By Brenda Stickley 27 April 2017
People often seek me out because they have tried all sorts of other therapies to no avail and see me as their last hope. People with frozen shoulders typically fall into this category. If you have a frozen shoulder you know it – the pain and stiffness it causes seriously interferes with your ability to do everyday tasks. And you may have been putting up with it for a long time.
The first time I see a client with this complaint, I always ask “Can you still hang out the washing?” I ask this question because of Hilda*.
Hilda was one of my first clients. She was almost ninety years old. A bad fall had resulted in a fracture of her upper arm bone, near the left shoulder joint. Four years on from the initial injury, she was still experiencing a great deal of pain, with very little movement in the shoulder. This impacted on her ability to do all sorts of simple everyday things, like preparing meals, getting dressed, driving her car. Living by herself and trying to maintain her independence was becoming more and more difficult. It was easy to see she was depressed. She had tried many different types of therapy – conventional and alternative – to seek relief from pain and regain the use of her shoulder and arm. Some had helped a bit – but only temporarily. She was reliant on pain medication to keep herself comfortable and to sleep.
I knew I could help Hilda and was glad she’d found me. A couple of days after her first appointment, I received a phone call from her. She said she had news that she couldn’t wait to share with me. Her pain had lessened considerably, almost gone. Even better, she wasn’t taking any medication for pain.
She came to see me weekly, and after several sessions she arrived with more good news. “I can hang out the washing again!” That was the real measure of recovery for Hilda.
You’re probably asking yourself “what did you do that other therapists couldn’t?” In simple terms, I taught Hilda to pay attention.
Hilda would have worn a shoulder sling for a considerable period after her injury. She also probably tensed the muscles to hold the shoulder still to protect the injured site and reduce the pain – something we tend to do instinctively. During this period of immobilization and inactivity, the brain’s connection to the use of the shoulder and arm would have lessened following the “use it or lose it” principle.
With gentle touch and then tiny movements, without pain or force, I helped Hilda become aware of her body sensations. We explored movement based on understanding how the shoulder is designed to move, and its connection to the rest of her. By learning to pay attention to herself, movement became possible, and then easy and comfortable. Watching Hilda go from pain and depression to lying in a very relaxed state as I worked with her, pain free, was an early highlight for me in this work.
By contrast, mainstream therapies for frozen shoulder would involve intense daily exercises to stretch the shoulder joint, plus pain and anti-inflammatory medication including cortisone injections. If no improvement after a year or two, maybe more, then surgery would become a reality.
It takes time for new science and treatments to become mainstream. But that doesn’t mean we have to wait.
To better understand this way of healing, take a look at The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge – it’s a New York best seller. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to read it, just someone with a curious mind.
There has been a significant shift in neuroscience. The implications for health care and modern medicine are not only huge, they’re available now. No need to wait. After all, on most days we still have to hang out the washing.
* Name has been changed to protect client confidentiality