Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fighting Frozen Shoulder

I’ve been away from blogging for quite some time. I’ve been suffering from a debilitating shoulder problem, tons of pain and fatigue and probably a little bit of depression along with that.  
In May of this year I woke up one morning and had a terrible pain on the inside of my arm at the bicep. It felt like I had probably just slept wrong and pinched a nerve or something. I managed to get on with my day and figured that it would go away in a day or two. As the week went on, I started to feel some pain in my shoulder. Within the next few weeks the pain would radiate down my arm and hurt my wrist. This was especially nerve wracking as it was my right (dominant) arm and my job includes 8 hours of mouse clicking. All of my work is done in Excel and an Excel-like proprietary program that all tasks are done by clicking with a mouse. Typically, by the end of the day, my wrist would hurt so bad that once I got home, the last thing I wanted to do was to even get on the computer. Let alone spend any time writing.  

After about six weeks of pain and a tightening in my shoulder that caused me to not be able to reach above my head or to even fasten my bra (reaching behind my back), I decided to visit my primary care physician. He said it sounded like “frozen shoulder” and sent me for a round of physical therapy. After three weeks of therapy I was not gaining any range of motion and the pain was escalating. My husband encouraged me to see an orthopedic surgeon as he works with a guy that was treated by a doctor for his shoulder problems (not frozen shoulder).  

Both of my children have utilized a local orthopedic group for injuries so I went to see a doctor there that specialized in shoulders (the same doctor recommended by my husband’s workmate).   This doctor sent me for a more intense physical therapy that involved some massage and manipulation. After a few weeks of no improvement in this therapy the doctor recommended surgery. During the same time, our insurance changed on physical therapy and would not pay for the therapist I was seeing. So, I would have the surgery and end up going to my third physical therapist.  

The doctor did an arthroscopic capsular release (scraping inflammation from tissue within the shoulder) and then doing a physical manipulation of the arm and shoulder under anesthesia.   The same day as surgery I started aggressive physical therapy three times a week for 2 hour sessions and home treatment including exercise and utilization of a home continuous passive motion machine. I continued post-surgical physical therapy for 8 weeks and had a couple of visits with my doctor. On my visit with the doctor, ten weeks after surgery, he said that my range of motion was no better than before surgery. My pain from therapy was only controlled by using prescription medication. I had been off work for six weeks, but was now back to work. The pain medication made me very tired and I felt I was not performing at an optimal level. The doctor and I agreed since therapy was not showing any improvement in range of motion that I would discontinue therapy at the therapist’s office. The doctor wanted me to continue with home exercise and to continue with all regular movement. I was hoping that stopping the therapy where the physical therapist stretched and bent my arm would lessen the pain I was feeling.  

Four weeks later, I met with the doctor again. I was feeling my shoulder tighten back up, my reach was less, and the shoulder was becoming more painful. The doctor said the best plan of treatment would be to go back in and do another manipulation under anesthesia and once I was under he would be able to tell if I would need an additional capsular release. This was a no-brainer for me. So I am set up to have surgery next week as long as everything is approved by our insurance.  

Two weeks ago I was sure that I wouldn’t agree to more surgery, but now I am miserable and not doing anything active. I get up, go to work, come home, do some exercises throughout the day, and sit watching television for a couple of hours until I can make my way to bed without feeling guilty about going to bed so early.  

Once in bed, I lay flat on my back, wedge a pillow underneath my right forearm to try and get a comfortable angle and eventually fall asleep. Hopefully I will be able to make it for at least four hours before I need to get up and take more pain meds. Sometimes I succeed, most times I do not. I wake each morning tired and with no energy to start everything over again.  

In trying to cope with the frozen shoulder, I have checked out tons of information on the internet. There were several videos on that showed “doctors” fixing patients in just minutes. I won’t say that this treatment is impossible but I’ll just say that if it was possible to fix the problem it would be more widespread in treatment. I have read stories of women that have been dealing with frozen shoulder for over 10 years, others that say they have had the frozen shoulder in both shoulders over the past five years and many people just looking for ways to relieve the pain. I’ve read that most frozen shoulder problems exist in diabetic women between 40 and 60 years old. And that is me. Also there is mention of it happening in post-menopausal women and smokers. However, I have met a man in therapy that had frozen shoulder and didn’t meet any of those criteria. Doctors cannot explain how or why the problem occurs. Also, there is no definite timeline, but the shoulder will apparently thaw on its own, but it will likely take years.  

So after surgery next week, I am hoping that I will have increased range of motion and less pain in my shoulder and start to get on the mend. Perhaps then I will have more energy and have a little more desire to write about things I find interesting.

If you are suffering from frozen shoulder or have in the past, I’d love to hear from you.

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