Is my shoulder frozen forever?
June 13, 2008 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Will my frozen shoulder ever stop hurting?

Thirty years of Type 1 Diabetes caught up with me the year my first child was born. My right shoulder froze. I think it froze because I was suddenly carrying a 20lb baby bundle with my right arm all the time. I didn't seek treatment, because I was a first-time daddy, and I just thought it was strain and would correct itself. That was a big mistake.

A year later I saw an orthopedic doctor. He gave me steroid shots, which didn't help. He gave me 800mg Ibuprofin pills, which made me foggy and provided only temporary relief. He prescribed physical therapy, which hurt like hell but did not improve the pain or range of motion.

I then had a manipulation under anesthetic. The procedure restored about 70% of my motion (Yay, I can put my belt on by myself now) but the pain persists. I have since been stretching regularly (using the Whartons' active isolated stretching techniques) but the pain persists. I do not favor the arm, but then again I am not a weightlifter or gymnast.

One thing that concerns me is that the pain persists, whether I stretch or not. It's just different pain in different places. It's been over seven months since the manipulation, the pain persists, and my range of motion has improved little. Now I do the stretching just to prevent my left shoulder from freezing.

So, am I stuck with this frozen shoulder for life? Will the pain ever go away? I'd love to hear from other Mefites who have experienced a frozen shoulder.
posted by the matching mole to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm still dealing with a frozen shoulder (dominant arm) that began a year and a half ago. It takes a long time to heal, even in the best of cases. It was first diagnosed as tendonitis, but the prescribed exercises didn't help, and when my shoulder got worse, I was referred to a physical therapist. I went twice a week for 3 or 4 months (until my insurance co. stopped covering it.)
Those months of PT really helped a lot, but yeah, it hurt. I had physical therapists who had a lot of experience with frozen shoulder (and one of them had had it herself, which helped immensely.)
I still have some stiffness and discomfort, and haven't quite gotten all range of motion back, but I attribute that to my slacking off of the daily exercises - I hate doing them, and the progress is very slow.
How long did you spend in PT? I would suggest going back for a re-evaluation.
posted by wens at 1:07 PM on June 13, 2008

It sounds like you need to see a physical therapist. This will require a prescription which you can get from your orthopedist. I would be careful getting steroid injections as they are only a temporary solution and can have long term implications. Given that you have not had great success with this doc, you might be better off seeing someone else next time.
posted by caddis at 1:10 PM on June 13, 2008

Physiotherapy (physical therapy) has made a big difference with my whiplash and car accident-induced shoulder problems, although I'm still recovering. (The hormones from pregnancy and nursing affect muscle laxity.)
posted by acoutu at 1:16 PM on June 13, 2008

Have you seen The Frozen Shoulder Workbook? I haven't worked with it personally.

This is also a great book that boils down to barely five minutes of effort per day. But, I didn't have a frozen shoulder--just a painful, popping one. It's highly evidence-based.
posted by zeek321 at 1:52 PM on June 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

IANAD. But one thing to understand about NSAIDS like ibuprofen is that they are prescribed not just for pain relief, but also, and perhaps more importantly, for anti-inflammation effects. As a diabetic, you may be more prone to arthritis and other joint inflammation diseases than people who are not diabetic, and you need to consider that the long term benefits of controlling inflammation may far outweigh any short term pain relief you think NSAIDS are being prescribed to provide.

Effective management of your diabetes, physiotherapy, anti-inflammation control, and perhaps a referral to a rheumatologist may be in order. You're in a long term fight for your arm, I'm afraid.
posted by paulsc at 1:54 PM on June 13, 2008

Response by poster: wens, caddis: I spent only two months in PT before my insurance ran out. The PTs I did see are students, so I appreciate the suggestion that I see a PT who had experience with frozen shoulder.

Thank you for the book suggestions, zeek321.

paulsc, I did not know that about NSAIDS and Ibuprofen. That's very interesting.

My diabetes is managed effectively, and I have had no complications outside of the frozen shoulder. But it sure likes I need to return to PT and look into controlling the inflammation.
posted by the matching mole at 2:23 PM on June 13, 2008

Have you tried massage?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 2:44 PM on June 13, 2008

I wish I had a real answer for you (IANAD) other than Physical Therapy, but sometimes you end up with a crappy PT who'll just run you through some range of motion then get out the stim machine and throw ice on it. I would seriously try to do as much as you could for yourself without drugs. Unless you can't bear the pain. Massage, Yoga, Pilates, rehab, ART, read up as much as you can about Trigger Point Therapy, and other possible forms of self-rehab.
posted by P.o.B. at 8:27 PM on June 13, 2008

tmm, two years ago my left shoulder froze. I had arthroscopic surgery to snip the adhesions, followed by two months of physical therapy, then another month of at home stretching and strengthening. Following that 90 day period, I had full range of motion with no pain. It was as if it never happened.

Fast forward to this time last year, and guess what, my right (dominant) shoulder froze. I don't have diabetes, so the orthos are at a loss for what is causing this with me. Anyway, different doc this time because I had moved. The 2nd one did the manipulation like yours, rather than scoping it. Again, two months of very painful PT, but this time now 100 days later I'm like you. Only about 70% range of motion returned, but still significant pain when I try to move beyond that 70%.

So, in my experience, I had a lot better result with arthroscopic adhesion relief than with manipulation. Obviously, your mileage may vary. Good luck to you. It's no fun.
posted by netbros at 8:33 PM on June 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

My mother, also a type I diabetic had her shoulder freeze up twice (left then right), I believe. It was painful and it took a long time, but physical therapy is what got her range of motion back. I think that was probably four or five years ago and I don't believe she has any left over pain or if she does it is minimal and doesn't impede her ability to live her day-to-day life (she'll even jump in a game of volleyball with the rest of us). So, I guess I would look into good PT with people who have experience with frozen joints as others have suggested. I know you said you went for two months- my mother went through six months of PT and says that the sooner you can get into PT the better. She said it was pretty intense and made her really sore but she said it really works. In her diabetic support group all the women had had both shoulders freeze up but that they have all recovered.

So, in short, yes, there is hope for range of motion and for the pain to go away. I only wonder that because your shoulder froze a while ago, it might take you a bit longer than whatever normal is for you to regain use.

(IANAD, etc, etc, etc)
posted by Bibliogeek at 11:28 AM on June 14, 2008

Ouch! I feel your pain. I don't have diabetes so not sure if my experience helps but I had frozen shoulder last year after a climbing fall. It it was agony for about three months, and it took about five more months for full motion to be restored. I had physio and medication at the beginning but I think what helped the most was me trusting it, I realised I was unconsciously avoiding using it to 'protect' it. Once I started relaxing about picking things up or pulling with that arm, the shoulder started to ease.

The physio did tell me that these tend to take a while to right themselves. Best wishes for your recovery!
posted by freya_lamb at 1:37 PM on June 14, 2008

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