Frozen Shoulder

I’ve been dealing with this for several months now. The doctor called it frozen shoulder which is also called adhesive capsulitis. Was wondering if anyone else has ever had this.
I only pickup a guitar for a few minutes at a time anymore. I have both acoustic and electric and the acoustic is much much harder to play. And it’s pretty tough to do any kind of bar chords now.
Any insight or thoughts on this would be appreciated.


1 Like

I do, I have it now, since August.
Just came on overnight, I did seem to have my arm at a funny angle when I woke up.
Very painful moving my arm overhead at first, difficult to be comfortable and sleep at night.
Didn’t improve after a month so went to Dr. In two weeks had an MRI scan and diagnosis for frozen shoulder. I am on a waiting list for physio and trying to follow self help stuff from YouTube. Seems to be improving, less pain more mobility. But slow progress.
Re guitar playing - I can manage ok on electric and have recently started playing more on acoustic as guitar I have is bit smaller bodied. There is some discomfort but luckily I can manage ok.
Have you had steroid injection in affected shoulder. Mine was improving so I decided not to bother.
I have found it immensely frustrating situation to be in so I can sympathise. I hope your situation improves, sounds worse than mine. There is a lot of stuff on YouTube about it, to understand and do some gentle rehab ideas. My understanding is the process of getting better is quite slow. Good luck with it I hope it starts to improve and you can get back to playing guitar.

1 Like

Oh, no! I live in fear of that, having pretty trashed shoulders myself.

I am not sure I have any specific advice, but patience and being diligent with the therapy. The people who fail to recover are largely those who don’t put the effort in. Kind of like guitar…hmmm.

Which arm? I am assuming your strumming arm?

If it is the strumming arm, I wonder if standing up with a strap would help.

If it is your fretting hand, look at the classical position for holding the guitar. I hold mine in a way that my left (fretting) shoulder is not use very much at all. At least not abducted or flexed. It does have to rotate a little

Now that I think about it, the classical position is also better for my right (picking) arm. The lower bout of the guitar is much lower and easier to rest my arm over. I have had a pretty severe right bicep tendonitis (at the shoulder) for several weeks now and while it hurts like heck to lift my right arm to grab the steering wheel, playing guitar in the classical position doesn’t bother it one bit.

1 Like

Thanks @Alan_1970
Yep that’s it… I haven’t had any PT… just been trying to do excercises on my own and it has gotten better but very slowly. And it seems to get better one day and then the next day it gets worse again. Sleeping at night sometimes if I roll over I have to pickup my bad arm with the good one to move, I’ts been very frustrating.


1 Like

Thanks @Jamolay
It is my left shoulder(fretting) so trying to do bar chords is kinda tough. I’m assuming that along with the exercises playing guitar would probably be a good thing to help it. I’ts kinda crazy… didn’t have a injury or anything that I know of. Just started hurting one day and progressively got worse to a point where I couldn’t lift my arm hardly. And if I make a sudden movement or get startled and jump back the pain is extreme.


1 Like

Were you lifting a lot of heavy things recently? That is how my tendonitis came about.

On difference between a tendonitis and a true frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) is that in the tendonitis, range of motion is only limited by pain. If you ignore the pain, or you have some way to passively move your shoulder joint, it has normal range of motion. Adhesive capsulitis, there are physical adhesions, scarring and swelling that physically limit range with or without pain.

Treatment for each is going to be different.

Tendonitis needs rest, gentle stretching and gentle or even passive range moments through the FULL range of motion (ROM) to prevent developing adhesive capsulitis.

Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) requires careful and slow therapy to stretch and break adhesions. Sometimes injections so the movements can be done with less pain and occasionally surgical release.

You could view this a a spectrum. You start with a pain limiting injury, then over time, the shoulder seizes up. The point is to apply the right therapy depending on where you are in the process. If you still have good ROM, then home exercises that maintain ROM without pain or injury and rest. If your should has seized up, you probably need some professional PT and possibly orthopedic help.

1 Like

I didn’t have any injury that I know of… wasn’t lifting anything real heavy wasn’t working overhead or doing anything out of the ordinary.

When I lift my arm there is pain yes, but not so much pain that it stops me from lifting it higher. It just doesn’t go any more. It’s like I don’t have enough muscle to lift the weight of my arm. If I use my other arm to lift it slowly there is pain but not extreme. Iv’e been doing slow stretching but I will probably look into getting some PT.
I didn’t get any injections but I did have a prescription for a steroid and a anti inflammatory.


1 Like

If it is weakness that prevents you lifting it higher, not pain, it could be something else. Weakness should not occur from the shoulder muscles unless you have a complete tear. Partial tears hurt, but it will be pain limited more than weak.

Weakness can mean a lot of things, but isolated to the shoulder you could be suffering a pinched nerve in the neck. This is most common and usually due to a bulging disc.

This may require PT for the neck, not so much the shoulder (but don’t ignore it). It could require a neck injection (transforamenal nerve root block) or surgery (if the injection doesn’t help).

You don’t want to ignore true weakness and you should consider seeing a neurologist.

Disclaimer: not only have I had exactly this problem (fortunately resolved by the injection, at least for now), I am also a neurologist and deal with this problem professionally. I can’t diagnose you from here, but don’t take weakness lightly. Get properly evaluated. Occasionally it has company you haven’t noticed and more is going on even than just a pinched nerve.


I have had this, but now I don’t. I had shoulder surgery to fix a laundry list of items starting from my military years and then years and years of fun and games. During PT, I developed what would be considered a Frozen Shoulder. I opted to have a follow-up surgery to separate the adhesion, and then, of course, PT following that. Doing the follow-up surgery was the right choice for me and back to doing Jiu-Jitsu and other things in an attempt to do further damage to myself.

1 Like

I do have a bulged disc in my neck. It happened about 10 years ago and I got a spinal injection for it they said it was c7 disc. It caused numbness in the hand on the same side if I held my head up (like looking up). Didn’t really affect my shoulder at the time.
So I also have a tight feeling in my achilles tendon which started about the same time as my shoulder kind of a burning but not really pain. it’s all on the left side. It’s really hard to find a good doctor. The first place I went to pretty much ignored what I said about my shoulder and arm and said I had tendonitis in my heal… gave me prescription and a huge bill for pretty much nothing. I told both places that I went to about my neck injury.
I didn’t have insurance when I went in and won’t have insurance for a few more weeks yet. Not sure if I could get into a neurologist without a referral from another doctor.

Thanks @WonderMonkey
Really hoping to avoid surgery.


Symptoms all down the one side always raises potential for more concerning things, although as we age, the most likely problem is more than one bulging disc. They are really common. But a good neurologic exam will answer a lot of questions.

Unless something is scary or changing fast, you could wait the few weeks for insurance. There are never guarantees, of course, but it isn’t a new problem, right? I can only recommend you use your own judgement.

You may be limited where you are, and there may be a long wait . What, like 4 neurologists in South Dakota? I used to go to Rapid City to teach the few neurologists there how to do medical Botox, so hopefully some still are there.

Oh, no! I’ve had it as well, and it made it painful to play my steel-string (could not tolerate it for more than a minute or two), but not so much the classical guitar, I guess due to the different positioning. Having the arm further ‘out’ on the guitar with the steel-string is what I think caused the pain. I was unable to sleep on my right side for quite a few months. In my case, I think it occurred some time after I broke my fall outside with my right hand when I slipped on some rocks. The pain was horrific immediately, but then went away for a while, and came back after a while, getting progressively worse. I could have sworn something was torn.

I did get a steroid shot, which helped quite a bit, and underwent about a dozen sessions of physical therapy. I’m back to where I can play a steel-string again, although I still get a pain in a different area of my arm now when I sleep on my right side.

My suggestions are:

  1. This is a perfect excuse to go buy a classical guitar, to be able to keep playing.

  2. Try a steroid shot and PT, and keep doing the exercises after PT is over. They can mostly be done at home.

EDIT: I just read that it’s your left arm. Unless you’re a left-handed player, I guess number 1 would probably be painful. But you could still give it a try :wink:

Wow, you sound just like me. I had to do that every night, multiple times, for months. I can really sympathize…

Of course, being a stubborn German, I waited months hoping it would get better before seeing my Orthopedic doctor, when earlier intervention probably would have improved my recovery time.

I’m just a couple weeks post C5-C6 fusion for bulging disc/bone spur/pinched nerve. Had to have my shoulder shaved last May for pinched nerve there also. I was having a lot of weakness and pain from neck to hand. I can tell a huge difference now after the neck surgery. I can play again without dropping the pick everywhere :grin:

I’ve had two frozen shoulders myself. Echoing what others have said, physical therapy is essential to regaining range of motion - but it needs to be gradual and gentle. A big part of it is waiting for it to loosen up, but that time is best used to push against the limits of where the motion stops. PT is helpful for ensuring you’ve got the exercises down and measuring progress. As I recall, it took about six months for mine to recover, and I did get nearly all of the range back.

Be aware, though, when he diagnosed the first one, my orthopaedist told me the other would do the same in a couple of years. Two years later, I was seeing him again. At least I knew the routine that time.

Knowing what I know, I think I’d do what I could to keep playing guitar, but stop before it becomes painful. If I could break it up into several short sessions, I’d probably go that route.

Good luck. You’ll get through it.

I don’t disagree, I love my classical. However, I play my steel string and my electric in the same position.

It is not, by any means restricted to classical guitars. There are quite a few famous guitarist who do that, and even rock and heavy metal, if you see how they use straps to hold the guitar. Very similar.

I find the classical position much more ergonomic, given my aches and pains (old and broken, I am). I am noticing that as I (slooooowly) progress, I get better at playing in other positions as well.

Before I saw the doctor I had never heard of this except for like when you have a cast on or are immobile for some reason.
The doctor that I saw is a general practice and a chiropractor. I didn’t think about it at the time but he did have me move my head this way …that way and pressed on spots around my spine at the lower neck. I told him right away I couldn’t afford a MRI.
I can lift some weight without much trouble but I can only lift it so far. And early on I did stop doing much with my left arm cause I was worried about tearing something up.
I do think it has gotten better it’s just real slow going. I looked and where I am there are no neurologists… closest is a few hundred miles.


No bar chords? Learn your triads and thumb over chords (like Jimi).

haha… My hands are probably half the size of Jimi’s. But I have faith that this will eventually get better with some PT and keep working on it.


1 Like

It sometimes looks like Jim’s would use the thumb over the top to make the full bar, and still use the rest of his fingers for other chord notes.

Not happening here…