If You Feel Stiffness Here, It May Be the First Sign of Parkinson's


Right now, Parkinson's disease (PD) affects one million Americans and 10 million people around the world. A progressive motor disease, PD is known to cause a wide range of symptoms, including tremor, slowness of movement, falls, muscle cramps, and more. Among those symptoms is one that can greatly impact PD patients' mobility: muscle and joint stiffness. In particular, experts say that if you experience stiffness in this part of your body, it may be among your very first signs of Parkinson's disease. Read on to find out which symptom has been linked with PD, and what else could be to blame.

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If you experience stiffness in your shoulder, it may be due to Parkinson's.

While those with Parkinson's may experience stiffness in several body parts, experts say that having "frozen shoulder," also known as adhesive capsulitis or periarthritis, is particularly linked with PD. "Shoulder stiffness is, in fact, one of the conditions associated with Parkinson's disease, a neurodegenerative disorder caused by a lack of dopamine in the brain," explains Very Well Health.

When a patient develops frozen shoulder, the connective tissues that encase the bones, ligaments, and tendons in that area thicken and tighten around the shoulder joint. When this happens, movement becomes restricted, causing pain and stiffness.

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of frozen shoulder "typically begin gradually, worsen over time and then resolve, usually within one to three years." The health authority says this often occurs in three distinct stages: the freezing stage, the frozen stage, and the thawing stage. In the freezing stage, the patient typically experiences reduced range of motion along with joint pain in one shoulder. The frozen stage is typically less painful, but as the shoulder becomes stiffer, many people lose most or all function in the affected shoulder. In the thawing stage, the patient begins to regain range of motion.

It can sometimes be the first symptom of PD. 

According to a 1989 study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry (JNNP), roughly 43 percent of Parkinson's patients reported having shoulder complaints. A second study from 2015 published similar findings: 46 percent of their subjects with PD specifically experienced frozen shoulder.

Notably, the JNNP study also found that frozen shoulder was the first symptom of disease in 8 percent of their PD subjects, appearing up to two years before more traditional symptoms. "Although it seems intuitive that immobilized patients in the later stages of their illness might have a high incidence of shoulder disturbances, we have been impressed that a number of our patients have experienced difficulties before other features of Parkinson's disease were recognized," the team wrote.

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Certain interventions may help you regain movement faster.

For some, frozen shoulder will resolve on its own—but healing can take several years. To speed things along, many opt for physical therapy, which can equip patients with range-of-motion exercises that help regain use of the shoulder. The Mayo Clinic notes that some patients may benefit from corticosteroids and numbing medications, which can be injected into the joint capsule. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also help to relieve pain. Finally, in more severe or prolonged cases, arthroscopic surgery may also benefit a patient by loosening the joint.

Luckily, frozen shoulder does not often recur in the same shoulder once symptoms have resolved. However, some individuals have been known to develop it in the opposite shoulder, notes the Mayo Clinic.

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There may be other underlying causes for frozen shoulder.

Though PD has been linked to this particular symptom, there are several other chronic illnesses which make frozen shoulder more likely. These include diabetes, overactive thyroid, underactive thyroid, cardiovascular disease, and tuberculosis, says the Mayo Clinic.

If you notice symptoms of frozen shoulder, ask your doctor whether a Parkinson's screening is right for you—and be sure to consider the full range of possible underlying causes.

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