28 March 2009

The Hell That is Frozen Shoulder

I have Frozen Shoulder. Again. I had a it a few years ago, before I started blogging. Never heard of it? Neither had I. It's officially called Adhesive Capsulitis. See, your tissues freak the hell out and form bands of tight, inflamed adhesions throughout the capsule surrounding your glenohumeral joint. This scarred and inflamed capsule constricts the joint, locking it into its own private hell. Range of motion is severely restricted, pain is basically comparable to having your shin broken with an axe, and duration can range from a few months to two years or more.

This shit hurts, people. It has three stages:
  • FREEZING: this is when you're basically wracked in pain. All the fucking time. Two kinds of pain, actually: chronic pain that is worse at night, and acute just-kill-me-now pain when you accidentally move past your ever-decreasing range of motion. This is where I am now.
  • FROZEN: this is when the pain supposedly starts to fade, but the capsule has basically locked your arm into a very limited range. Good luck wiping your ass. This is the time to introduce excruciating physical therapy, in order to try and coax your shoulder into moving again.
  • THAWING: this is where your motion is supposed to gradually come back. It's not very common to regain your full range of motion. The agonizing PT is continued through this phase.
So yeah, I had this three or four years back. Took over a year and a half to run its course. I remember when I was diagnosed. I thought Frozen Shoulder sounded stupid. Like some wimp-ass diagnosis for big crybabies or hypochondriacs. Adhesive Capsulitis sounded better, but still. Didn't sound like a "real" condition, like torn rotator cuff, or bone spur, or something badass like that. I soon found out different.

Frozen Shoulder is not for pussies, people.

Put it this way; I had three babies with no drugs. Two of the offspring were just under nine pounds, one was just over nine pounds. No drugs. I made it through shin splints in basic training with only Ben-Gay for relief. Hell, I made it through basic training, period.  I had two wisdom teeth pulled with only local anesthetic. I can do pain. I'm a woman. But dealing with that Frozen Shoulder wore me down. It was rough.

And it's back.

The other night my shoulder suddenly seized up in a cramp. (This would be the aforementioned "acute pain".) I screamed like a girl and cried. Literally. Screamed and cried. Male Offspring was about to take me to the emergency room. Of course, he probably just wanted to drive, but still. He gave me what he called hug therapy afterward. This is from a teenage boy, folks. If I had to deal with that pain for the length of a labor ... I couldn't do it. I'd be screaming for the drugs in five minutes.

When my shoulder started hurting a few months back, I figured I had wrenched it somehow, you know, with my active lifestyle and all, and didn't think much of it. But as time went on, I had to face the fact that I was having a relapse. According to the literature, relapses are extremely rare. Surprise, I'm one of the lucky few who get to experience that rare treat.


This time is worse. Worse because I know what I'm in for. The first time, I could trick myself. You know, say things like, "Maybe I'll be one of those people who heal in a few months." or "The physical therapy will speed up the process." Complete bullshit, but it had a psychological placebo effect. This time, I know what's up. I don't think I can do this again, people. It's like getting scared of childbirth once you're already pregnant. Ain't no getting out of it now - you're in it for the duration.

And my neck's not long enough to gnaw my arm off.

I can't tuck in a shirt, let alone reach in a back pocket. I can't hook my bra. I can't reach across to wash my other shoulder. Shaving under that arm? Please. Deodorant is spotty at best. Taking a coat off sucks.

Washing, drying, and styling my hair mostly one-handed is frustrating, painful, and makes me mad as hell. It also renders me unable to let go of my anger and resentment toward Laura, the heifer who butchered my hair. Every day I hate her more, and I'm not generally into hate, except for George Bush. I'm telling you, every day it festers, and that shit's not healthy. Catching her in an alley while armed with a pair of pinking shears has replaced winning the lottery as my main fantasy.

Showering has become a dreaded ordeal and leaves me feeling like a big crybaby. I've considered going to work in pajamas rather than face getting dressed. And my pajamas aren't pretty, people. Sleep is difficult. That's an understatement. I'm ODing on Valerian and Unisom. I don't want to go on prescription pain relievers or sleep aids, because of the length of time involved with this thing. I mean, popping hard drugs for a couple of weeks or even a month is one thing, but when you're talking upwards of a year, that's something else. Who wants to end up like Rush Limbaugh?

The worst is making involuntary movements - like if you stumble and try to catch yourself, or automatically reach out to catch something, or if something startles you and makes you jump. Agony. There's a fraction of a second between the time you make the movement and the time that agony slams you like a rabid water buffalo on crystal meth, when you realize what you've done. That's the fraction of a second you consider bashing your head on concrete to knock yourself out. But there's not enough time.

To add to the fun, it's my right shoulder. I'm right-handed. I already mouse left-handed at work, so that's okay, but I'm starting to do other things left-handed. I'll be ambidextrous by the time this shit's over.

I've heard of some people who get bilateral FS. That's right, both arms at once! How the hell do those guys wipe their asses? Or drive? Or eat? Or do anything? Holy hell. If that happens, you'd better hope you have a partner or a live-in aide, because I don't see how you'd manage. It sucks having FS as a single person, even with only one arm affected. Basically, I can reach forward, to a certain height, with no problem. Any other direction is a definite no-go. At least I can type. Good thing -- that's pretty important for my job, hello. Like anyone needs a reason to stand out in this economy.

There is a surgical treatment option, but my HMO wouldn't go for it. Likewise the cortisone injections I've heard some patients get. The only treatment my HMO approves is physical therapy. Cheapass bastards. Last time, they did a few initial sessions with me, but basically handed me some papers with instructions and cartoon illustrations and told me to do it on my own at home. Then they collected their copay. But hey, we've got to guard against the evils of "socialized medicine" because US medical care is the best in the world!

Actually, maybe I was better off doing it at home. Check out this poor bastard. I can't even imagine being able to move my arm up that high, so he must be coming along nicely. Pay no attention to the screams. It's all about progress in physical therapy. No pain, no gain.

Brutal. My former drill sergeant is probably a physical therapist now. The one who got kicked out for trainee abuse. Anyway, this whole thing is making me really pissy.

I mean more than usual.


  1. trying to find something to say that would be comforting but frankly this sounds like hell on earth. And as to being pissy - you have a reason - a real good reason.

    Sending good thoughts, a very gentle hug and hopes that it will be off short duration.

    baci e dolci abbracci

  2. Wow! The fun just never stops in your life. I will now stop bitching about my bouts with bursitis and carpal tunnel.

    Good luck, honey. Maybe this time around things will go faster and easier. I know, shut up. But I will be hoping for quick recovery for you.

  3. pissy away.....I could not deal with this. I have what is probably a chocolate irritation on my tongue and i am calling the doc tomorrow because I am sure it is tongue cancer....but pain like that? not happening. you are a brave woman....i hear your roar!

  4. Yikes! I'm sure the doctors know best...have they prescribed a muscle relaxer? Would it even help? Anything topical like Aspercreme or a hot water bottle? It might not solve all the problem, but at least make it bearable until you can slowly stretch your way out of it.

  5. Willym: Hell on earth, yeah that about covers it. Seriously, I know I bitch and rant a lot here on the Internets, but this thing is no joke. Thanks for the good thoughts.

    EvilG: I know, right? The fun just never stops here, does it? At least it should be fodder for some super bitchy rants. And I'm right there with you on that fast recovery business.

    Rosemary: I'm not brave. I just don't have a choice. Isn't it like that with so many things in our lives? And I'm thinking you should sue Hershey and pay off your house, for that chocolate irritation deal. It's the American way.

    Y|O|Y: I take Ibuprofin, especially at night, for the anti-inflammatory properties, and use heat and Capzacin, which is a liquid or cream that actually contains capsaicin, from chili peppers. It helps somewhat. Just don't use heat + Capzacin at the same time -- holy hell, my skin was on fire. I only did that once. And DON'T scratch your eyes if any has gotten on your finger.
    There's basically no "stretching it out", because it's not a muscular problem. The capsule that hardens over the joint literally prevents motion, so certain movements are made by shrugging the whole joint up, not actually swiveling the joint, like normal. For instance, I can get something out of my right front coat pocket if I have to, but I look like Igor doing it, because I'm just shrugging the entire joint/arm up while leaning to the opposite side. Good times.

  6. Oh honey! My father had frozen shoulder and it was awful for him. He used to go to sleep with a special shoulder-shaped heating pad each night. I think it eased the pain for him. That's the only thing I can suggest in addition to what you're already doing. I'm so sorry!

  7. Wow that sounds painfulll...for your shoulder and your vagina.

  8. Excrtiating pain,with a side order of frustration at not being able to perform simple tasks..That really blows.

  9. I am so very, very sorry!!! I had that delightful experience about 6 years ago and I know what a total nightmare it is. I have a hell of a high pain threshold thanks to all those years of ballet and the torture that inflicted on my body, and I spent a lot of time crying. I've always been terrified of a relapse, and I am so sorry you had to endure it a second time!

  10. Egads, but this sound horrific!

    Maybe you can kick is Limbaugh style and get all messed up on hill billy heroin?

    Hey - just looking for that silver lining..!

  11. Elizabeth: Heat does seem to do some good. I've heard some people use ice, but I can't imagine doing that. That would put me over the edge, I hate being cold in the best of situations. I've noticed it's worse in the cold, like if I"m outside for an extended amount of time without a heavy coat, so to me ice is a no-go.

    Sage: Huh? The vajayjay is fine, although I can really only verify that with my left hand. Oh! From that whole birthing thing? Yeah ... that's another story. Think Shawn Colvin's "A Few Small Repairs". Yeah.

    KCB: Ouch. My son said the other day he wished he could take it from me for a while - that made me get teary eyed.

    Sling: You said it, Mister. Big time.

    DL: Ah, so you know of what I speak. I have pretty high pain threshold as well, but this shit wears you down. I hate people thinking I've been taken down this far from a "sore shoulder". It's a real bitch. How long did it take you to get over it?

    Craig: Yeah, but look how Rush turned out. [shudder] Then again ... he is head of the Republican party now.
    Teen Demon suggested "medical" marijuana, which is disturbing in and of itself, but please -- living in the PNW, I'm already on the edge of Seasonal Affective Psychosis. That's all I need, to not give a crap about waking up in the morning, zoning out at work and wanting to sleep all the time and eat Oreos. Yeah, great idea to stand out at my job in this economy. Um ... I'll take the pain, thank you.

  12. Ouch Cowbell! This sucks and I'm sorry you have to go through it.

  13. Thanks to my various and sundry bicycle accidents and their associated Osteopathic appointments, I totally know what you mean by those "involuntary movements" and the gruesome pain associated with you NOT getting a plate of pasta smashed into your side or being run over by the over-zealous office guy who is changing the toner in the copier.

    And also...Tiger's Balm makes a cream now, and it's lovely and hot and I don't care how much I smell like little old lady...

  14. I had some shoulder pain a couple of years ago that lasted about a month, and it was a miserable month indeed, but doesn't sound anything close to what you're going through.

    There's gotta be a way to get that surgery... What if you slammed your entire arm in a car door? It's not like we can make it hurt worse...

  15. It just gets better and better at your household doesn't it? I think I'll quit complaining about my gray hair now.

  16. Nearly five months- thank heaven for the cortisone shots or I'd have killed myself or someone else. My dom, I mean my PT, was hot as can be, but he really was a sadistic bastard- I mean who else knowingly hurts people like that otherwise?

  17. Oh you poor thing...my heart really goes out to you. my husband suffered extreme pain from 1993 till his death in 2007. For most of that time he was on Fentanyl patches or (Physeptone) methadone - his face would be grey with pain because the opiates never covered it all. We had to get special permission as these drugs are usually handed out on ly to those terminally ill...I never felt his pain, but I saw what it did to him so when i say i feel for you, I do. Take sweetheart and I hope it becomes less rather than more. best wishes

  18. Whim: Thank you - coming from you, that means a hell of a lot. I'm generally a "suck it up and deal"er too ...

    TW: You said it. The other day I took the dogs to run in a field (I can't walk them on leash now) and a big friggin' bee from Hades suddenly dive bombed me. I did the involuntary jerk-away-from-the-bee thing. WRONG move. OMFG, wrong move wrong move wrong move.

    JP: Hmm... I'm actually considering this.

    RG: Oh, yeah, and I have grey hair on top of that. How unfair is that? Jeez.

    DL: 5months? Holy hell, that sounds like heaven, which should tell folks how truly fucked up this condition is. Last time for me, it was about a year and a half. I don't even want to know if relapses tend to be slower. I'll email you about your other comment. If nothing else, to hear stories about your hot Dom.

  19. MC -- I can't even begin to imagine what Don dealt with, but I can say that FS has definitely been an unwelcome window into what it would be like to live with chronic pain. It really does affect a person.

  20. Dayum...it's time the universe cuts you a break! I'm gonna have a talk with that bastard. You know it's a he cause even the meanest of bitches wouldn't put one person through this much shit. And I knows me a bitch...I've had plenty of practice!

    Hope you get through this quickly and with as little pain as possible...not that that's much to ask for painwise.

  21. I hope this shit isn't genetic.

  22. I have numbness and pain in my arms which is worse at night. I am up about every two hours putting heat on them and taking Aspirin. One thing I found helpful is DHEA; I don't know how it works for the pain but it helps. I take 50mg a day.

  23. I TOTALLY know how you feel! I am on my second episode of frozen shoulder too! Last one was about 6 years ago. The only difference is that mine is on the left and I'm left handed.

    The pain is incredible! And then yesterday I wake up and it hurts just to sit or lay or stand. Not even moving at all. That's when I reached for Motrin/Aleve/Aspirin. I layed in bed waiting for them to kick in and trying not to burst into tears.

    I do energetic work so I did all kinds of woo woo stuff on myself and eventually by night time I felt better. It started again when I woke up this morning and I reached for the meds and did more woo woo. It's been pretty good (well considering that it is a frozen shoulder) since this afternoon. The only other thing that helps me is going for neuromuscular massage. This lady really knows what she is doing and it has been helping a lot. She has been able to get certain movements back about 75%. I go again in the morning.

    I really would like to be able to brush my teeth, wipe my ass and put a shirt on for Christ's sake!

    I hear ya girl. Hang in there.

  24. That sucks. I'm sorry to hear this. Damn the HMO for not providing better options.
    Not fair.

  25. Your description of "the hell" of frozen shoulder matches my symptoms, I have had this 3 mos, and been doing PT also, very painful exercises. Last week I saw an ACUPUNCTURIST and she really helped a lot. After one acupuncture session, I feel much less pain and gained about 5 degrees of movement. She recommended weekly sessions, but told me I should continue with the PT also. I am very optimistic. I read that the chinese name for this is "50 year shoulder" because it happens a lot to women around 50 years old.

  26. Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis) is the most prevalent debilitating form of shoulder pain, which is found more in women. It slowly sets in and leads to a steady loss in shoulder movements, then follows the frozen phase and thawing phase. Physiotherapy is the best treatment for it. Also stretching exercises helps.

  27. Im so sorry for you, I too have a frozen shoulder, this is also my second time round, the first time was my left this time its the right one, the pain is excruitiating, as far as cortizone injections go, good luck, I had one this time as the pain is so much worse but unfortunately it had absolutely no effect at all, Im just waiting for the painful part to end, I dont remember it being this painful last time, worse thing is im taking oxynorm and fentanyl and neither is helping, im just hoping the painful stage ends soon, i dont know how much more i can take of it

  28. I would say it's good to find another sufferer of Festering Shoulder, but I can see you're having maybe even less fun than I am.

    Just found your blog, and will look to see if you have news about how it progresses.

    Meanwhile, you can see my own journal of the Friggin Shoulder syndrome at http://acapsulitis.blogspot.com/

    PS, I just now posted my own entry on the joys of involuntary movements. I call this the ZAP.

    Good luck.

  29. I've just been diagnosed with the dreaded frozen shoulder, got a cortisone shot and will start PT Monday.
    I was somewhat relieved that it wasn't something nasty like a torn rotator cuff - until I came home and started reading. I've been in the freezing stage for 2-3 months, but the last month has been hell. I'm still at the cautiously optimistic stage, but your descriptions hit very close to home.
    I feel less like a wimp after reading your post. Hope you are making progress. Pain sucks, but you are a good writer. Thanks for the post!

  30. Just ending 3 year run. First right..then dislocated right just as it was about healed. While right strapped to my side..left went..Jaysus! 2 inches from being unable to wipe my own ass. To all u currently suffering GREAT FB site.."friends of fs"..very therapudic. Family and friends get fed up after a couple of months. You don't even want to tell peeps then cause they've had it to..and their chiropractor fixed it in a few weeks..NOT FS PEOPLE..great site to vent. Everyone there understands completely. Good luck to you all.

  31. Hi - I have frozen shoulder, and doctors over here recommend cortisone injections into the shoulder joint. I live in Australia, and that is the common treatment. Other options for pain is acupuncture. I know several people who swear by the cortisone injections which can pop out the shoulder joint. I opted against it and decided to change my poor eating habits. Physio makes the pain worse in my opinion. I found some great exercises which worked over time. Cut out sugar, eat more veggies, fruit, live food, omega 3 , ditch the sugar , etc. slowly getting better. Best of luck.

  32. I can laugh at this..now. I had it first in one shoulder, then the next, and I am a violinist. Mortal HELL is not sufficient to describe FSS. I got through it, but only because there was no choice..happily, I can report that I have almost 100 percent range of motion.

  33. I am in the first and hopefully last FS thawing stage. Injured shoulder last Nov, with gradually decreasing movement. By end of Feb, pain pain unbelievable pain sent me to GP on March 1st. Xray same day showed calcium deposit. Hoping injury is what aggravated it, praying won't ever happen again. Other shoulder is fine - I can windmill no prob. Luckily, my ortho(a man) also had it once, so he knows the pain. 2 cortisone shots - 1st didn't work - pain just notched up, but I think that's because shoulder was just at beginning to reach apex of freezing. 2d shot 3 agonizing weeks later worked, but it took about 5 days to know it. Resting pain gradually diminished and was able to start PT about 15 days later. Have gone 3 times so far, do the stuff at home at least 2x a day. Hurts, yup it does. The total soreness is a beatch, but nothing compared to the jerk-pain when I'd make a what was once normal quick movement but was drop to the knees holding the arm in tears freezing stage pain. Ice after exercise. Moist heat before. But I mainly use ice. Percoset helped some at the acute stage, but after being on it for a solid month, I wanted off. Doc gave me tramadol. It really worked, and allowed me to get off constant meds. Don't take anything now, except occasionally for sleep. 5 months in, it is still waking me nearly every night. Aching, stabbing....even during daytime, but as we all know, nights are the worst. The bitch of this disease is that it's so different for everyone, yet the same. Treatments are so varied, outcomes too. No one really knows what or why.
    Good luck to you all!
    Suffering in New York

  34. I have had a frozen shoulder for almost a year. And it is excruciating to deal with. I can tolerate pain very well, I also had natural childbirth. But this shit is so bad, it changes you as a person. My family stays away because I'm very depressed and moody. I just soak in Epsom Salts bath for half an hour a day. Exercises are very painful, and I feel it's just making it worse. God bless to all who has this.

  35. It's been so long I forgot my own password and had to delete 4,500 spam comments, but I just wanted to give a non-pain-induced shout out to all you fellow FS sufferers out there. Even though I haven't blogged in forevermillion years, I found over a dozen emails in this account from others who have been slammed by the hell of FS, mostly just glad to have found some affirmation out there in cyberspace. Hang in there folks. I eventually did recover from this, and have not had a relapse. I never did gain full mobility back, but I was almost double-jointedly limber before, so what I have now is probably pretty close to normal. There's a spot on my upper back that I can't wash without the help of one of those back brushes or a loofah, but other than that, it's all good now. Just try not kill anyone while you're healing, because then you've got prison to deal with, and if Big Bertha tries to make you her bitch, she might twist your bad arm ... and that's way worse than actually being her bitch. Hang in there, people.

  36. Fellow FS sufferers:

    Try yoga! It works. Do all possible yoga shoulder exercises two to three times a day 5 minutes max. each day, and the pain will fade away in due course.

  37. Haha! I got to admit--your description of frozen shoulder had me laughing out loud and cryin at the same time. I've actually sent it to folks who don't quite understand what I am going through. Got it in both shoulders at the same time. Not fun but left shoulder started 6 months before right so I am slowly coming out of it in the left shoulder while at the bottom of the pot in my right. Oh well. Not much to do but wait it out.

  38. Four months of PT and two cortisone shots later, my shoulder was actually starting to feel better, and then, my friggin' shoulder started hurting again - I would rather have another C-Section without anesthetic while giving birth to a pony than go through the FS pain again

  39. Enjoyed all your stories. I've got FS for first time. Still in freezing stage. May get the cortisone injections.

  40. Anonymous17 July, 2014

    Sad to say, I've been there. FS showed up in 2006 - two years and three Shoulder Docs later, after hearing from a renowned on in my area that "there's nothing Orthopaedically wrong with your shoulder", the 3rd doc examined me for less than five min and said - Frozen Shoulder, to which I said WTH is that?? Another 18 months later I gave up on the thaw and had the capsular release AND MUA to wondrous results (Yes also Right handed - am now ambi-mouse-trous). Six weeks after that I walked my 80 lb dog - who likes to pull - and it recurred.

    Another 6 mo of excruciating therapy.

    Every trip to the shoulder doc after that was met with " yes you still have it and yes you're unique - it doesn't usually recur int he same side".
    How sick I am with that phrase.

    Three years later and I'm at maybe 85% with little hope of going further. Maybe 90%. No more "oh god kill me" moments when I catch my pen as it falls off the desk, but periodic spikes of random pain when it's damp out still show up on occasion.

    Hang in there - it gets better - somewhat.


  41. i hope your fs is gone by now, and no returns
    ive got it now, left shoulder (im right handed), for 4-5 months now, and i see myself in your post, seriously, i wouldnt wish this on anyone, the sudden movements, and i have/had enough of those, i drop to the floor literately such pain feels like someone pulling my arm off
    i cant do anything with it...
    its awefull, some days im seriously depressed because of this... bah
    have had two cortisone injections now, cant take anything else but paracetamol... body cant handle acetylsalicylic acid, so no ibuprofen or anything like that
    ah well, at least im not the only one, feel sorry for the ppl who got this too

  42. I am now experiencing my second frozen shoulder in less than a year. The pain is excruciating and I don't think I can face PT again They pull on my arm until I think I will faint. I just can't believe all of this pulling can be good for the ligaments, tendons etc.
    It is so painful I don't know how much more I can stand. No one seems to understand how excruciating it is.
    Thank you all for writing your stories. I don't feel so alone now

  43. My lil lady has this and she is in excruciating pain,

  44. Anonymous13 July, 2015

    Hi! I'm wondering how long your freezing phase lasted. I've just come down with my second frozen shoulder and I cannot for the life of me remember how long the super painful phase lasted last time. I must've blocked it from my memory. Overall it took me a year and a half to get better, but I can't remember how long the painful part lasts. I'm sure it's different for everyone but since you've come through it by now I was wondering how long it was for you?

  45. Hi, everyone - I just migrated this over to my new blog, and a lot of the comments got lost. Sorry about that. No, I don't remember how long the stages lasted ... it's all kind of a blur, and I think my brain is still trying to block it out. I think the second time took longer than the first time, but maybe it just seemed longer. For anyone out there dealing with this hell, it does get better. It will end. I wrote this post six years ago, and I haven't had any problems since then. I have full range of motion, though I'm not as ridiculously flexible as I was before FS. I should probably do yoga, but I don't because lazy. Hang in there, people.


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