Staying comfortable with a rotator cuff sprain
March 23, 2015 12:30 PM   Subscribe

I would like to do the above; how? I'm supposed to rest it but not too much. Also, what is a normal amount of wear and tear for a late-30s non-athlete?

The shoulder's a mild sprain (external rotators), it's just uncomfortable. It's acute, happened a few days ago (after sweeping the stairs). Diagnosed clinically by physio, no tear suspected. It's achy in any position for too long, and I am supposed to rest it, but was also advised to let it move a little and give it a gentle swing now and then to prevent frozen shoulder. Next available appointment is in two weeks and I forgot to ask how to rest it - can I put it in a sling for a bit sometimes? Rest it on a pillow? Nothing/suck it up?

Also: if you're in your late thirties, how many soft tissue or joint issues are you walking around with at any time? I feel like I've got a lot and they happen easily, but maybe that's just what happens. (Especially interested in the experiences of previously overweight, sedentary people who experienced fitness epiphanies leading to weight loss and 4-5 day-weekly workouts and who are maybe paying the piper now.) Currently, I've got five meat things going on plus mild osteoarthritis in a few joints.
posted by cotton dress sock to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you 'double jointed' or hypermobile? Hypermobile joints dislocate and injure easily, and in time can lead to osteoarthritis and chronic pain issues. Worthwhile checking with your physio to see if they can recommend joint stabilisation and strengthening exercises.

And I would take 'rest' to mean no sports or weight lifting with that arm - but check with your physio to be safe.
posted by mossicle at 12:48 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm older than you but have been through rotator cuff surgery after doing PT for years trying to avoid same. Ice your shoulder a couple times a day for 20 minutes or so - you can get shoulder specific icepacks with velcro straps that make this much easier. Are you taking any NSAIDS? They'll help with both pain and inflammation. In terms of gentle moving try walking your fingers up the wall when you're showering - hold your hand out to your side and walk your hand up gently as high as is pain-free. Try the same thing facing forward. If you have a theraband you can do some gentle inner and outer rotations - hold your elbow at your side and with the theraband tied to a wall or bedframe gently rotate your arm out to side and in across your body.

When you sleep on your side an extra pillow under your arm to support the shoulder will help. Rotator stuff is incredibly tedious and pernicious - good luck.
posted by leslies at 12:58 PM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Did you do a lot of significant dieting as a part of your weight loss? This may not be at all applicable, but while in the throes of a serious eating disorder, I lost a lot of weight from fasting, and I think that led to muscle deterioration. When I got back to a healthy weight and started doing moderate exercise, I suffered from a lot of soft tissue injuries. I also have always had very flexible joints, so I think that combined with loss of muscle tone contributed to this.

I've done a decent job of resolving the issue by doing a lot of physical therapy-type exercises to stabilize my ankles/knees/hips/shoulders, and it's made a big difference.

I did all of this without the guide of a physical therapist, but I would definitely ask whoever you're seeing for recommendations for exercises to help stabilize your joints. It's really important to address this, because I think soft tissue injuries can become pretty chronic if not addressed. (Obviously, IANAD/IANYD, YMMV, etc.)
posted by litera scripta manet at 12:59 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks guys! Yes, I'm hypermobile (not contortionist level - just slippery joints, sprains etc.), and I do have a few chronic issues already :/ Yes, I'm taking NSAIDS. (I've heard they may do more harm than good in the long run, but I'm a big baby.)

Thanks so much for your thoughts and for the specific exercises!

The pillow is a good idea, thank you! (So putting it in a sling just for 20 minutes or so, just these few days, is a bad idea?)
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:23 PM on March 23, 2015

Response by poster: My calorie deficit was very conservative, so I don't think that's the issue with me, litera scripta manet. I'm sorry you went through that :(
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:26 PM on March 23, 2015

Best answer: I never used a sling other than 24 hours post surgery - did sit the arm on a pillow for support when it was achey. Have a daughter who is hyper-flexible and she has many orthopedic injuries - I think all you can do is build muscle to support your joints and be careful.
posted by leslies at 1:48 PM on March 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you use a sling, get one that rests on both sides of the neck, they make them. It is much better for balanced healing. When the acute phase passes, take up exercise to strenghten the shoulder and rotators so they hold in a variety of activities. I had a series of rotator cuff and bicep injuries, staying more fit has helped me heal well. The last injury was the mother of all, three rotator tendons torn right off and retracted, and the bicep torn from the head. I do a number of fast exercises each day, including twenty each of five push up types, forty cat/cows, some moves my PT's taught me, neck exercises, etc. I regained full and precise range of motion. The injured arm is in better shape than the other arm. The eleven plastic screws worry me. Maintaining some baseline muscle tone really helps. These are light pushups they still help a lot. In the beginning I could not take more than two finger steps up a wall.
posted by Oyéah at 9:12 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not a fan of slings unless there's a serious tear, fracture, injury, or you anticipate being in an environment where you may be jostled and/or accidentally use the muscle. Instead, I suggest you try kinesio tape (aka elastic therapy tape). You may need someone to help place it on you correctly, but they're great for correcting posture, keeping your shoulder in place, applying pressure, etc. You can shower and sweat in them. I'm super partial to the ones made in Japan, but any will do. If you must ice once in a while, use an ice shoulder wrap!

I'm also a big fan of infrared heat. This one in particular, the Far Infrared Shoulder Heat Wrap, saved my life when I was recovering from multiple rotator cuff injuries. I still use it from time to time. There are lamps and other handheld devices you can use if this is not an option.

Treatment-wise, I highly, highly recommend electroacupuncture (just acupuncture if your injury is still fresh). It sped up my healing process not only when I hurt my rotator cuff but also when I fractured my spine and tore some neck muscles in an accident.

There was one point where I would feel better and find myself getting injured by the smallest things (reaching behind me into the backseat from the drivers seat, blow drying my hair, pulling something out of the laundry) because I wasn't maintaining agility and strength. After you start to improve and learn the proper stretches/exercises from your PT (i.e. rowing, flex band stretches, yoga poses, doorway stretches) and learn how to bolster the muscles that surround and compensate for your affected shoulder. You should maintain mobility and strengthen through swimming. You don't have to go all Michael Phelps -- just a few laps at the local pool once a week will help tremendously. It's the best exercise for your situation!
Whatever you do, don't move heavy objects on your own or decide to go kayaking out of nowhere.

FYI, I also have arthritis and chronic joint pain, and GI issues. I don't aim to exercise 4-5 days a week -- just eat healthy (less inflammation-inducing foods) and keep moving. Above are just some ways that helped me when things got extra rough. Hope this helps!
posted by doctordrey at 11:16 AM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

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