Frozen shoulder syndrome could take months or even years to heal before it stops bothering you. (1) One solution to make things bearable? Getting frozen shoulder massage therapy!
It can provide several benefits for your symptoms (and well-being). But, a massage is not just mashing and pounding away your shoulder muscles. There are different techniques involved, which we’ll discuss below.
These are the topics we’ll cover. Tap on any of the links below to go straight to its section:
- How a massage can help
- Different types of massage
- How to self-massage
- 4 tips to maximize your massage
How can massage therapy help frozen shoulder?
First, it’s important to know that massage does not directly treat frozen shoulder. For that, you will need guidance from a doctor or a physical therapist.
But, this type of therapy can temporarily alleviate pain and muscle spasms – the most common and frustrating symptoms present at certain frozen shoulder stages. (2)
Now, it’s important to know which stage you’re in before getting a massage. That way, you’ll know which benefits you can expect from this therapy.
So, outlined below is how a massage can relieve your frozen shoulder symptoms, depending on which stage you are in.
This stage lasts for 2 to 6 months. (3) The symptoms that you might experience at this point include moderate to severe shoulder pain, and some range of motion limitations.
Getting a shoulder massage while in this stage could provide pain relief. It may possibly increase your shoulder joint motion as well.
Lasting for 4 to 12 months, the dominant symptom early in this stage is shoulder pain. (3) This eventually subsides later on and is replaced by progressive stiffness on your affected arm.
Here, a massage can still help relieve pain, same as in the freezing stage. Additionally, it also soothes muscle tension that may gradually start to build up around your upper arm.
This stage lasts for 6 to a whopping 26 months. (3) Fortunately, pain is minimal, and you can expect a gradual improvement in your shoulder motion as time goes by.
Having a massage can help warm up and improve blood circulation to your shoulder joint capsule and surrounding tissues. This in turn can increase the effectiveness of the stretching and mobility drills you’ll be doing at this point.
Related: How to know if your frozen shoulder is starting to thaw?
What are effective massage techniques for frozen shoulder pain relief?
Before diving into the techniques, please consider that it takes hours of training and certifications to properly perform them. So, to get the most out of your massage, make sure to book with a professional massage therapist.
With that said, effective massage techniques for frozen shoulder include:
Deep tissue massage
This technique uses heavy pressure and slow strokes to get as deep into your muscles as you possibly can tolerate.
In turn, this encourages faster healing by improving blood flow, while also releasing built-up tension around your affected arm.
For some of you who like an intense massage, then this may be for you. It may leave you feeling a bit sore during and the day after your session. But it’s a good kind of soreness, much like after getting a workout.
This is the gentler and more comforting version of a deep tissue massage.
Here, the massage therapist uses lighter and longer strokes that glide on your muscles and shoulder joint.
It is undoubtedly relaxing, allowing you to take your mind off daily stressors like shoulder pain and stiffness.
Trigger point therapy
This technique uses direct pressure to help release tension from hyperirritable spots called trigger points.
A quick way to check for one is to try running your hand from your shoulder to the base of your neck. If there is a palpable muscular lump that is tender to touch, chances are that is a trigger point.
It may come from prolonged poor posture and sleep disturbances. (4) Dealing with them can lead to pain relief.
Active release therapy
This is another method that helps release tight spots around your muscles.
Here, a massage therapist pins down a specific tender point on your affected arm. While maintaining the pressure, you will then actively move your arm to stretch that muscle.
The combination of these two, pinning and stretching, helps relieve muscle tension and improve your range of motion.
Instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM)
This technique utilizes rigid tools of various shapes to treat areas of muscle tension.
The therapist applies pressure on the tool in a scraping manner as it glides across your skin. This could then break down tight muscle knots and bring pain relief. (5)
How to self-massage a frozen shoulder using different tools
Doing a self-frozen shoulder massage is easy as long as you have the right tools for the job. And there are various tools of different shapes and sizes that you can use:
Massage with a tennis ball
The size and shape of a tennis ball are both convenient to use and adaptable to the contours of your shoulder joint. It can help reach tender spots that you might have a hard time reaching.
To perform a shoulder massage with a tennis ball:
- Place the tennis ball in between a sore spot on your affected shoulder and a wall.
- Lean onto the wall to apply more pressure. It should feel firm on your shoulder, the ball should not easily roll and fall off.
- Keeping that firm pressure, slide your shoulder against the ball.
- Count 20 to 30 seconds of self-massage before moving on to another sore spot.
Massage with a foam roller
A foam roller is a high-density portable massage tool, usually cylindrical in shape.
Some models have firm small ridges, while others have a flat surface. Choosing one or the other will mostly depend on your personal preferences.
Due to its shape, you can do more types of massages to help improve your shoulder mobility, such as:
Upper back massage
Being in pain can cause the muscles of your upper back to tighten up, bracing themselves to avoid movement. This can lead to a hunchback posture, causing more strain on your muscles.
To loosen your upper back muscles:
- Lay on your back with a foam roller under your upper back.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor by bending your knees. Additionally, cross your arms in front of your chest.
- Lift your butt off the floor and use your legs to slowly roll your upper back against the foam roller.
- Do this for 30 seconds. Feel free to take extra time if you feel any tight or sore areas.
Lats is short for latissimus dorsi. It is a large muscle connecting your hips, spine, and arms. Tightness in your lats can limit the ability of your affected arm to move upward.
To improve the flexibility of your lats:
- Lay on your side with your arms raised in front or overhead, whichever is comfortable.
- Place a foam roller near your armpit.
- Turn your palms towards the ceiling to lengthen your lats.
- With moderate pressure, begin rolling up and down on your side. Use your legs to help you move.
- Cover the area between your armpit and lower ribs.
- Do this for 30 seconds.
Massage with an electric massage gun
This tool uses percussion to soothe and relax sore muscles. It’s also convenient and versatile. You can change the attachment head and speed to further customize the massage.
These are a few steps you should do to properly use a massage gun on your shoulder:
- Pick and choose your attachment head. Those with sharper ends tend to give deeper massages compared to the flat ones.
- Adjust the speed. The faster it is, the more it warms up your muscles.
- Using your good hand, point the massage gun over any sore spot on your shoulder.
- Focus at least 30 seconds on one spot before moving on to the next one.
4 Tips to get the most out of your massage
Maximize the effectiveness of massage therapy by doing these three things:
1) Take a warm shower
A warm shower before a massage puts you in a relaxed mood while also loosening up your tense muscles. And if you plan to get a massage from a therapist, it is common courtesy to look and smell good, right?
2) Do heat therapy
Another great way to get your muscles ready is by doing heat therapy before your massage. It helps improve blood flow and brings pain relief. (6) Very useful if you are planning to get a deep tissue massage.
A few examples of heat therapy at home include the use of a hot towel, a rubber water bag, or heated gel packs.
3) Speak up
Your therapist may use baby oil, powder, or lotion to reduce friction on your skin. Let them know beforehand if you have any preferences or allergies to avoid skin complications.
Additionally, report any discomfort during your massage. This may come from their hand pressure, speed of hand movement, or room temperature.
Remember that the goal is to relax. Any serious discomfort may do the exact opposite.
4) Do shoulder exercises
After your massage, it’s the ideal moment to do your exercises. This can either be your stretches or range of motion drills.
The reason for this is that your muscles are nice and loose after a massage, allowing you to go farther in your stretch and move better with your mobility drills.
Learn more: Frozen shoulder exercises for recovery.
Is it OK to massage a frozen shoulder?
Yes! It is a soothing way to relax while also bringing down a few notches of muscle pain and tightness.
What kind of massage is good for frozen shoulder?
This depends on your goal. For pain relief, both trigger point and Swedish massage will do. But to increase your shoulder motion, go for deep tissue, active release, or IASTM.
What is the fastest way to heal a frozen shoulder?
Getting a steroid injection right on your shoulder capsule might be the quickest method. But this is recommended only during the early stages of frozen shoulder. (7)
Conclusion: Frozen shoulder massage treatment
Massage therapy is a safe and effective method for your frozen shoulder pain and stiffness.
Each massage technique can help whichever stage you may be in. Additionally, there are also tons of self-massage tools available for you to enjoy the benefits of a great massage.
- Mezian K, Coffey R, Chang KV. Frozen Shoulder. [Updated 2021 Sep 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482162/
- Weerapong, Pornratshanee et al. “The mechanisms of massage and effects on performance, muscle recovery and injury prevention.” Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 35,3 (2005): 235-56. DOI: 10.2165/00007256-200535030-00004
- Pandey, Vivek, and Sandesh Madi. “Clinical Guidelines in the Management of Frozen Shoulder: An Update!.” Indian journal of orthopaedics vol. 55,2 299-309. 1 Feb. 2021, DOI: 10.1007/s43465-021-00351-3
- Alvarez, David, and Rockwell, Pamela. “Trigger Points: Diagnosis and Management.” Am Fam Physician. 2002 Feb 15;65(4):653-661. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2002/0215/p653.html
- Karmali, Arif et al. “THE EFFICACY OF INSTRUMENT ASSISTED SOFT TISSUE MOBILIZATION FOR MUSCULOSKELETAL PAIN: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW.” Journal of Contemporary Chiropractic, 2(1), 25–33. https://journal.parker.edu/index.php/jcc/article/view/51
- Malanga, Gerard A et al. “Mechanisms and efficacy of heat and cold therapies for musculoskeletal injury.” Postgraduate medicine vol. 127,1 (2015): 57-65. DOI: 10.1080/00325481.2015.992719
- Koh, Kim Hwee. “Corticosteroid injection for adhesive capsulitis in primary care: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials.” Singapore medical journal vol. 57,12 (2016): 646-657. DOI: 10.11622/smedj.2016146