Thursday, August 25, 2011

Frozen Shoulder: What Worked for Me

When I was in my late forties I went back to school to earn a master’s degree in instructional design.  I was also selling real estate and my husband and I had some rentals so life was busy and stressful.  Sometime in the midst of all this I injured the back of my left shoulder.  I’m still not entirely sure what happened but perhaps I tore something while working out on the rowing machine at the Y. 

The pain got worse and worse.  At night when I tried to sleep it was like someone stabbing me in the back of the shoulder.  The anti-inflammatories suggested by my doctor didn’t help so she sent me to a physical therapy program run by the hospital.  The therapists taught me a bunch of exercises using stretchy bends tied around a doorknob.  They also tried stronger anti-inflammatory meds, some of which gave me a slight buzz (allergy?) and none of which helped the pain.  It was winter and my left shoulder was so stiff and sore that I was putting on my seat belt with my right hand.

One evening we happened to go to dinner at the house of friends of ours who had used acupuncture for health problems and had success with it.   I thought, “What have I got to lose?” My doctor was skeptical:  “All it does is stimulate endorphins,” she said but I went ahead anyway.  The acupuncturist I saw was Ying Jia, who earned a medical degree in China and does acupuncture and traditional medicine here in Bloomington.  She looked at my shoulder and said, “This is pretty bad but I can fix it.”

The first time Ying treated me with acupuncture I could feel that something was happening.  There was a warm, heavy sensation in the area where the needles were centered.  I continued to have treatments two or three times a week and the pain gradually subsided.  By this time it was late spring and I could sleep again but my shoulder was still frozen.  Since the acupuncture didn’t seem to be helping with that I stopped going.  I pretty much know what I had to do next.

Over the next 4-6 months I used yoga and other stretching exercises to gradually get the movement back into my shoulder.  It was a tedious, uncomfortable process but it did work.  One of the happiest moments of my life was when I woke up one morning with my hands above my head.  Six months earlier I wouldn’t have been able to stretch my left arm out like that in waking life, much less in my sleep.  Years later a trainer told me that my rotator cuff areas were weak and taught me YTWL’s and other exercises to strengthen the areas around my shoulders.  Perhaps the weakness in that part of my body predisposed me to get this injury.

Update, 2/2/2018: Years and many major and minor injuries later, I began having trouble with scar tissue, especially in my shoulders and upper arms. Fortunately, I found out about a new type of therapy that works well for this, described here

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