Longtime OrthoIllinois Employee Trusts Team to Tackle Frozen Shoulder Pain
In early 2018, Lynne started experiencing shoulder and neck pain, which she attributed to strain from a workout. She went about her regular routine, putting up with the pain for weeks to come.
With the pain still bothering her a few months later, she decided to go to Injury Express, where an MRI was ordered for her neck. The imaging showed an existing alignment condition being worsened by some kind of strain or injury. That was causing swelling and compressing the nerve.
She was treated by Dr. Ryan Enke, who ordered a cervical injection that Lynne said “instantly relieved” the neck pain. But the shoulder pain lingered.
Lynne had another MRI that revealed she had an impingement in her right shoulder that was rubbing on a tendon, causing inflammation and pain. It hurt to raise her arm, to reach and grab things – even gripping the steering wheel was causing discomfort.
Rehabilitation was ordered, and Lynne did some physical therapy and dry needling, which loosen up her arm and helped relieve the worst of, but not all discomfort. Lynne resumed normal activities with a low, but tolerable level of pain until early 2020.
“I noticed as the weeks went on, my shoulder was getting worse, which puzzled me because I wasn’t working out (because of COVID shutdowns) – why was my arm pain getting worse?” she recalled. “It got to the point where I could not undress myself, I couldn’t pull garments up over my head. Anything involving reaching behind or up was truly debilitating.
“At that point, I assumed that the earlier diagnosed impingement had worsened and I would probably need surgery.”
She made an appointment that fall with Dr. Jon Whitehurst, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who specializes in shoulder care and sports medicine. Dr. Whitehurst ordered an updated MRI and diagnosed Lynne with frozen shoulder, a common shoulder disorder characterized by a gradual increase of pain and limitation of range of motion of the shoulder joint.
“It took me by complete surprise,” Lynne said. “It was a relief to get a diagnosis and learn that I wasn’t facing surgery and there were options for treatment.”
There’s no one direct cause of frozen shoulder, but it is more common in women ages 40 and older. Diabetes, thyroid disorders, adrenal disease, hyperlipidemia, and cardiopulmonary disease are also related to frozen shoulder, but the condition can occur without a cause or preexisting condition.
Dr. Whitehurst said frozen shoulder can be difficult to diagnose and is separate from a rotator cuff tear or arthritis.
“Sometimes, it can be superimposed on the other diagnoses, so you could have a tear and still get frozen shoulder on top of that,” he explained. “In Lynne’s case, she had an impingement, which is one of the most common diagnoses, that was causing her pain to go through the roof. By addressing the frozen shoulder, that part of the pain goes away and individuals almost never need surgery.”
Dr. Whitehurst ordered a cortisone injection for Lynne’s shoulder, treatment that she called “miraculous.”
“Within three days, I was already able to move easier, and then progressively between then and Christmas time, the pain was just gone,” she said. “I had all my function back.”
Recovery after the shot was pretty simple – she took it easy for about four weeks and didn’t work out. By the end of 2020, “I would have to remind myself that I even had had a problem. I would reach for things, and all of a sudden it would occur to me that I didn’t hurt.”
The good news? Dr. Whitehurst told Lynne she’ll never have an onset of frozen shoulder in that right shoulder again. She said the experience has reassured her that if she feels any type of similar pain in her left shoulder, she’ll know immediately what to do so her quality of life and capabilities aren’t impacted.
Even though Lynne had known and worked with Dr. Whitehurst for many years, as a patient, she recalled feeling instantly comfortable because he listened to her concerns and his staff was patient and comforting.
“He’s very compassionate and understanding about the fears and apprehension with things like the injection. He has a great bedside manner and makes patients feel heard and takes his time,” she said. “When you work at OrthoIllinois, you don’t necessarily think you’ll ever need to use the services. I have complete faith in all of our sports medicine specialists.”