Dealing with frozen shoulder


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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

 

 

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17 thoughts on “Dealing with frozen shoulder

  1. You have gone a long way in trying about everything there is! I have been dealing with FS now for over 3 years. The pain is no longer there but I am still lacking around 25% range of motion. I am going to invest in an elliptical bike to work the back, shoulders and lower body, it looks like a great overall body conditioning tool. I used one in PT and thought it was wonderful. The exercise protocol has been very therapeutic in my recovery. Hang in there as it does get better!

  2. Hi Mike:

    I tried physio for a while, but thankfully I discovered something called Body Talk Therapy. I worked with Lori Hollohan in Ottawa (http://energythrive.com) but it looks like there are 5 practitioners here in Montréal (https://www.bodytalksystem.com/practitioners/index.cfm?os=&oc=&country=CA&state=QC%3ACA&city=Montreal&name=)

    I had 5-6 sessions and noticed a dramatic improvement. This approach cut my FS time down to about 12 months. (I’m back to 85-90% range of motion and it’s still improving.

    Good luck!

  3. Hi, Mike,

    I found your blog via Twitter. (Followed you there.)

    Thanks for this great post on your rehab. And I’m so sorry you are experiencing this condition.

    I’m in Switzerland, so I wonder if some of the treatment protocols are different here. I am under the regular treatment of a surgeon, who has a very open approach. Two months ago, I had an MRI with contrast liquid, and the contrast liquid also served to kind of balloon the joint, stretching it, which sometimes helps folks, but didn’t help me (in fact, it was excruciating). The results from the MRI were super helpful to know.

    I’m currently in the frozen stage, though not completely frozen, but the acute, drop-to-your knees pain has mostly passed. THANK GOODNESS, and fingers crossed.

    A few things I’ve tried — acupuncture (recommended by and in coordination with the surgeon). This seems to help tremendously with my general anxiety about the condition (so debilitating and humiliating). PLUS it really helps control my pain. My acupuncturist also does a fair amount of massage and range of motion on my shoulder/back area. Just 1x a week.

    I’ve had two cortisone shots and found them very useful. The first shot caused a three-day spike in pain, which happens with some folks. The second shot (about three weeks later) helped a lot.

    My surgeon suggested not to use cold therapy (for now) — only heat. Also, he suggested that elastic stretchy bands (to stretch) are not a good idea, as they can cause additional tears. (I also have a torn rotator cuff muscle, arthritis, and impingement).

    Arnica oil. I rub it on the shoulder directly. Weleda makes a very good product. I also have a German arnica rub, which I’ve never seen in North America.

    I was on TRAMADOL for a while, a morphine derivative (the pain was that bad), but it gave me migraines and made me vomit. I am able to get by for about six or seven days, taking no pain meds, and then I’ll take a two-day course of Naproxen (generic name — Aleve is the product).

    Long hot bath every day. Sometimes twice a day. Or shower. This helps tremendously.

    And, finally, though not everything, I regularly get physical therapy in a swimming pool. 3x / week. This has been, by far, the most helpful aspect of my treatment. In the pool, I’m human again. I do range of motion exercises, stretching, and relax. Here in Switzerland, you get a series of nine, then need a new Rx. I’ve been doing it months now, and it seems likely I’ll continue for 3 – 4 – more? months. I highly recommend the pool. (Sounds like the landscaping around your pool put you over the edge — ugh!)

    I’ve just started trying an anti-inflammatory diet.

    Well… just wanted to share my experience in response to your awesome post. Thank you so much for writing about adhesive capsulitis. Good luck to us both!

    • Hello Renée,

      Thanks so much for your comment!

      I also had the contrast liquid injection, except with an arthrogram rather than an MRI. They call it arthrograph distension here in Canada; hydrodilation elsewhere. For me, the pain was quite bearable during the procedure. I’ll be posting about my experience with that procedure in the next few days.

      I wish you the best of luck in your recovery!

      Mike

    • Hi Carol,
      I assume you mean the therapeutic arthrogram (hydrodilatation). The treatment went very well, although the doctor told me that my shoulder capsule was quite inflamed. The shoulder was painful for 2-3 days after the treatment, but after that, the pain was gone almost completely for about 3 months.

      Since the pain was coming back, I elected to have a 2nd treatment done (I’ve been told that it is OK to have up to 3 injections) about a week ago. This time, the doctor was able to inject twice as much solution into the joint, indicating that the inflammation has decreased. Once again, the shoulder hurt for a couple of days afterwards, but the pain then disappeared.

      In terms of range of motion (ROM), it has definitely improved. Still not 100%, but getting better. I’d say I’m at about 75-80% ROM now.

      Good luck in you journey with frozen shoulder. Please keep me and the other blog readers posted on your progress.

      Mike

  4. Hi Mike , A very useful interesting post I had my right shoulder frozen three years ago. My shoulder was yanked by my Guide dog puppy a couple of times, my drumming and my work as a Flight Attendant did contribute.
    Yes, first came the painkillers ,than Osteopath, Massage , Bowden therapy and DMSO.
    While in the first stage I used a compress of turmeric and Chili powder. To do that you use two or three tablespoons of turmeric powder add a half to one tea spoon of chili powder and mix it. Than you have to get a cloth (Thin like muslin).To the mixture you add now boiling water that will activate the chili powder. Mix it into a moist paste . Put on the cloth wrap it and tape it to your shoulder. Make sure it is not to hot , but still very warm. You will instantly find that the activated mixture will create a lot of heat.So be careful the heat could come from the hot mixture ( you don’t really want that) or the heat will come from the chili turmeric mixture.Leave it on as long as you can take it. Now you ask why would you do that. It is the most amazing anti inflammatory treatment I have ever seen.
    Only after that I was able to start moving my shoulder again. Do not start any training while the shoulder is still inflamed. You will cock it up even more.
    Further what I thought was really helpful was a TENS machine that sends electric impulses to your muscles.
    I was very pleased with acupuncture.
    Yep and guess what now my left shoulder is playing up.So I started some serious research about the causes of frozen shoulders.I found something very interesting.Due to our deplenished food intake in these days we all have incredible lack of magnesium in our systems. This is a process over years with the result that your muscles start cramping and tendons getting stiff , etc. So get your magnesium levels check out and you will be surprised how depleted they are.To bring your magnesium up to normal it will take months if not years of dosage. Do not use Magnesium oxide , this is crap, cheap and used in all common multivitamins. Use magnesium citrate or Magnesium oil for you skin. Magnesium has to work in conjunction with Calcium. Use Coral Calcium.Your muscle will use Calcium to extend and Magnesium to contract. By the way coffee is a huge Magnesium blocker. Just in case you think you can sit in you favorite chair, have a cuppa while your shoulder compress doing its work.

  5. I had a shoulder injury in April this year that turned into frozen shoulder 2 months later. I tried physical therapy for 5 weeks with limited success. I’m currently trying NAT and acupuncture. The acupuncture (6 treatments) has helped with pain and NAT (12 treatments) with ROM. My ROM is still very poor- 50 percent or less of what it should be. Today is my first day using DMSO. I’m hoping it combined with exercise, acupuncture and NAT will help restore my ROM. This process has been incredibly expensive and trying.

    • Hi, Rebecca, I get updates about posts here… keep faith… I just want to send you some support! I’m 18 months into my recovery. Yes, very expensive. The acupuncture helped me tremendously with controlling pain. If “dry” (regular) physical therapy does not help, you might think about trying physical therapy in a pool. That has been my whole shoulder treatment for adhesive capsulitis (and a torn rotator cuff muscle), and the pool has not irritated things and has helped tremendously. Good luck. The first six months or so are the worst. xo

  6. I’m working on my second frozen shoulder. My first fs was on my right side and yes its about a two year ordeal with or without any treatment. But this second fs on on my left side is much more painful, probably because I sleep on that side. I take physical therapy 2 a week. I dont expect much from physical therapy, it didnt help the first time, however I do like the tens unit they have. My question to you is which dmso cream do you recomend? I would try to make my own but I rather buy it already made. Thanks for any advice.

    • Hi, Kenny, I just wanted to ask if you had tried physical therapy in the pool the first round? I’ve been doing all my physical therapy in the pool, because the dry was too irritating and too painful. Time in the pool provides a lot of relief for me, though each person is different.

      I’m curious, too, about the kind of DMSO cream to buy.

      Also, I purchased my own little electric stim machine. It’s not as good as what they have at the physical therapist’s office, but it’s great to have at home.

      Good luck with the recovery. I am so sorry to hear you’re on your second shoulder.

    • Hi Kenny,

      I bought the DMSO cream online. It’s a rose scented DMSO cream (70% DMSO in a cream base) made by DMSO Inc. in Ghent, Kentucky.

      I hope that helps. Keep us posted here on your recovery!

      Mike

  7. I had a frozen should for a few years and was just living with it. I was very lucky my doctor was into a lot of things. I told him I had pain in my upper shoulder. I was a bit confused when he said I had a tight knot in my back. He used acupuncture needles and connected them to a device and zapped the knot. Bang-wow the muscle contracted and expanded. Instant satisfaction!! My shoulder felt good, I was able to raise my arm, it was amazing.

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