Massage For Frozen Shoulder
Shoulder problems are nothing new to the Massage Profession. At least once a week I see a client who has limited range of motion (ROM), pain, or weakness emanating from what they perceive to be the back of their shoulder.
Every day I get to teach my clients about their own body – Rule #1 Don’t chase pain. Find the real origin.
Today I introduced myself to what would prove to be a Tough Old Battle Axe of a Woman. (If you know me at all you’ll quickly learn that I love a challenge.) Ms. S was tiny, grim, and told me from the get-go that her main concern was chronic neck pain.
The situation went downhill fast though when she explained, “My Doctor told me I need a full shoulder replacement so I’m getting that surgery next month. I’m here because my friend recommended you for my neck. I don’t think you can do much. But we’ll see.”
Every day I support physicians, physical therapists and chiropractors because I know that with a great team comes victory. This story is NOT about those amazing people.
Ms. S had seen the doctor twice, never tried any alternative therapies, never received even one helpful steroid or shot or massage and yet she was convinced that she needed a FULL shoulder replacement.
She also had no idea how long rehab could be after the surgery or even what surgery fully entailed. I felt immediately suspicious. You see, my own father was taken advantage of during the midst of a health crisis. I loathe it when people are taken advantage of.
The elderly, no matter their toughness, sometimes follow a doctor’s orders without even understanding what they’re getting into. Respecting their toughness while educating them is a delicate task.
So I asked her if she could do some simple movements. Assessment is an invaluable tool. Ms. S passed five out of seven of my shoulder assessment tests perfectly. She didn’t wince or show any pain until just two specific muscle movements.
This new client had FEWER problems with her shoulder than the last ten shoulder clients I’ve had. Just two months ago I successfully released a 58yr old client’s frozen shoulder in about six treatments. I like shoulders. A lot. I don’t like unnecessary surgery.
I started palpating Ms. S’ neck muscles, the muscles around her sternum, her shoulder muscles and her upper back. She had typical tightness at pec minor, a hot spot for the majority of shoulder issues.
But Ms. S still didn’t trust me.
My next step was to build rapport, answer questions, and convey confidence because that’s my job. Taking care of people who are hurting while convincing them that they WILL STOP hurting is one of the most challenging aspects of my career. Every person is a puzzle with a soul.
It took me thirty minutes to get her to giggle but when I did? I felt like a rockstar.
And all the while I was softening up muscle, releasing fascia, stretching a little, kneading a little, and teaching her body that it didn’t need to stay folded up into a ball.
I found some trigger points. Then I found some more. I taught her about the neck muscles attaching to her first rib. And in my head I was praying the whole time.
I wanted Ms. S to know that she might not need any surgery at all. I wanted her to give this whole “massage thing” a chance.
By the end of her hour massage she had almost no neck pain and about 15 degrees more external shoulder rotation than she did when she walked in. She made another appointment for this week and I actually got her to laugh.
Whether or not she gets the surgery isn’t up to me, but taking care of her while she’s on my table? Yeah. That’s important.
This little story of mine highlights important distinctions. Age, mobility, overall health are all factors in frozen shoulder syndrome. After you’ve been diagnosed by a physician sometimes you don’t want to take pain medications and just “wait”. That’s why the majority of my clients with these symptoms go regularly to Physical Therapy and because they also want someone to help them calm, relaxed, and at ease with their own body, therapeutic touch helps, a lot.