Frozen is not just a popular Disney movie. It is also a condition that can affect your shoulder, especially if you are a woman between the ages of 40-70. (Medscape source) Frozen shoulder, or Adhesive Capsulitis, usually has a mysterious onset and causes considerable pain for a long time. Some suspected triggers are diabetes, menopause, systemic inflammation, or hormonal changes. It can last from 12 months to 2 1/2 years.
I am 42 and dealing with a frozen shoulder as I write this. The picture above is my shoulder x-ray that was taken last week at the orthopedic surgeon's office. Even though the joint looks fine from a structural point of view - it's not fine. I have been in all types of pain with very little range of motion in my arm. I cannot move my arm above my head, lift it out to the side, or do any internal or external rotation. That makes putting my hair in a ponytail awkward and painful. I can't hook my bra strap in the back. Even just putting my hand on my hip is impossible. Sometimes the pain is stabbing. Sometimes the pain is aching. Always the pain is stealing my daily joy of moving.
Because of my frozen shoulder, I was not able to go on a long-awaited canoe trip with my sister and our sons. I could not swim at the river this year. No more yoga. No more bike riding. No more moving my arm without fear.
When the pain started over 6 months ago I thought it would just go away on its own like most of my other middle-aged ailments do. But it didn't. The pain was almost unbearable at times. In the beginning, it hurt to do anything with my arm and the pain woke me up frequently at night. Little did I know, I was already in stage two of a frozen shoulder.
A frozen shoulder has four distinct phases:
Right now, I am in phase four...the thawing and final phase. In this stage I am able to start regaining some of the range of movement that I lost in the first three phases. The only pain I feel now is when I am purposely stretching my shoulder into the pain zones to eek out more degrees of movement. It will likely be several more months of therapy and working on it at home before I have full usage back.
The reason I am writing about my experience is because I waited too long to get help. I have a master's degree in kinesiology and knew about frozen shoulders, yet I still did not pick up on the initial symptoms of this syndrome. I certainly didn't take it seriously enough when I realized what it was. I thought I could recover quickly on my own. I had no idea that it would negatively impact my everyday life to the depth that it did.
I hope that you will read this and be able to recognize the symptoms to take action sooner than I did if it happens to you or to one of your clients. It is my hope that you won't have to go through this. Please listen to the advice of Dr. Vad from the Hospital for Special Surgery in NY:
If you have pain in your shoulder, and there was no specific injury, and the pain is getting worse, and you’re beginning to lose range of motion, you should get to a doctor immediately. If you feel you might have a frozen shoulder, don’t sit and wait—take charge.
The key to shortening the duration of each stage is to recognize the start of a frozen shoulder. Mine started as a result of an emergency hysterectomy I had while still living in Australia (I will write more on that later). I became septic which means I had systemic infection and inflammation. If you combine that with my sudden hormone change (removal of the ovaries) and 5 days in the hospital without moving my left arm very much because it was full of IV's, then it was the perfect storm for a frozen shoulder to set in.
My shoulder doctor, Tameem Yehyawi, MD, at Columbia Orthopedic Group said that seemingly unrelated events (like my abdominal surgery) can act like a match to initiate a frozen shoulder. There is also a 30-50% chance that it will happen in the other shoulder. If it does, I will be ready this time with my exercises, an anti-inflammatory diet, and my over-the-door pulley. (I will write more on my therapy regimen soon.)
As the title of this article mentions, I think there is evidence for Dr. Vad's statement below. Frozen shoulder appears to be a women's health issue. My case could be used to support his claim because I am a woman over 40 who went into surgical menopause, and my frozen shoulder set in almost immediately.
...it’s a ratio of 4 to 1, women to men...The Women’s Health Initiative has helped raise awareness around these important health issues affecting women after menopause...This condition should really be studied as a women’s issue. Dr. Vad, Hospital for Special Surgery, New York City
Bring on the studies and build the awareness. Please share this with women you know who have been complaining about shoulder pain. It is possible to shorten the severity and the duration of the frozen shoulder.
Be on the lookout for frozen shoulder if you have shoulder pain along with any of the risk factors below:
I am a wife, mother, and exercise physiologist with one foot in the world of travel and one foot in the world of fitness. This blog is a mixture of travel adventures and wellness topics that affect women and their families. We've travelled, first in our Airstream and then in Australia, while attempting to balance work, life, health, and relationships. It's been an amazing journey so far. Join me as we navigate new places, adjust to small spaces, and meet new faces.