About five months ago, I noticed that I’d get a sharp but manageable pain in my left shoulder when I put on a coat or pulled a knapsack from the back over my shoulders. I didn’t think much of it at the time; I figured it was a minor injury that would heal itself in a week or two.
Around the same time, we had a pool installed in our backyard. To finish the landscaping, I order a couple of tonnes of river stones to place around the pool. I installed the river stones myself, meaning I had to shovel them into a wheelbarrow and then shovel them out of the wheelbarrow to place around the pool. As I shoveled, I’d lead into the rock pile with my left shoulder. I had some pain, but again, I thought nothing of it, after all, I’m relatively young at 47 and I’ve never had any serious injuries.
A few weeks later, I went on vacation; driving 15 hours each way to our destination and back. While on vacation, I noticed the pain in my shoulder had become more constant. I started having trouble sleeping too. When I returned from vacation, the shoulder pain became more and more intense. I would wake up a couple of times at night feeling like someone had stabbed a knife into my shoulder. By then, I had also lost my range of motion. I could no longer lift my arm above my shoulder. Reaching for something in my back pocket became impossible too. I realized that there was something seriously wrong with my shoulder.
I knew after I researched it on the web, but both a physiotherapist and a chiropractor confirmed it; I had frozen shoulder. Since then I’ve learned that frozen shoulder, also called adhesive capsulitis, happens in three stages:
- Freezing – a period of a few weeks to nine months where you get more and more pain. As the pain worsens, so does your range of motion. Move your arm the wrong way during this stage and you’ll experience pain that will drop you to your knees.
- Frozen – if you’re lucky, pain will subside during this phase, which can last four to six months. Range of motion remains extremely limited. making many everyday tasks difficult to accomplish.
- Thawing – the final phase, apparently lasting between six months to two years, during which the pain disappears and range of motions returns completely to normal.
From my symptoms today, five months after the pain began, I am currently in the Frozen stage. From what I’ve read, the whole ordeal will take care of itself without doing anything… it just takes time.
But for me, 18 months to 2 years is a LONG time. So, I’ve tried my best to shorten it; here’s what I’ve tried so far.
What I’ve tried so far
Physiotherapy: I started with three session of physiotherapy (PT) as the pain was increasing in my shoulder, which I now know was the Freezing stage. The therapist did what is called Active Release Technique (ART), where he would work on the muscles of the shoulder as he moved the shoulder through its range of motion. The PT was painful, but reasonable. However, at the time I was getting the intense nighttime stabbing pains, so I thought the PT may be too intense. So I moved on to chiropractic care.
Chiropractic: For almost three months, I have seen the chiropractor three times per week. In addition to the usual neck and back manipulations, my chiropractor also does the ART therapy, although with less intensity than the physiotherapist. During the chiropractic sessions, he has also done some ultrasound on the shoulder and some laser therapy. Progress is there – I can move my arm painlessly in a wider, yet still limited range of motion – but it has been extremely slow, and I find this really frustrating.
Niel Asher Technique (NAT): I found out about NAT when I was starting to get desperate for a cure. NAT is a trigger point therapy where the therapist (or your spouse) finds and applies pressure to nodules (knots in the muscles) in the bicep, tricep and shoulder joint area of the affected arm. I asked my wife to try doing the NAT therapy on me, but she had a hard time finding the nodules. So, I asked my chiropractor to try the technique, which he did, but only on a few occasions. I’d have to say that I was rather impressed by NAT. The treatment is painful, but I didn’t have any pain afterwards. And I found that I regained the most range of motion following the NAT sessions.
Anti-inflammatory products: On and off over the last few months, I have tried taking ibuprofen to ease the pain in my shoulder. It helped, but not enough for me to continue taking them. Since I generally don’t like taking medication, I tried a product called wobenzyme (contains enzymes from papayas and pineapples) that is supposed to help with inflammation but is easier on the stomach than ibuprofen. I didn’t find that the wobenzyme helped at all, so I stopped taking it.
Cold and heat: I use a Magicbag, which heat up in the microwave when my shoulder is feeling stiff. After a chiro or PT appointment, or if my shoulder is painful, I use a frozen gel pack wrapped in a damp towel to ease the pain. Each of these – cold and heat – have been useful to me, but the effects are short-lived.
DMSO: Dimethyl Sulfoxide (DMSO for short) is a natural by-product of the pulp and paper industry. It has been found to have very good anti-inflammatory and pain releiveing properties, yet although it has had many successful clinical studies, it is mainly used in the veterinary community for horses. I ordered a jar of 90% DMSO cream, which I just recently started applying to my shoulder every evening and after every chiro treatment. I’ve found it to be quite useful, and my most recent gains in range of motion have corresponded my use of DMSO. I’ll continue to try it.
Raw diet: As an experiment to try and reduce inflammation, I tried a raw diet. For four days, all I ate was raw fruit. In the mornings, I had a banana and strawberry smoothie; for lunch I’d eat grapes or a couple of honeydew melons; snack on some fresh apples in the afternoon and then have more bananas or melons for supper. I felt good, and my shoulder was less painful… but I ran out of fresh fruit on day 4. My range of motion improved while on the raw diet, but that corresponded to my using DMSO, so I’m still not sure which one was the reason for the gains I made. I intend to try the raw diet again for a longer period of time.
What I’m considering
Arthrographic distension of the shoulder: Also called hydrodilatation, this procedure involves injecting saline solution into the shoulder capsule in order to break apart the adhesions that are causing the shoulder to be frozen. Normally, this also usually involves the injection of cortisone directly into the shoulder joint to reduce inflammation. I’ve read good things about this procedure and I am seriously considering getting it done. Yet, I have also read about some bad experiences people have had with the cortisone injection. So, at this point I am undecided.
Until I decide about the arthrographic distension, I will continue on the same path… chiropractic coupled with at-home stretching and the application of DMSO cream. If I decide to go ahead with the procedure, I’ll post about my experiences.
As always, I’d like to hear about my readers’ frozen shoulder stories. What therapies have you tried? What’s worked? What hasn’t? Let me know!