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5 Treatments for a Frozen Shoulder After Stroke that Reduce Pain and Improve Mobility

physical therapist taking stroke patient's shoulder

Frozen shoulder after a stroke is a painful condition that negatively impacts your quality of life.

This article will explain the various causes of frozen shoulder after a stroke and how to treat the condition.

What Causes Frozen Shoulder After Stroke?

The shoulder is a vulnerable and complicated ball-and-socket joint encased in connective tissue. Frozen shoulder occurs when the connective tissue thickens and tightens around the shoulder joint, resulting in restricted and painful movement.

Frozen shoulder is caused when the arm is immobilized for a long period of time. Stroke patients with arm paralysis are particularly at risk for this condition.

If paralyzed patients do not participate in physical therapy, mobility issues become worse. If frozen shoulder occurs, it is treated the same way it’s prevented: with movement.

Physical therapy is often required for patients with a frozen shoulder in order to recover from this condition.

Treatment for Frozen Shoulder After Stroke

Below are effective treatment methods for frozen shoulder after a stroke. Consult with your therapist before you begin to ensure your safety.

Here are the most effective treatments for frozen shoulder after a stroke:

1. Physical Therapy

physiotherapist adjusting stroke patients back and frozen shoulder

Physical therapy exercises for the shoulder and arm are the most effective treatment for a frozen shoulder after a stroke. Treatment gently introduces movement into the shoulder and stimulates the brain for activation.

By stimulating the brain with exercise, patients spark neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to rewire itself and regain lost functions, such as arm movement.

Stroke patients with a frozen shoulder often struggle with paralysis, which makes exercise difficult. Fortunately, patients may begin with passive range-of-motion exercises to promote sensation during the initial stages of recovery.

Be cautious when attempting to exercise with a frozen shoulder. It’s important to work under the guidance of a qualified therapist.

2. Electrical Stimulation

Electrical stimulation is another promising treatment for stroke patients with a frozen shoulder. It provides electrical impulses through the skin to the affected muscles.

Electrical stimulation often activates movement to paralyzed muscles and as a result, may be an effective treatment for post-stroke paralysis.

With immobility being the root cause of frozen shoulder, electrical stimulation may provide pain relief as well as return of movement. If the shoulder has become subluxed, electrical stimulation may promote increased muscle tone to the shoulder girdle, therefore, improved shoulder alignment.

Your physical therapist may suggest pairing electrical stimulation with exercises. Studies have shown that combining these two treatments leads to more effective results.

3. Botox for Spasticity

doctor with syringe injecting into stroke patients arm

Botox may reduce spasticity after a stroke, which may reduce pain from a frozen shoulder and improve range-of-motion.

Although results are temporary, botox may offer enough relief for patients to participate in physical therapy. Therefore, this treatment option may address the root issue by being able to participate in exercises necessary for recovery.

4. Shoulder Taping

Shoulder taping does not treat the root cause of a frozen shoulder but it may relieve pain. A qualified physical therapist may provide instructions to you or your caregiver for effectively taping the shoulder.

5. Arm Slings

If your shoulder has become subluxed, then taping may not suffice. If you need additional compensation strategy, your therapist may recommend a sling.

Slings support the arm and reduce the gravitational pull on the shoulder socket, which aggravates conditions such as a frozen shoulder.

A physical therapist may also prescribe gentle exercises as well as a sling

Which Frozen Shoulder Treatment Is Right for You?

If you suffer from a frozen shoulder after stroke, it’s important to talk with your therapist about treatment.

Therapists may teach you how to exercise your shoulder and arm safely. Furthermore, if you need additional help with pain management, a therapist can teach you how to tape your arm properly and apply electrical stimulation correctly.

It’s extremely important to work under the guidance of a professional for painful conditions like a frozen shoulder. Good luck on the road to recovery.

Photos from top to bottom: ©iStock.com/pcess609/Henadzi Pechan

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