4 Ways to Tell If You Have a Frozen Shoulder

Signs and Symptom of Adhesive Capsulitis

A frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, can be a scary experience and it may be a cause of shoulder pain. It usually occurs slowly over time, and it can limit the functional use of your arm. When you have a frozen shoulder, shoulder pain and tightness may make it difficult to reach overhead.

You may have trouble with simple activities like putting away dishes or combing your hair. You may have difficulty reaching behind your back to fasten your bra or reaching into your back pocket to grab their wallet. Putting on a belt may be painful as well.

Woman suffering from shoulder pain
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Self-Test for Frozen Shoulder

There is no special test for the diagnosis of a frozen shoulder, nor is there a diagnostic test like an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to confirm the condition. A diagnosis is made by observing the range of motion of your shoulder. Here is how you can do it:

  1. Stand in front of a mirror, or have a friend or family member observe you as you move your arm and shoulder. You or your friend should be watching for the quantity of your shoulder motion as well as the quality of the motion.
  2. Slowly raise both arms up in front of you and overhead. If you have a frozen shoulder, your painful arm may only raise to a point just past parallel with the floor. Plus, your shoulder blade will rise up unnaturally and your painful shoulder may move up towards your ear. As you lift your arm, you may also feel pain in your shoulder. Slowly lower your arm.
  3. Slowly lift your arm out to the side, again observing the amount of motion that occurs. If your shoulder only goes up to a point that is just level with the floor, and if it is painful, then you may have a frozen shoulder. Your shoulder may also move up towards your ear like in the previous motion test.
  4. Stand with both arms at your side and keep your elbows bent to 90 degrees. While keeping your elbows tucked into your sides, rotate your arms out. This direction of motion is called external rotation. If you have a frozen shoulder, the painful side will not rotate out as far as your non-painful arm.

When to See a Doctor

If you have performed these motions and believe that you have a frozen shoulder, call your doctor or physical therapist so he or she can evaluate your condition.

A frozen shoulder will typically progress from the freezing stage (when the pain and restriction of motion have just started) to the frozen stage and finally to the thawing stage (when the shoulder is starting to loosen up).

By seeking treatment during the freezing stage, you may be able to decrease the severity and duration of the condition.


Physical therapy for a frozen shoulder usually involves therapies to help decrease your pain. Exercises to improve the range of motion of your shoulder may be prescribed. Your physical therapist can teach you what to do and what not to do.

Typically, strength is not affected when you have a frozen shoulder, but your physical therapist may work with you to help you improve the functional mobility of your arm. Surgery is rarely required to treat a frozen shoulder.

A frozen shoulder is often caused by prolonged immobility following an injury. If you experience a shoulder injury that requires immobilization, speak with your doctor about exercises to maintain the range of motion in your joint.

A frozen shoulder can be a painful and frustrating experience but may be quickly be resolved with a little guidance from your doctor or physical therapist.

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