The shoulder season.

thWe were hanging out in our library earlier today, me at the desk and DF sorting paperwork nearby. When he asked if I could hand him a pen, I did so without thinking.

Then: “Oh my gosh – look! It’s working!”

I was referring to my right shoulder and arm, which had been more or less immobilized and causing me a fair amount of pain (especially at night) for a while now. Some range-of-motion exercises were helping. But last week I couldn’t reach to the right to pick up a glass of iced tea sitting on the table by my chair. I had to turn my body and reach for it with my left hand.

So this is huge

During my annual checkup at the end of January, the P.A. who cares for me had me move my arm and shoulder and asked if any progress had been made. Since the pain and immobility were decreasing, he didn’t see the need for anything like an MRI at that time.

Why get an incredibly expensive test just so an orthopedic specialist could tell me, “Hey, your shoulder doesn’t work”? Tell me something I don’t know.

Sure, I have insurance. But I figured there was no need to add to the problem of unnecessary tests/skyrocketing medical costs. The P.A. and I were on the same page: Keep doing the exercises and if it doesn’t continue to improve, come on back.

Slow progress beats no progress

For those of you who are having stiffness, pain or immobility with a shoulder, here are the exercises that are helping me: the University of Illinois Shoulder Care Guide and the Hunterdon Orthopaedic Institute (click on the link, scroll down to “shoulder” and then click on “frozen shoulder” – that will download a PDF of range-of-motion exercises).

Note: Your mileage may vary, as the source of the stiffness/pain could be something other than frozen shoulder. I’m not a doctor. See one if you think you should. I’m just saying what’s working for me.

So glad I kept it up. Next: Keep on keeping it up. It still hurts to reach out to the side, and I still can’t reach up over my head. If I slack off on the homegrown PT the progress will stop or, worse, reverse itself.

According to an orthopedic website I checked, it can take six months to two years for such cases to resolve. Frustrating, but I need to be patient: No machine runs for 56 years without some maintenance issues.

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  1. Even though I do have an orthopedic problem that needs surgery, I do exercises not prescribed for me to keep the range of motion. I slept on the shoulder, my favorite side on which to sleep, and caused such pain, stiffness, and loss of range of motion that I decided to get a cortisone shot in the shoulder. I have not asked for or accepted an offered injection since this happened about four years ago. So, you know I was in pain. The worst part was the lack of feeling from my spine to some of my fingertips. However, to get a work-in appointment, I would have to wait at least two hours, maybe four. At that point I decided maybe I could work on it and make it better. I did. It did. There are days when I am surprised things work, too…lol.

  2. Those exercises are much like the ones my PT daughter had me doing for my frozen shoulder. It did take @ 6 months to see significant improvement. Side movement is the hardest to get back. The best exercise she gave me (and I didn’t see it here) was to hold onto a door handle with the hand from the affected side (i.e. my left hand because my left shoulder was frozen). While holding onto the handle turn your upper body to the opposite side (again, for me that would be toward the right) Hold for 10 seconds, return to start position and then do again. Also, lying on the floor or your bed, take a cane or long stick. Place one end in the center of the palm affected by the frozen shoulder. The arm should be bent at a 90 degree angle perpendicular to your body. Push the can toward the surface of the bed as far as you can. Hold for 5 seconds, return to start and repeat.
    I won’t lie: the second one was the hardest to do but now both my arms can move to the side from my body an equal distance.

    Keep doing the excercises–they really do help. Good luck.

  3. I’ve had the problem with both shoulders. My physical therapist told me the Chinese refer to it as 50 year old shoulder! Takes a long time to resolve. Hang in there-not moving it just makes it freeze up. It sure is annoying-the left one is hurting again at bicep tendon but I am just pushing through it. Causes a little trouble at Cross-fit workouts. Women seem to be more prone to the shoulder issues.

  4. Catseye

    That’s good news about your shoulder. Keep on keepin’ on! ;o)

  5. My dad has been going to a physical therapist three times a week for the last 2-3 weeks to get back mobility thanks to frozen shoulder. He’s a strong, proud man and he freely admits that the pain from movement and from the PT is enough to make him tear up. Good luck, lady!

    • Donna Freedman

      Ow. I hope he’s improving steadily. Tell him to call the PT a “physical terrorist.” They love that joke!
      (No, they don’t.)

  6. I am delighted you are on the mend.

  7. Nice article Donna. Thanks for doing the research and sharing this.

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