I first noticed the pain while running.
It was on a long run, while training for my second half marathon. The sun was high in the sky and it was longer than a 7-mile run, so I carried a water bottle with me. It just started to sting a little bit in my right shoulder joint as I swung the water bottle. Casually I switched it over to the left side. Oops, I changed hands without noticing. Switch again. Oops, again. (Habits of hand dominance)
Maybe I slept on it wrong, I figured as I continued to do everything in my life that demands right-handed strength. Setting up the tables, chairs and music stands in my classroom. Conducting my band classes. Playing ukulele in my classroom music classes. Taking apart difficult clarinets and tinkering with stuck trumpet valves. Maybe I just need to strengthen it, I thought in my yoga class as I winced a little bit from the pain of pushing into upward dog.
I continued to train for the run and feel my shoulder. It didn’t concern me a huge amount. I finished my half marathon (kind of, that’s another story) on May 13th. I was darn proud of my performance. I started focusing more on yoga. I wanted to appear toned and feel strong for my upcoming wedding July 1st.
Maybe it was the constant crafting, use of a hole puncher, cutting of thick materials…maybe it was the carrying of heavy boxes during wedding decorating, or some crazy combination of all those things that broke my shoulder’s back right around then. I told my chiropractor, “I don’t know what has happened that makes my shoulder so sore. I’ve just been crafting so hard!”
The first morning on my honeymoon in Portland was the most painful. My whole shoulder, arm, and hand were sore. What had I done now that was so different from anything else? Why was I in so much pain suddenly?
I spent four weeks away from home. Honeymoon, music workshops. I attempted one yoga practice. I thought, “It’s been long enough. Maybe my shoulder won’t hurt anymore.” Nope. It was worse. I imagined my arm falling off carrying my heavy double flugel/trumpet case around.
Upon return, early August, I saw my trusty chiro again. I said, “My shoulder is still really sore after all this time. I don’t know what else I can do.”
He referred me to physical therapy, which I started August 28th. The PT was very nice and gave me plenty of strengthening and stretching exercises. About three weeks in he asked me, “How is your shoulder feeling? Better or worse?”
I had to really think about it before I answered. “It feels…the same.” And his very short “What?!” confirmed for me that this was something that needed further resolution. The PT said it was time for a doctor’s visit.
The doctor said, “Well, I think we should have an MRI before we decide what to do.”
Except that even when I did an X-ray as my insurance asked, and even with the detailed note from my PT, the doctor’s office said there wasn’t enough information to grant me an MRI, so she referred me to a specialist after I called back inquiring every week for three weeks.
Then when I called the specialist’s office, they said, “That doctor doesn’t have any open appointments until January. How about this other guy?” (This phrasing is embellished.) An appointment for mid-October. Fine, I wanted this resolved as soon as possible.
So I went in to see the orthopedic specialist and because my arms move really well in general, and my shoulders pop out of joint toward the back all the time and always have since I was a kid, and the very limited things he asked me to do didn’t hurt when he asked if they hurt, I came out with a prescription for a useless muscle relaxer and more PT 3 times per week.
I went back to PT with the prescription and he read it with a face that said “Really?” and he said, “Well, okay.” I cried for hours that night. I couldn’t understand how doing more of the thing that didn’t work was going to help my painful shoulder feel normal again.
And after the third week, the exercises started hurting more than they previously had. I was strong and had great mobility, but the rotator cuff strengthening exercises had been feeling more unbearable even with fewer repetitions. I couldn’t stretch my right pec muscle using the wall without my shoulder popping out to the back. I couldn’t stretch my neck to the side without intense pain.
Then one night, lying in pain trying to go to sleep I started thinking about how much I missed running long distances, except for that one time I fell. My eyes popped open.
THE ONE TIME I FELL.
When did I fall? I fell once when I was running. I had a water bottle with me. The pavement was unexpectedly jagged, I lost my footing, and I landed on my wrist as the water bottle went flying. I wasn’t bleeding, and I didn’t land on my knees, so I got up and kept running.
This explained the whole sensation with the water bottle.
It was before my 10 mile race in April, so I figured the fall had to have been in March or April. Oh my god oh my god oh my god. The pain in my shoulder was real and there was a real event that caused it. I told my PT. Then I told my chiropractor at my monthly appointment. I asked if there was anything he could do, as the specialist just didn’t seem to believe anything was really wrong and I was so tired of being pushed around and living in pain. He said, “This is a 10 minute phone conversation with your insurance company. I can examine your shoulder, and if I think an MRI is necessary, I will make the call.”
So he did the exam. And I had the MRI. And there it was: superior posterior labral tear. Mild osteoarthritis in the A/C joint. (The labrum is the piece of cartilage that surrounds the ball part of the humerous bone. When I read about how a labrum gets torn I kept seeing the phrase “falling on an outstretched hand.”) My pain was real. I wasn’t crazy. There was photographic evidence. I showed the report to my PT. He said, “You might need surgery. Now you know you’re not crazy.”
And the specialist didn’t even know I’d had the test even though the results were sent to him. I was embarrassed to tell him that it took such a long time to remember the event that triggered all of this pain. He said that makes a big difference knowing there was a traumatic event.
But what date was the event? I checked my Runkeeper for the run where my pace got markedly slower on that stretch of road. January. IT HAPPENED IN JANUARY.
So that’s the story. And now I have my surgery set for December 15th to repair the tear. I’m thinking a lot of thoughts about this. Many of them are about work. I don’t know if anyone can learn anything about how this happened to me, but some advice I would give to people who are accident prone is to keep track of what day it is if you fall. And know your advocates. And know your body. Until next time.