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Doctors stress not to ignore signs of 'frozen shoulder,' a common but relatively unknown condition

Posted at 6:45 AM, May 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-07 08:40:15-04

WACO, TX — It may be one of the most common ailments you may not have heard of, called “frozen shoulder,” and it can be painful for a very long time.

Gigi Barnes of Waco has had it. In fact, she's had it twice, with the first time being about 10 years ago. She first noticed it in the morning.

“I was trying to wash my hair, trying to shower, trying to get dressed and I knew something was wrong my shoulder, but I didn’t know what it was. It’s the kind of pain where sleeping in uncomfortable, trying to move your arm and do anything, trying to reach and grab anything is painful," Barnes said.

Dr. Corbett Boone, with Primary Sports Medicine at Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest, defined what Barnes was dealing with.

“Frozen shoulder is where, for whatever reason, the connective tissue or capsule surrounding your shoulder—the ball and socket joint surrounding your shoulder, starts to harden and get adhesions that make it difficult for your shoulder to move," Boone said.

Neil Meske, the supervisor over Ascension Providence's Physical Therapy Program, says there are three distinct phases of the condition, freezing, frozen and thawing.

“That freezing [phase] is where it’s so painful and difficult to move and typically in about 6 months, the shoulder begins to thaw where the pain decreases," said Meske.

Boone said dealing with frozen shoulder is not a short process, even if it's caught early.

“All the literature tells us that if you just leave it alone that it will soften on its own and it will get better. I joke around with my patients and say if you were in one of those Alaska shows and living out in the middle of the sticks and didn’t have access to medical care—it would get better, but it would take a lot of time. And, in some cases it would take up to even three years," said Boone.

Barnes was one of the fortunate ones who was able to do physical therapy to treat her condition both times.

"About three years later, my other shoulder started to have some of the same symptoms. I didn’t let it go quite as long as I did the first time," Barnes said.

Barnes, Boone and Meske all stressed to not ignore the signs of frozen shoulder.

“Get it checked out sooner rather than later. Don’t think it’s going to go away quickly. It will take a lot of time if you don’t do anything about it," Barnes said.

The Mayo Clinic says people age 40 and older, and particularly women, are more likely to develop frozen shoulder. The clinic adds reduced mobility that may result during recovery from a shoulder or arm injury or stroke can be a factor in developing frozen shoulder, and the diseases that may increase the risk are diabetes, overactive and under-active thyroid and Parkinson's Disease.