.

Physiotherapy may not be available everywhere and waiting times can be long. You can also get physiotherapy privately.

Causes of 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

However, it’s often not clear why people get a frozen shoulder.

Call 111

If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.