Can Massage Ease a "Frozen Shoulder?"

Ask the Expert

By Erik Dalton ,

Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Autumn/Winter 2006.

Q. My shoulder is keeping me awake at night and won't move as it once did. Can massage therapy help this?

A. Erik Dalton of the Freedom From Pain Institute says, “Massage therapy can help almost any soft-tissue injury feel better temporarily. The greater question is, ‘How much better and for how long?’ The degree, type, and general history of the injury combined with the therapist’s assessment and treatment will determine that. A skilled massage therapist is often successful in relieving painful symptoms associated with shoulder joint conditions such as rotator cuff tendinosis, frozen shoulder, and impingement syndromes. Bursitis and a condition called supraspinatus tendinosis can occur separately or together and are the most common shoulder dysfunctions. Since all of these disorders may include dull, aching pain, trouble sleeping on the affected side, limited movement of the shoulder, and difficulty with simple activities such as brushing hair and dressing, it is important you clearly articulate the situation to your therapist so appropriate treatment can be directed at the cause.

“Regrettably, frozen shoulder has become a catch-all phrase (much like carpal tunnel) where any restriction in arm abduction gets blamed on this very complex condition. Inflammation of the shoulder joint (arthritis) or the muscles around the shoulder can cause swelling, pain, or stiffness that can mimic range of motion limitation resembling a frozen shoulder. A true frozen shoulder (scarring, thickening, and shrinkage of the capsule) often develops as people limit movement following rotator cuff, bursitis, and related tendinitis injuries. Injury to individual tendons around the shoulder can restrict range of motion, but usually not in all directions. True frozen shoulders do not like to rotate naturally. So, if the therapist is able to move your shoulder joint (while you are relaxed) beyond the range you can move it on your own, you can rule out frozen shoulder.”