When I first dislocated my left shoulder last May, I was overwhelmed with the urgent pleas of my peers that I see a doctor. Finally I gave in and made the appointment. The poor doctor could barely examine my shoulder I was in so much pain. She said she could give me prescription pain killers (I already had some from the ED, which I couldn’t take because they made me so sick!) and would try and get me a referral to an orthopedic doctor.
I waited…and waited. I called, I tried other doctors. We finally tracked down one orthopedic doctor in Denver (about 50 miles away) who took my insurance – but his waiting list was several weeks long! Finally, I gave up. I got tired of waiting – I decided to take my health into my own hands.
The prescription medications I received in the ED were Percocet and Vicodin. Vicodin contains the habit-forming narcotic hydrocodone, which can also cause a host of undesirable side-effects (nausea, vomiting, dizziness, constipation and diarrhea to name a few). Percoset also contains an addictive narcotic, oxycodone. I followed the recommended doses for two days directly following my discharge from the ED (where they also gave me IV morphine for the pain!) so you can imagine I was pretty out of it for a while.
The hardest thing with severe and traumatic pain is coming off the heavy-duty pain killers and waking up to slowly increased intensity of pain. It starts as a dull ache, and progresses to a general sore feeling, and within a few hours you are experiencing vivid, stabbing, shooting, excruciating pain. Sometimes if you just lay very still, there’s a point of grace where it is bearable to be conscious and in your body. But even laying in bed all day can be exhausting when living with so much pain.
My solution was a homeopathic remedy called Arnica, which I was able to find at the local Pharmaca in a 1M potency (higher potencies like “200c” and “1M” in homeopathy correlate with greater intensity of symptoms and a stronger constitution). I took these as needed to manage the pain in addition to liquid drops of a homeopathic preparation for pain and my own topical arnica salve (Magic Owie Salve) that also contains yarrow and comfrey.
While my solution made the pain bearable, and kept me a viable and functioning parent (albeit with a limited ability to do routine activities like lifting my two year old in and out of the car seat, taking out the trash and even changing my shirts), it didn’t fix my shoulder.
Here are four important facts that I didn’t know about shoulder injuries from Rush University Medical Center:
- Shoulder injuries are “highly treatable” when addressed early. Correct diagnosis will help you and your doctor to develop an effective strategy that doesn’t require surgery.
- According to one orthopedic surgeon, a traumatic shoulder injury involves damage to the rotator cuff 80% of the time.
- Proper rest is essential to completely heal. Use extra pillows to support the injured shoulder, or take an anti-inflammatory/pain medication before bed to help you sleep so your body can have the energy and resources it needs to repair itself.
- The right kind of exercise will help your shoulder. No exercise at all will allow the muscles to waste away, while incorrect exercise can lead to complications and worsening of the delicate shoulder joint. Here’s an example of an effective, standard physical therapy regimen for shoulder injuries from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
Shoulder replacement surgery is commonplace these days…but I’m not ready to go there. While homeopathy and herbal salves were able to help me with pain management, they didn’t help me give my shoulder the rest it needed. Six months later, I’m still wary of yoga class, and I still can’t sleep comfortably on my left side. I will, however, indulge in more shoulder-friendly self-care this winter (what I wouldn’t let myself get away with over the summer!) and I will incorporate the shoulder-friendly physical therapy regimen from AAOS.
By the way, I’m still waiting for a referral. Any Orthopedic Specialists in the Denver area? Anybody?