I Feared massage therapy
As you all know I am a massage therapist, you might assume that I would seek massage therapy and even recommend massage therapy for Frozen Shoulder Syndrome.
Here is why I did not initially seek massage therapy and what I would like other massage therapists to know and understand about this condition, especially in the early stages:
- In the beginning the pain was excruciating and rotation of the arm was unbearable both actively and passively.
- The muscles surrounding my shoulder, biceps, deltoid, scalenes, and even triceps were frequently in spasm and painfully fighting every movement.
- But most of all that I feared someone would move the arm beyond my comfort level and my comfort level was very limited at the time.
What I want massage therapist to know
The pain that I was experiencing in the beginning was not something that could be pushed past and I know from past experiences with many massage therapists that some believe in telling the client “but you need this.” That is exactly the type of thinking that scared me away from seeking massage therapy for my frozen shoulder.
From my personal experience and looking back on it now if I were to have come to you seeking treatment what I would have needed and wanted from you was simply to work on the muscles that were in constant spasm at the time but not to attempt to move my arm or rotate it at all because rotation at the time was unbearable.
About three months into my condition I was beginning to make some progress and perhaps with some massage on the muscles that were fighting me through this process I could have improved faster, but the fear of hearing “but you need this” and the shooting pains kept me guarded. I fully understand any client with frozen shoulder being guarded and fearful now.
Having experienced this first hand
My course of treatment for someone with this condition would be completely different than it would have been in the past. Now I would first begin with only massaging the muscles that are in spasm but no range of motion on the arm and shoulder at all,
I would also focus on the hand, wrist and elbow as all of these things are affected when the shoulder is impinged and often pain and numbness can radiate down to the hand, especially in the night.
As the client begins to improve and the spasms begin to lessen I would carefully and minimally work on some medial and lateral rotation of the shoulder as well as carefully support the arm off the side of the table (supine position) and gently lower it slowly ONLY to the point of discomfort and upward ONLY to the point of discomfort.
Focus the massage on the deltoids, pecs, scalenes, biceps, triceps, and traps. Do not forget that the other arm and shoulder has been working double time and is also in need of some TLC as is the neck from all the stress, tension and sleepless nights.
Six Months Later
It has been about six months since my Frozen Shoulder presented itself to me and I have been seeing a chiropractor regularly. I am now at a point where I would allow someone to work on my shoulder, but only someone that I trust. You as a massage therapist will need to earn the trust of your Frozen Shoulder Client.
That trust begins with not pushing your client past their level of tolerance. Pay close attention to their body language and breathing, if they are guarding and pulling away then you need to change your approach, go gentle with them until they are able to tolerate more, they will let you know what they can and cannot tolerate,
Believe me your client wants to heal from this but they fear the pain that they have been experiencing more than you can imagine and will avoid you if you put them back in that place that they are trying so hard to get out of. Be a part of their recovery with compassion and empathy.
Yours in Health and Wellness,
Kristeen Anne Smart (formerly Kristeen Anne Kish)
CAMTC Certified Massage Therapist