7 Gentle Yoga Poses to Release a Frozen Shoulder

avatarKelly Collins

If you get searing shoulder pain that comes out of nowhere and limits your range of motion, try these easy yoga poses to release a frozen shoulder.

Also referred to as “adhesive capsulitis”, a frozen shoulder is a condition of pain, heat and inflammation in the shoulder joint. Scar tissue forms between the folds of the capsule, or connective tissue, of the shoulder, limiting range of motion. (1) This common condition affects about 2% to 5% of the population.

The cause of a frozen shoulder is often unknown, though it is sometimes the result of an injury or surgery. Healing time is generally slow, but studies prove that specific stretches, especially those that work into the various movements of the shoulder, can help restore strength, flexibility, and mobility to the shoulder joint. Yoga is a great way to add range of motion back into a stiff shoulder, since many poses help to work into multiple muscles and help to correct posture. (2)

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There are three phases of a frozen shoulder: freezing, frozen, and thawing. Healing from a frozen shoulder is different for each person, and based on where you are at in the healing process, some poses may be harder to get into. Make sure to always listen to your body and warm the muscle first with a heating pad. Work slowly into the poses, stretching to the point where you feel a sensation, but not pain. Breathe deeply during each pose. If shoulder pain continues to increase rather than get better, stop this yoga routine and check with your doctor.


7 Gentle Yoga Poses to Release a Frozen Shoulder

Seated Cat Cow 1 | 8 breaths

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This gentle pose warms up the shoulders, neck, spine, and core.

  1. Begin seated in a crossed-legged position on a yoga block. Place your palms face down on your knees and engage your abs.
  2. Take an inhale as you lift your chest towards the sky, bringing a slight arch into your back and coming into a seated cow pose. Lengthen your collar bones to feel an opening through your chest and shoulders.
  3. Exhale to round your spine and tuck your chin to your chest to come into a seated cat pose. Draw your navel in towards your spine and grab onto your knees to lean back, stretching the spine.
  4. Continue alternating between cow and cat poses for eight rounds of breath.

Seated Cat Cow 2 | 8 breaths

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This second variation of seated cat cow continues warming the shoulders and core while gently bringing the shoulder into abduction.

  1. Continue sitting crossed-legged on your yoga block. Place your hands behind your head and engage your abs.
  2. Inhale to lift your chest up, leaning your head gently back into your hands, to come into seated cow. You should feel a stretch through your chest and shoulders.
  3. Exhale to round the spine and bring your chin to your chest, coming into seated cat. Draw your elbows together.
  4. Continue alternating between cow and cat poses for eight rounds of breath.

Kneeling Neck Stretches | 8 reps per side

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Relieve tightness in the neck and shoulders and improve internal rotation of the shoulder joint with this stretch.

  1. Begin in a tabletop position on your hands and knees. Place a yoga block on the medium height between your feet. Then, sit your hips back on the block and lift your chest upright.
  2. Interlace your fingers behind your lower back and engage your abs.
  3. Slowly lower your right ear towards your right shoulder. Take a deep inhale and feel the left side of your neck lengthen.
  4. Exhale to roll your chin down towards your chest. Then, inhale to roll your left ear up towards your left shoulder.
  5. Take a deep breath here to feel the right side of your neck lengthen, then roll back in the other direction. Continue rolling side-to-side for eight reps per side.

Puppy Pose | 8 breaths

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Puppy pose gently puts the shoulders into forward flexion, which can become a challenging movement for a frozen shoulder.

  1. Begin in a tabletop position on your hands and knees, with your knees hip-width distance apart.
  2. Keep your hips stacked above your knees and walk your hands forward until you can lower your forehead to the ground or onto a yoga block. Then, continue walking your hands towards the top of the mat until your arms are stretched out.
  3. Hold here and take eight deep breaths.

Supported Thread the Needle | 8 breaths per side

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This pose relieves stiffness in the rear part of the shoulder and in the upper back.

  1. Start in a tabletop position on your hands and knees. Place a block on the lowest height between your hands.
  2. Pick up your right hand and thread the arm between your left arm and left leg. Lower your right cheek onto the block.
  3. Straighten the right arm out, resting the top of the arm and hand on the ground. Hold for eight slow breaths, then switch sides.

Cow Face Arms | 8 breaths per side

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Use a strap in this pose to improve range of motion throughout the shoulder joint.

  1. Start sitting up tall on a yoga block or in a chair.
  2. Hold the strap in your right hand and reach your right arm up to the ceiling. Then bend the elbow to lower your right hand behind your head.
  3. Reach your left arm behind your back and grab the other end of the strap.
  4. Walk your hands towards one another, bringing them as close as you can.
  5. Sit up tall and hold for eight breaths, feeling a stretch in the front of the left shoulder and the top of the right. Then, switch sides.

Eagle Arms | 8 breaths per side

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Twisting up your arms in this pose relieves stiffness in the rear shoulder and upper back.

  1. Start sitting up tall on a yoga block or in a chair.
  2. Cross your right arm underneath your left and wrap the forearms around one another to bring the palms to touch. If this is inaccessible, place each hand on the opposite shoulder.
  3. Lift your elbows up in line with your shoulders and press your forearms forward to feel a stretch through the back of the shoulders and the upper back.
  4. Hold for eight breaths, then switch the crossing of your arms.

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(Your Next Workout: 7 Ways to Use a $3 Yoga Strap for Shoulder Mobility)

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