Menopausal Frozen Shoulder.
What? Yup. It’s a thing.
I’m in a curious position, at the age 51, approaching perimenopause, and experiencing symptoms that would likely go overlooked if not for my peers’ suggestions that seemingly random events could be related to hormonal changes.
When I tweaked my shoulder several months ago, my good friend told me she endured the same misery during menopause and gave me the phrase to search online, I was shocked. But I followed up and whaddya know? Menopausal Frozen Shoulder, which I have nicknamed FroSho, is seriously a thing.
My search engine investigation indicates that nearly 70% of those who suffer from frozen shoulder are women, age 40-60. Obviously a correlation, not a causation. But it got me to thinking about two things.
One. How do I heal this painful condition with mysterious origins?
And, two. WTF? Why would a drop in estrogen or the cessation of menstruation affect the shoulder joint? (Hint: I’ve come to see that it’s much more complex that this!)
I’ll share the highlights of how I got to a much more comfortable place using a wide range of holistic techniques. You’ll see some familiar suggestions here about heat and massage, but the mental-emotional component is what really made the difference.
As with all holistic healing, it took time and diligence for me to recover. The pain faded pretty quickly, and these days only pops up when I overexert or overextend. My range of motion is gradually increasing, but still has a way to go. I no longer feel panicked about the possibility of needing an extreme medical intervention or being permanently impaired. Perhaps most importantly, I was forced to look at my belief system and ferret out a few rotten apples.
I allowed myself to feel ALL the sensations and emotions. When the pain flared, I listened. My body was speaking to me, and to the best of my ability, I took note, and responded compassionately. I noticed which movements activated the pain and adjusted my behavior accordingly.
I’m not a complete diva, so obviously there are limits to my capacity to do so. I focused on progress, not perfection. When I realized my shopping bag was too heavy for my current condition and I was still several blocks from my home, I continued to carry it. AND I have since made adjustments so that wouldn’t happen again.
I’ve worked with clients in this same situation, many of whom felt the initial OW! and kept going with what they were doing, most likely worsening the injury. One was scrubbing the floor and finished the job. Another was giving a massage and also finished the job. We all do what we have to do, but I cannot emphasize enough- do an honest evaluation at any critical moment like this and truly decide… is this something I HAVE to do? Is it worth adding MONTHS to my recovery time and massive discomfort to my everyday life?
If it isn’t essential to your life or livelihood or the well-being of someone for whom you are responsible, can you do the revolutionary act of just STOPPING? It’s my suspicion that we’ve been so programmed to override our bodies’ messages, particularly women and even more so mothers, that many of us have simply forgotten how to care for ourselves. That begins with discontinuing nonessential activities that cause suffering.
Paying attention and responding to sensation with compassion was a huge component of my healing work.
I used Reiki every day, saturating my shoulder with healing life- force and restoring the flow of energy through the joint. Simple movements within the small range of what was comfortable, self-massage with arnica and anti-inflammatory essential oils, and heat became a part of my daily routine. I increased the bodywork I receive from once to twice per month.
There was a week when the pain was pretty intense in the first month of this episode that called for ibuprofen. That’s generally not my first response to pain as it addresses the symptoms, but not the cause, and interferes with the messages pain conveys. AND I’m not an advocate for senseless suffering. I continued my healing efforts and allowed myself to cope with the discomfort as needed. For me, there is a time and a place for pharmaceutical intervention and while it might be infrequent, I am not too proud or stubborn to take the edge of pain when I need it.
There’s nothing very radical about the physical approach I took. What was especially interesting was the exploration of the psyche; uncovering unconscious beliefs, thought patterns, and unexpressed emotions that could have been stored in the shoulder, blocking the flow of life-force and affecting my posture.
Reiki was especially helpful in this phase. It gave my the courage to honestly look within and the clarity to assess what I found. Restoring the flow of life-force exposed several ugly truths that I needed to address to allow the healing to unfold. Reiki provided the support of regulating my nervous system so I wasn’t constantly swimming in a sea of adrenaline or trying to navigate life in fight, flight, or freeze mode.
The shoulders represent the burdens that we carry, including the “shoulds” that were downloaded through cultural conditioning. The beliefs that I should be this, but not that; I should act this way, not that way; and I should look a certain way too. When these unconscious beliefs are in conflict with our conscious values, it can create an energy of resentment that can trigger inflammation and a defensive, tense posture. Same with our responsibilities and any other burdens.
I’m pretty familiar with my inner landscape from decades of spelunking in my inner caverns, but I was able to flush out some problematic patterns from the deep shadows. It’s not easy to admit that we carry unflattering or self-destructive baggage, but it’s a whole lot easier than dragging it around for a lifetime.
Energetically, I view the hands as the conduit for expressing from the heart, and the shoulder as an intersection through which that energy must flow. I had a long, hard look at my work as well as my creative expression, and found some areas that were misaligned.
Finally, it has not been lost on me that the number one thing I have been unable to do in this state is to hook a bra behind my back. My arm just doesn’t bend that way! Putting on coats or a backpack are a bit tricky, but I can manage well enough. But those pesky hooks are a definite no-go. I’ve spend a fair amount of time wondering if this is a factor in the correlation between middle-aged women and frozen shoulder? Along with ignoring messages of discomfort, is there an element of resentment around constrictive undergarments? Something to think about!
I think the biggest message I’d like to convey here is that we can save ourselves some suffering if we listen to our bodies, explore our misaligned belief systems, and stop suppressing anger, fear, grief, and resentment. And Reiki is the perfect tool for doing all of that.