By: Meagan Esler
Frozen shoulder is more common in people with diabetes than you may realize. My own painful experience with frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, happened a few years ago. I slipped and fell down the stairs at home, hitting the wall and nearly every stair from top to bottom. I injured an ankle and lost my big toenail in the accident. As I began healing, I also noticed that my left arm wouldn’t go above my head.
I was worried because the pain was intense at times and traveled down my arm from my left shoulder, so I visited my doctor. The doctor did some tests, including an x-ray, and I was sent to a physical therapist. I visited the therapist regularly and did a variety of exercises at home, but no matter how many exercises I tried, my shoulder ached and refused to budge.
Simple things like styling my hair or putting on a coat or bra had me wincing and near tears. My husband and I tried to dance together at a wedding, and I ended up bolting from the dance floor to nurse my aching arm and shoulder. Unable to deal with it any longer, I went back to my doctor, begging for help.
My doctor referred me to an orthopedic surgeon, who confirmed that I had frozen shoulder and needed surgery. He commented that the problem was probably caused in part by my diabetes. I panicked at the idea of surgery, but, luckily, no cutting was necessary. I was put under anesthesia, and the doctor broke up the adhesions by forcing my shoulder to move while I was sedated. I was nauseous from the anesthesia and in some pain when I woke up, but by evening I was able to raise my arm for the first time in over a year. I don’t think I’ve ever felt such relief.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, frozen shoulder affects 10 to 20 percent of people with diabetes. Nondiabetics account for only about two percent of frozen shoulder occurrences, and this risk group mainly comprises women aged 40 to 60 years.
After my surgery, I attended physical therapy several times a week for months until we were sure I had regained my normal range of motion. Thankfully, my shoulder continued to improve even more over time. Frozen shoulder can reoccur, especially in people with diabetes. To help prevent my shoulder from freezing up again, I make time to stretch every day.