Neck, sorted, shoulder.....sigh.
Here is a link to explain the science of "Frozen Shoulder"
I could not buckle my seat belt with my left arm, I couldn't pull a shirt over my head, I couldn't wash my hair with both hands, I couldn't make my bed, I couldn't reach with my left arm in any direction, I had to sleep precariously with pillows pinning me in one position. If I broke these parameters...I'd get shooting pain down my arm. It would subside, but it was like electricity that had to work its way out.
A very elementary explanation of the science is this: the neck issue left my left arm and shoulder rather immobile for months. I'm a female fast approaching 40. You add these things together, and according to my research, it's not unlikely that a frozen shoulder will be the result. The capsule/soft tissue around the shoulder joint becomes rigid, seizes up. And so you cannot physically reach up above your head or behind your back.
You ladies might imagine how not being able to reach behind your back could affect some other dressing issues. I went to Goodwill and bought a bunch of button up shirts.
You see the misery the injury is....now add to this my further reading that the shortest time to full recovery is ....six months....and that it could be up to two years. I tried not to imagine two years, too much.
My physical therapist and I set out right away to be aggressive in treating it. You see the most extreme treatment (which was NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN) involves knocking you out under general anesthesia and ripping things free...for there is no way you could tolerate the pain and remain conscious. We weren't going to go there.
Right off the bat we got into stretching, mobilizations, ice, electrical stimulation (tens unit). The first appointment with PT, she had me standing in a doorway, above me was a chin-up bar. I reached up and grabbed it with my right hand, no problem. She wanted me to get my left hand up there. To do this, I had to get on my tip-toes, her short-self was under my elbow supporting it and with much consternation I grabbed it. It was not pleasant.
Other visits, she'd lay me down as she worked to physically pull things in directions that they did not want to go. It's worth noting at this point...after all of these things, that I have a relatively high threshold for pain. I should have been yelling when she did this....but I'd just groan. She knew me well enough by now to tell when I was in real pain. At one point or another she'd say, "I know this hurts, I'm sorry." and I'd say through tears in my eyes, "You're just doing your job. I know."
I don't know at what point it happened, but I started rewiring to the point where when I had pain like this, I'd start laughing. Laughing at pain. I mean, why not.
At the very least, and I said this to her a few times, with this injury at least we knew exactly what we were dealing with. With the neck, it was so confusing and weird. But this, would have clear goals and milestones. And it did. There are three phrases to frozen shoulder: freezing, frozen, thawing. A few weeks in we began to notice incremental improvement. I cannot tell you how encouraging that felt. The tiniest change was a huge victory.
We had the goal of being good enough by May so that I could confidently fulfill my commitment to teach and perform at the Las Cruces uke festival in New Mexico. That was the goal. And my PT focused on my ability to move my arm up and down the ukulele neck.
Slowly, some range would come back. There came a point where the shooting pain stopped but what then developed was myofascial adhesions, scar tissue, micro tears. This was the result of muscles doing double the work for the ones that we stuck. I discovered how valuable having a skilled massage therapist was. I had found a favorite at the center. He's an actor on the side...in fact he played a Death eater in one of the Harry Potter films. This big death eater, gave me life! :) And we had a great time being geeks and talking about Star Trek and other such things each session.
This brings me to the human element in all of this. The caregivers at this wellness center, the office gals taking my money and making appointments...they all knew me, they all were rooting for me. They'd happily greet me and ask (really wanting to know) how I was, how the uke thing was. They'd ask how much time I had til the next one, if I'd be ready. Can't tell ya how important their support was. People who were strangers a year ago and now....who I would love to keep in touch with.
So as May approached...things continued to slowly improve. I decided that come hell or high water, I'd be there and I'd teach and perform as best as I could. I decided that it would work. And as May crept up, I started to believe it. A week before I flew down to Las Cruces I met up with a second massage therapist who specialized in this sort of thing.
She was a lovely and calm woman...who spent an hour working on me like nothing else. For the next 48 hours I felt really sore, just as sore. Then I woke up that Sunday morning....feeling the best I had felt in over a year. Amazing. I was ready to go to New Mexico!
Off I flew, staying with Gordon and the Mrs., who were lovely and supportive. I stocked up on ice packs and my favored arnica ointment. I dosed a bit on the advil too. And it went well. It really did. By the time I was done playing and teaching...I was SORE AS HECK. And I chose to share this with everybody from the start that weekend. Everyone was so, so lovely. A few folks handed me a sample of their favorite pain rubs. Others offered encouragement from other injuries. And the best of all...was the attendee who is...a massage therapist! She was in my last workshop and while I was selling CD's, she gave my neck and shoulder some work. Amazing. I wasn't sure how I'd be able to physically get home..carrying my bags and sitting in a cramped plane..but that sure helped.
Craig Chee, Sarah Maisel, Marc Revenson and Mark Baker, my dear colleagues were amazingly sweet and supportive. They knew just how scary something like that can be. At some point or another, everyone deals with injuries of various natures. And we give sympathy and support, we wish well, and we remember our own experience. I am grateful for those who've known all along and stuck it out supporting me...and for everyone along the way.
Now...May was good, I did more than I'd done in a year.... I could get my hand on that chin-up bar buy getting on those toes, and I started to be able to bring my feet flat to the ground for a little bit at a time...but we aren't there yet....
More to come...