Rock climber pleased with new therapy for frozen shoulder

Amber Frost is not used to being off her feet for an extended period of time. Nor is she used to being on the patient side of medicine.

A certified nurse practitioner in the cardiology department of Portneuf Medical Group, Amber is often very active on her days off.

Besides being a mother of 2 children, the 40-year-old is also a mountain biker, backpacker, canyon hiker, rock climber, runner and avid yoga participant.

In fact, it was an injury on a yoga mat that created pain in her shoulder that would last for the next 12 months.

“I really enjoy yoga but twisted my shoulder horribly doing a move called ‘flipping your dog,’” said Amber. “You start in a plank position and then rotate quickly to land in a bridge position. After I did it, the pain got progressively worse. It got so bad that I couldn’t even ride my mountain bike. It hurt so much to do anything,” she said.

In spite of the pain, Amber was nervous about getting her shoulder examined because she didn’t want to be told that she needed surgery. “I don't have time in my life to go recover from shoulder surgery, so I just kind of ignored it.”

Eventually, the pain increased to the point that she couldn't sleep and her daily activities were impacted. That’s when she made an appointment to visit Dr. Anthony Joseph, an orthopedist at OrthoIdaho who is board certified in both sports medicine and family medicine.

Dr. Joseph diagnosed Amber with a “frozen shoulder” and quickly allayed her fears about needing surgery.

Frozen shoulder

A frozen shoulder is most often caused when tissues surrounding the shoulder joint, called the ‘capsule,’ become inflamed. Once inflamed, the capsule then tightens and restricts a patient’s movement due to scarring. It is unknown exactly why the capsule of the shoulder becomes inflamed, though injuries to the shoulder and subsequent immobilizations can often contribute to the diagnosis.

Though this condition can affect anyone, from children to adults, people over the age of 40 are more prone to developing a frozen shoulder, with women more likely to develop it than men.

People who have suffered an injury that limits the mobility of the shoulder are more likely to get a frozen shoulder. These injuries include a fracture of the arm and collar bone, rotator cuff injuries, strokes and other surgeries where arm movement is restricted. A frozen shoulder is also more prevalent in individuals with certain systemic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and thyroid dysfunction.

Treatment and physical therapy

A frozen shoulder, if left untreated, can resolve on its own but this could take several months or years. Because of the pain and daily dysfunction this causes patients, medical treatment is desired early in the process.

Your doctor may suggest steroid injections, joint distension (injecting sterile water into the joint to make it easier to move), shoulder manipulation, or in rare cases, surgery.

In Amber’s case, Dr. Joseph assessed how much mobility she had and took images of her shoulder with X-rays and an ultrasound. She then received an injection of Kenalog (generic name for Triamcinolone acetonide) directly in the joint area with maximum inflammation. The injection works to reduce joint inflammation and decrease pain that is accompanied by frozen shoulder.

“After he injected the medication, he strongly encouraged me to start physical therapy while the shot was still in full function,” said Amber. “Because of that injection, I was able to tolerate quite a bit of physical therapy to get the shoulder unstuck.”

Now that she has completed physical therapy, Amber is ready to get back to her favorite activities.

“I can go mountain biking; it doesn't slow me down anymore. As for rock climbing, I still kind of have to be careful. I get twinges and aches and occasional numbness if I really push it, like if I jump and try to catch myself on my arms. For yoga, I'm still not quite back to doing full yoga yet because it hurts too much to do a plank. But I can do all the other stuff and move my shoulder again in yoga, which is a pretty big deal.”

She says that she owes all this progress to Dr. Joseph’s expertise.

“I cannot praise Dr. Joseph and his staff enough,” Amber said. “He knew my diagnosis almost immediately, discussed treatment options, including the most up-to-date research-based care, treated my shoulder quickly and carefully, and 4 weeks later I have almost 100% mobility back. Like others, I tried to ‘muscle through the problem’ rather than seek assistance. I wish I had visited him sooner.”

If you are dealing with pain and worried about what needs to be done, Amber has a clear message: “Go get it checked out. You're not helping yourself by delaying it.”

Now that she is enjoying her favorite activities again, Amber has set her sights on a future trip: canyoneering in Zion National Park.

To make an appointment with one of our physicians, visit our website or give us a call at (208) 233-2100.