Health & Wellness

Understanding Frozen Shoulder

January 31, 2023

Serenity Here
I devour health and wellness information, and love to share everything that works in my life, so you can use the same self care and lessons in yours!
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How to thaw this stubborn guy and the role massage therapy can play

Every summer we take the kids on vacation. And, for the last four years, we’ve gone to an amusement park, which includes a water park of course! We usually spend a day at the amusement park and then a day at the water park. Fun. 

We especially love Adventureland in Iowa. It’s set up perfectly, with age appropriate rides spread out throughout the park, so you don’t have to hang out in kiddie land for half the day. You can ride the little planes and then walk 10 feet and do a rollercoaster. 

And speaking of roller coasters. My then 9 year old daughter discovered she has a love for roller coasters, like her mom. Although I have more of a love hate relationship with them. I love the thrill but they scare the $h!t out me, so I end up closing my eyes and screaming the entire time. No one enjoys sitting next to me, and I get a lot of stares. 

It’s almost more scary watching this little being that I adore flip upside down 50 feet in the air though. Especially when I’m in the seat next to her. 

And everyone loves the water park. Slides, rafting, and lazy rivers. Oh my. 

I have the most fun going down the slides in a tube, and especially when I get to get in with the kids. Shared experiences are my thang! 

I seize the chance to do the slide with T, my 15 year old. We’re heading down, me screaming, him, not so much. We hit the bottom, and the impact flips our tube over, and I immediately feel jarring pain run through my body. T’s elbow slammed into the top of my left arm, and I know quickly this is bad news bears. 

I go back to a conversation I had with another therapist who told me when I got into the massage business, nothing is the same anymore when it comes to activities. Everything becomes a hazard. 

Ugh, she was right. It didn’t occur to me that I could be injured on summer vacation at the water park, but clearly that was wrong. 

I finally went to see a specialist this week, after milking my arm and shoulder for the last 6 months. I always try to give my body a chance to heal naturally without much intervention. 

I mean, I know our bodies have our back, and everything internally and externally are always just trying to keep us safe. Unfortunately, safety can oftentimes put us in the danger zone, which this was starting to feel like. 

After receiving my last massage and getting a well needed lecture from the therapist, I knew it was time to see what the heck was going on. 

Frozen Shoulder, or if you want the medical term: Adhesive Capsulitis. Darn it!

I guess the upside is that now when I have clients with a frozen shoulder, I can truly understand what it feels like, and what they’re going through. 

One thing I’ve been doing over the last year is more yoga. I’ve always had a hard time sticking to a practice, and it’s just never been something I’ve loved. But, since learning more about how great of a workout it can be for hormonal health and the fact that I’m using my body for hours a day in my profession, I’ve been committed to keeping the practice. 

I found someone I love learning from – key, and actually look forward to it now. Not only that, but the timing has been amazing because I started to notice it was helping with my frozen shoulder. 

Don’t get me wrong, some of the stretching and poses can be painful, but I allow what the body can handle, and keeping the shoulder mobile for the last 6 months has proved really beneficial in the healing process. 

When connected tissue thickens and tightens around the shoulder joint, it causes stiffness and pain in the joint, and this is what frozen shoulder is. Typically it’s caused by an injury – like mine, but more often than not, it’s cause is unknown. Although it’s thought to be created from low movement of the arm, and often found in those with diabetes. 

Mine was immediate, but when its cause is not from an injury, it can creep in over time, eventually immobilizing the shoulder. And the worse news is that it’s lifespan is anywhere from 1 to 3 years before it “thaws.” Ugh. 

It’s made things like, brushing my hair, and pulling a shirt on, difficult and often painful. 

It was recommended to me that Physical Therapy could be a good option. I agree, but I’ve still been determined to see what kind of progress I can handle on my own. I’ve upped my yoga game, and am doing some stretches specifically to create additional movement in that area, similar to what might happen during a physical therapy session. 

My goal is to get full mobility and remove pain in under a year on my own. Stubborn – yes. Determined – heck yes!

I felt like I was working in the dark previously, not knowing what was causing the pain, and worried that I could be making it worse. Now that I know what it is, it makes it so much easier to develop a plan. 

The key I’ve found is to know my limit and stop there. I don’t think pain has to be present in order to get the results I want to see. I say this all the time in my massage practice too. Pain does not equal healing. That seems to be a misconception that we must “feel” something, in order for something to be happening. 

I allow my arm and shoulder to do what it can, and I give it a break. It’s been uber importante to me as well, to ensure that I am not milking it too much. I want to make sure that it remains as strong as possible in order to heal and get back to where it needs to be. Understanding there is a time for rest, and a time for pushing it. 

If you have a difficult time lifting your arm above your head, and for you ladies – buckling your bra strap behind your back, these are signs the shoulder may be frozen, and you want to get to the “thaw” state. 

Although yoga is recommended for most people, you want to ensure you speak to a medical professional, and that you do indeed have a frozen shoulder. 

Here are a couple of the yoga poses that I am currently using to help reduce pain, and increase range of motion:

Savasana: Aids in abduction and external rotation, both of which can be limited with a frozen shoulder. 

Lay on the floor with your back flat, and slowly bring your arms out around you into “cactus.” Ensure you move slowly and let your pain be your guide. Don’t push past the place you start to feel the pain. If you are unable to bring the affected shoulder down, use a bolster or a pillow to support the frozen arm. Gently press the back of your arm down as much as you are able. 

Balasana: Stretches the shoulders and arms above your head. Allows you to control the movement. 

Bring yourself down to your knees on the floor. Sit back down onto your heels and then spread your knees open. Bring your torso down so that you are now lying on your knees and stretching up above onto the floor. Allow your arms to stretch above your head. You may not be able to fully extend the shoulder that is frozen so take it as far as you can. Over time you should be able to move up further and further as your shoulder starts to “thaw.”

A massage therapist is another great option for a frozen shoulder. They can help to manipulate that soft tissue adhesion around the shoulder, and provide both active and passive stretching as your body allows. Obviously I’m a raving fan of this option!

Warming up those muscles and tissue is a safe way to help gain mobilization. Try some self massage in that area if you are comfortable too. I can personally feel where there are tender areas. This indicated to me that the area of injury is nearby. 

I like to take my thumb and roll little circles around the area. This allows the tissue to soften and melt. After I do this self massage for a few minutes, I do some stretching to let the area know it’s safe to move. 

Give everything a try and let me know what you think. I dedicate at least 5 to 10 minutes a day, and more if I have the time. Injuries need attention, and with dedicated tender loving care, they often surpass the healing time you’d expect. 

I’ll keep you posted on my own journey, but I’m pretty optimistic I’ll be back to working order before I hit my one year anniversary!

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