What Happened to my Shoulder?

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.


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.


Updates! – To read about what I did to prepare for my surgery, click here. To read about my surgery experience, click here.


Why do I have this?

Hello Internet,

I’ve been thinking of starting this blog for awhile now. I was originally planning to do start next August, but why, oh why wait if I have an idle hour and a half on a Friday afternoon?

My name is Stephanie and I teach music at a public school. I want to keep most of who and where I am private, but it’s probably important to know that I live in California, a huge state with a ton of diversity, many English learners, and a very long teacher credentialing/induction process. Usually it takes 3 years to obtain a clear teaching credential, but for me it has taken 5. I just turned in my final portfolio this past Monday.

The reason I’ve decided to start this is because of one of the prompts in my portfolio. It asked me to reflect on my progress toward goals I made that aligned with the California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTPs). The note was really what captured my attention:

Continuous professional learning and ongoing progress on CSTP developmental levels is not expected to conclude solely over the course of an inquiry cycle. All teachers should understand that certain areas may take years to develop into the more advanced levels, as aspired to and reflected upon throughout a career in education.

So there is that. Here is my personal challenge, though: I’m a music teacher. Even with a certificate from the state of California that says, “I’m a real teacher!” the reality is that I will not grow using┬áthe same avenues my core subject colleagues use. I need to reflect in my own space because there isn’t really a place for me to do it when the other teachers are working on testing strategies.

I have a few ideas of how I want to use this blog and how I want to continue my teaching growth past the “required” stages. One way is that I can look at one or two Teaching Standards and periodically reflect on them throughout the weeks and years. I want to keep track of strategies I’ve used with certain groups and what worked about them, and what didn’t. And finally, I want to use this blog as a place where I can compile some personal research ideas. I have an idea for a research project I would really like to look into–I want to collect videos of music lessons taught all throughout California, or maybe just locally, maybe all ages, maybe just the grades I teach, I don’t know–and keep track of what exactly they teach. And the language structures they use.

Because that feels like one of my biggest challenges right now, as someone who grew up speaking English and reading tons of books. What language structures reach my English learners without watering down the message? My most musical music teachers used metaphors and similes and phrases like, “Lean into this note.” How do you teach musicality when there is a language barrier?

I figure if I could acquire some videos of other teachers who teach groups similar in age and ethnic background to mine, and survey how they spend their time in class and what they focus on when they teach, maybe I could find a solution for myself.

So that’s one thing. I figure if I lay the plans out and publish them on the Internet, I will actually follow the plans. I think I must.

I want to keep track of all of my class components. That will be another use for this. It may not be the most interesting read, but I need a way to keep all ideas in one place. Maybe this is the solution.

I could spend a lot of time talking about a lot more, but I must get ready for a student performance tonight. It was nice to meet you, all 2 of you that might accidentally stumble on this.