Frozen Shoulder: February 1, 2012

Without warning, Bernice Hicks woke up one day and couldn’t lift her arm. The simple act of combing her hair took extreme effort.

“I had to take this arm and move it and then bring my arm up this way, I had to take this one put it up. Once it was up it was fine but to get it up there, that was a problem.”

Bernice’s incapacitated state led her to a doctor and the diagnosis of frozen shoulder.

“When it begins it usually causes pain with motion beyond a certain degree. So for the first period of frozen shoulder any motion in any direction beyond a certain degree would cause limitation in motion and pain,” says Dr. Dennis Sagini, an orthopedic surgeon with Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

There are two main reasons someone will get frozen shoulder.

“Number one is trauma or surgery, number two is what we call idiopathic, or we don’t know why it develops, but it just develops,” says Dr. Sagini.

For many people, the condition is a mystery. Doctors will often diagnose it by using x-rays to rule out everything else.

“Many times these individuals, when they’re seen in the office do not show any signs of arthritis of the shoulder, and so for someone who presents with these symptoms, yet does not have arthritis we look more towards frozen shoulder,” says Dr. Sagini.

Eighty to 90% of patients will undergo physical therapy to stretch the joint and essentially unfreeze it. The condition is generally reversible, provided they’re willing to work through the pain.

“When people have painful joints they reduce the amount that they move them and the goal in therapy is to maintain the motion of the shoulder even though there is pain,” says Dr. Sagini.

Bernice worked with Lee Center for Rehabilitation and Wellness, her therapy included homework.

“Well you feel it in your arms.”

Her total turnaround took about four week.

“Since I unfroze, I can move. At first I couldn’t even comb my hair but now I can just put it in the back there,” says Bernice.

Frozen shoulder can resolve itself within a couple of years, but a proper diagnosis and therapy helps people quickly put this painful experience behind them.