Frozen shoulder, which is officially called adhesive capsulitis, is just what it sounds like: your shoulder freezes up and you canâ€™t move your arm.
In Asian countries, it is called â€œ50 Shoulderâ€ because it often strikes at about age fifty. In younger women, it can be caused by stress to the joint from intense weight-bearing exercise or immobilization due to a cast on a broken arm. Sometimes it is a sign of heart disease or diabetes. Iâ€™m pretty sure I got it from always sleeping in one position on my side.
Donâ€™t wait to get help
Once I realized what was wrong, I surfed around the Internet for information, which was a bit frightening because I realized I had already made some missteps:
- I had stopped using my arm, which allowed the condition to worsen. Soon, I could only raise my arm about three inches.
- I had waited too long to do anything about it, just hoping the condition would go away on its own. It seems that when Frozen Shoulder is advanced, surgery is sometimes necessary to remove scar tissueâ€”a decidedly unappealing course of action.
Go the naturopathic route?
From my online research, I also realized I did not want to consult an ordinary doctor, since the standard first step is to inject the shoulder with steroids. So my first stop was a visit to a naturopathic doctor who prescribed a hyped-up version of glucosamine. (The pills made my shoulder joint hurt worse in the short term, but cleared up the osteoarthritis in my knee.) The doctor said that on a subsequent visit, he might have to inject my shoulder with saline solution, as an alternative to steroids. Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary.
The needle vs. the knife
My second stop was an acupuncturist, Xiaolei Zhang, who came highly recommended. I was a bit apprehensive since Iâ€™d never tried the therapy before, but it certainly was preferable to surgery. Her office was in a house whose bedrooms had been converted into informal treatment rooms, each with an overstuffed lounge chair or cot, soothing color schemes and minimal decor. After a brief consultation, I made myself comfortable on a lounge chair, rolled up my pants leg and bada-bing! In a flash, the needles were in place. For the next thirty minutes, my assignment was to sit still. I took the opportunity to practice meditation, something my â€œmonkey mindâ€ generally finds difficult to do.
The needles didnâ€™t hurt, although I was aware of their presence when I shifted my position. Oddly enough, the needles were not placed in my shoulder. Instead, Xiaolei put them in my hand and shin. She also glued three tiny black beads to the inside rim of my ear. My homework was to pinch the beads from time to time during the day. I donâ€™t know what kind of glue was used, but the beads survived a month of showers and baths.
After each acupuncture session, I could move my arm a little bit more freely. After only five sessions over the course of a few weeks, natural movement was completely restored. Each session cost me fifty dollars â€“ a real bargain in my estimation.
First steps if you have frozen shoulder
If your shoulder freezes up, make an appointment with an acupuncturist before somebody talks you into steroids or surgery. However, always consult a doctor to be sure the condition is not an indication of a more serious underlying illness.
Editor’s note: Â Frozen shoulder may either occur as a result of an underlying illness that results in disuse or from an idiopathic process. Â Disuse meaning due to a lack of use or movement such as in those who where a sling. Â Rotator cuff tendinopathy is the most common cause of frozen shoulder though other risk factors include diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, low pain thresholds and others. Â Treatment of any underlying disease process as well as gradual stretching of the glenohumoral joint lining are the mainstays of treatment.