Stiff Shoulder Syndrome and Parkinson’s Disease

Are your shoulders stiff? You may be suffering from stiff shoulder syndrome. Could it be from Parkinson’s disease?

A woman talking to doctor about shoulder pain
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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. Dopamine is a chemical that helps you to have smooth, coordinated muscle movements.

The bones, ligaments, and tendons that make up your shoulder joint are encased in connective tissues. Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) occurs when these tissues thicken and tighten around the shoulder joint, making it harder to move.

Adhesive capsulitis can develop before a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease. The peak incidence occurs around two years prior to the diagnosis of the disease.


The most frequent symptom of frozen shoulder is stiffness or restricted motion. With adhesive capsulitis, there will typically be a dull or aching pain in the outer shoulder area. Sometimes the pain occurs in the upper arm.

Adhesive capsulitis typically develops slowly in stages. Each of the three characteristic stages can last up to several months.

  • Freezing stage: Any movement causes pain, and your shoulder's range of motion is limited.
  • Frozen stage: Pain may begin to diminish but your shoulder becomes stiffer, and using it becomes more difficult.
  • Thawing stage: The range of motion in your shoulder begins to improve.

For some people, the pain worsens at night and can interrupt sleep. Adhesive capsulitis doesn't always recur in the same shoulder, and can sometimes move to the opposite shoulder.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Adhesive capsulitis is diagnosed based on a medical history and a physical examination. In some cases, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or X-rays can help to rule out other potential causes of shoulder pain and stiffness.

Treatment for frozen shoulder often involves range-of-motion exercises. Sometimes, corticosteroids and numbing medications are injected into the joint. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be recommended to relieve acute pain.

In a small percentage of people, surgery may help so that the joint can move better.

Generally speaking, surgery is only considered if the pain is severe despite steroid injections and the shoulder stiffness persists for at least four to six months in spite of physical therapy and other conservative measures.

A Word From Verywell

Parkinson's disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, cardiovascular disease, and tuberculosis are among the conditions that increase the risk of developing a stiff shoulder.

Most stiff shoulder treatment involves controlling shoulder pain and maintaining as much movement in the shoulder as possible. If symptoms persist or worsen despite consistent conservative treatment, interventions such as injections or surgery might be considered.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nagy MT, MacFarlane RJ, Khan Y, Waseem M. Suppl 3: The Frozen Shoulder: Myths and Realities. Open Orthop J. 2013;7:352-5. doi:10.2174/1874325001307010352

  2. Le HV, Lee SJ, Nazarian A, Rodriguez EK. Adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder: review of pathophysiology and current clinical treatments. Shoulder Elbow. 2017 Apr;9(2):75-84. doi:10.1177/1758573216676786

Additional Reading
  • Ford, B. and Pfeiffer, R.F. (2005). Pain syndromes and disorders of sensation. In: Parkinson’s Disease and nonmotor dysfunction. R.F. Pfeiffer and I. Bodis-Wollner (Eds). Humana Press, Totowa, New Jersey. Pps. 255-270.

  • Mayo Clinic. "Frozen shoulder."

  • Drake DF, Harkins S, Qutubuddin A (2005) Pain in Parkinson's disease: Pathology to treatment, medication to deep brain stimulation. NeuroReb 20:335 341.

By Patrick McNamara, PhD
Patrick McNamara, PhD, is an associate professor of neurology and the director of the Evolutionary Neurobehavior Laboratory.