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frozen shoulder - part 1

Finally getting around to writing about my frozen shoulder...

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition where the connective tissue that surrounds the shoulder joint becomes inflamed and stiff.

The Mayo Clinic's definition of frozen shoulder:

The bones, ligaments and tendons that make up your shoulder joint are encased in a capsule of connective tissue. Frozen shoulder occurs when this capsule thickens and tightens around the shoulder joint, restricting its movement.
I picture it as this sticky stuff that grows all around the shoulder joint like the webs that Spider-Man throws.

The adhesions (or the sticky stuff) result in stiffness and chronic pain in your shoulder joint. Frozen shoulder also results in limited range of motion. Loss of range of motion makes it difficult to do simple tasks such as reaching for a parking ticket, blow drying your hair, putting on sunscreen, and even putting on/taking off a t-shirt. There is also a lot of pain involved.

There are three stages of the frozen shoulder:

1. The freezing stage
2. The frozen stage
3. The thawing stage

They say the thawing stage takes about two years. The thawing stage is the last stage after the shoulder has very restricted range of motion. I was not going to wait that long for it to resolve on its own and I don't think it will resolve completely without therapy.

Last June, I strained a muscle in my left arm when moving files from one file cabinet to another during the last week of school. I was also on this medicine for a few weeks that had a side effect of joint pain. By the time I left for Italy, my arm was hurting badly. Lifting luggage did not help, although I babied my arm as much as possible and tried to pull my luggage with my right arm only. I did carry a bag at times on my left shoulder though.

I really have no idea what caused my frozen shoulder, but by the time I returned from Italy, I was in a lot of pain. I noticed that my range of motion started to become restricted after returning from Italy. That caused more pain. Of course I was busy with the beginning of the year school stuff when I returned from my trip. I also figured it was probably just a pulled muscle that needed time to heal. I finally called to make an appointment with one of the best Orthopedic Specialists on the island in mid-August. The earliest appointment I could get with him was the first week of October. By this time my shoulder was approaching the frozen stage.

After having x-rays done to rule out other causes, he diagnosed my condition as frozen shoulder. He discussed two options with me. I could either start physical therapy right away, which would be very painful and might or might give me back full range of motion or I could have a manipulation procedure done under anesthesia and then start physical therapy. The manipulation procedure breaks up (or rips apart) the adhesions and scar tissue.

I decided on the sure thing and went with the manipulation procedure since I could end up having that done anyways if the physical therapy did not work by itself. I also wanted to get my range of motion back as soon as possible.

I have never heard of frozen shoulder before being diagnosed but have been amazed to find out how many other people have had this condition. Frozen shoulder seems to occur more often with women (70%) than men and frozen shoulder seems to affect mostly those 40 years old and older. You probably know at least one other person (besides me) who has had a frozen shoulder.

People who have experienced prolonged immobility of their shoulder are at higher risk of developing frozen shoulder. Also people with certain medical conditions such as diabetes, stroke, lung disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and heart disease, thyroid problems, Parkinson's disease are at a higher risk for frozen shoulder. Those with diabetes experience a much longer recovery time.

The most important thing I learned during this experience is to NOT baby your arm/shoulder if it is injured. Continue to stretch and use your arm as much as possible and see a doctor immediately so that you can be given exercises or start physical therapy before it begins to freeze.

But before I go, you are probably wondering why I brought this up right now. Well, unfortunately my arm started to bother me again last week. I am back in physical therapy. My range of motion has also begun to become restricted. Trying to sleep at night is the most difficult, especially since I usually sleep on that arm (which my therapist said not to do - easier said than done). At first I thought it was a frozen shoulder again, but my PT thinks it might be something different this time. Just what I need at this point in the year. At least this happened before leaving for Italy. I just hope I can get this resolved in the next few weeks.

Comments (19)

oh girasoli, I am sorry to hear that your arm is acting up again. I too hope you get that resolved shortly.
I don't think I've heard the term frozen shoulder before, so thanks for the info. I could imagine how hard it is if the thawing stages can take up to two years, yikes. Good call on having the procedure done last year, I probably would have done the same thing. And good you are taking care of it right away now.


candi, thanks. I am not too happy that my shoulder is hurting again. I thought I was finished with that chapter and I really don't have time for this right now. The silver lining though is that I will be back lifting weights (which I have been bad at doing after my last round of PT ended) so I will be in better shape when I arrive in Italy and I have to lug my luggage on/off trains.

The freezing part takes a few months. The thawing part, which I would guess does not mean completely back to normal is the last step. Sort of confusing.

I edited the description of the thawing stage a little bit to try to explain it a little better.

I joked the other day that I could not understand how my shoulder was freezing up when I was sitting in the hot sun all morning.

I'd never heard of it before either. I wonder if yoga would help as therapy? I know that it always makes all my joints feel better.

Hi G: Hope your recuperation is quickly done and you are able to enjoy Italy painfree. If it's any consolation, at least you know now the treatment for relief, and that it does get better -eventually. Congratulations on taking your health seriously and making decisions that seem easy but we know they are not. Also, thanks for educating me about something I was not aware of. Isn't it interesting that this generally takes place with you at the same time of year.

When I lived in Hawaii, I played tennis every day (no exaggeration). In later years the constant wearing action of my shoulder muscles and tendons sometimes 'remind' me of my age and past activities. I have found, however, that pilates and yoga have helped me with stretching muscles and tendons. Shoulder pain is not for sissies...menehune

sandrac:

Wow, I am so sorry to hear that your shoulder is giving you trouble again. I didn't realize that it can take 2 years (!!!!) to get through the thawing stage. I really hope your physiotherapy gives you some relief, and soon!

Your post is also really timely for me.

I have a lot of neck and shoulder problems and for years, saw a chiropractor to treat these. I stopped going about a year ago when I thought I had a good regime of weights and stretching (and yoga!) that could control it.

But the last few weeks, my neck and shoulder on the left side have become so tight that I can't even shoulder-check.

So this morning, I decided to get back to the chiropractor -- I hope he can help me before my trip.

:-( Hope you are thoroughly thawed before Italy!

Anne:

Oh my goodness, that sounds awful!! What a long road of therapy. Sorry to hear it's acting up again. So true about changing our sleeping position, get so used to sleeping in a certain position, it's hard to sleep in any other. Not to mention that we shift back to our preferred position when sleeping anyway. Hope you find a comfy new position! Take care :)

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Girasoli, I'm very sorry to hear about your pain. I had never heard of this condition before. Hopefully, it will feel better before your Italy trip! Take care!

I am sorry you have been dealing with a frozen shoulder and that it has come back again. You can add me to one more person that got that. In my case I suspect it was in part caused by surgery (being immobile for long periods of time when I was out and couldn't adjust my position). In any event it started after recovering from a groin lymph node dissection for melanoma. Since I needed physical therapy and lymphedema (leg) therapy any way, they also ordered physical therapy to regain use range of motion in the arm with the frozen shoulder. In my case it worked but I had A LOT of physical therapy. I have exercises that I do the minute it starts acting up again. I hope that you will be better very soon!

nancyhol:

Yikes! It really sounds painful!

Good information about frozen shoulders - I learned something today!

Hope you can get your shoulder in reasonably good condition before your trip.

I'm so sorry to hear that it has returned. It sounds so painful. Long term pain is never easy to deal with but for it to improve and then return must be very disappointing. I hope it improves soon and you don't have to travel in pain again.

Annie, yoga probably would be great since stretching is so important. I just need to find the time and a good class.

menehune, my physical therapist thinks I have inflamed tendons which has been causing the pain. He hopes my shoulder is not "freezing up" yet. It is a good thing I started PT right away or I would have been in deep kim chee right before my trip!

sandra, the thawing stage would be if I did nothing, at some point for some people the shoulder gets better on its own. I was pretty much recovered after my first round of PT. My physical therapist thinks my new problem is due to either too much Boogie Walk (the dance my kids did) which involved lots of swinging arms up and down - a repetitive injury OR from sleeping on it and somehow inflaming my tendons. I am sure I was more prone to get this injury having had a frozen shoulder recently. If you notice any restriction in your range of motion, do not hesitate to get it checked out.

softdrink, thanks! Working on that :) Too bad sitting outside in the hot sun does not help.

Anne, it doesn't matter how I start out, I always end up in that same position. I have tried to stay off my left arm and when I have been successful, that meant very little sleep. Yesterday I fell asleep around 4 pm and woke up at 7. For a while, I thought it was morning! I have been exhausted but finally slept pretty good last night. Of course I woke up laying on my left arm!

Kathy, thanks. I appreciate your concern. I am hoping my arm will be fine soon. I am a little worried though now that my trip is getting close.

Carver, you have gone through quite an ordeal. I am glad the physical therapy worked for you. Thank you so much for sharing. I need to be better at keeping up my exercises.

nancy, it can be very painful. Since starting PT again, the pain has decreased a little. I just need to keep stretching a lot. I am glad I was able to share information with you on frozen shoulder. I wish I knew about this before it got so bad last year.

Marta, I was pretty bummed when I first realized started having pain in my same shoulder again. My doctor told me to watch for the other side but I never thought the same side would act up again. I am thinking positive though that this happened early enough that I can do something about it before my trip and that I will get little muscles in my arms again now that I am doing arm exercises to improve my strength.

Thank you everyone for your concern. I am truly blessed to have so many bloggin friends.

sheri:

Late to the commenting, but I am sorry to hear about your shoulder problem. Hope it is resolved before your trip. I have heard the term "frozen shoulder", but didn't really know what it is.

I hope that your shoulder is much better and that you’re pain free for your upcoming trip.

sheri and María, thanks. Unfortunately it does not seem to be getting better yet. I tried to get an appointment with my doctor but he is booked until July! I am hoping the nurse can squeeze me in. I am supposed to hear back next week.

I hope your shoulder is better now, keep exercising. Good luck.

Rod, if you are reading this. I apologize for deleting your comment by accident. It was in my junk folder with a bunch of spam. I checked the other comments and thought I hit delete but I must have hit empty junk folder instead and lost your comment. I was only able to read the first line of your comment before it was deleted. If you would like to write another comment and I will make sure it does not get deleted.

Simone:

Hi
It is interesting reading your blog as I have also developed this frozen shoulder. I feel very down about it as I am proactive and now am not able to do simple tasks. I am just hoping that I can get on top of it as I am not in favour of any surgery (a true baby I am ) I have good and bad days with my movement range, but it feels like it is getting worse. I must focus on doing the right exercises and I suppose using it as much as possible.
How is your arm now?
Regards
Simone

Hi Simone,

I have been away from my blog for a while. Sorry to hear that you are dealing with a frozen shoulder. My shoulder is great now. I went for the manipulation procedure (no cutting but a bit of light anesthesia) because I knew I would not be able to work through the pain the other way. I hope things work out for you. Keep up the stretching.

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