Posts Tagged ‘torn rotator cuff’

Ghosts of Injuries Past – A Torn Rotator Cuff Saga

Saturday when I was swimming, I got an old familiar pain in my left arm at lap 48. I was swimming hard, alternating fast 100s with recovery 100s to get ready for next Sunday’s race.

I was in a recovery 100, so I continued for two more laps but when the twingy deltoid muscle pain didn’t go away, I got out of the water, went home and stretched my arm with the exercises I had learned from physical therapy two years ago, along with exercises from a friend who had suffered from shoulder stuff too.

Back to the beginning: In July of 2007, I suddenly started experiencing pain in my left deltoid muscle (about midway between the shoulder and the elbow). It hurt,  but it wasn’t horrible… at first. If I left my arm alone, it didn’t hurt, but if I tried to raise it even to 90 degrees, ouch. Over my head quickly became impossible.

I had no idea really what I could have done to it. I went to the doctor, who figured it was a torn rotator cuff tendon. Based on his assessment, he sent me to an orthopedic. I chose my husband’s orthopedic/pain management doctor because I know her and like her. My husband has a bad back. Her assessment was a torn rotator cuff tendon, which she submitted to the insurance company. By now, three weeks after the original diagnosis, I couldn’t raise my left arm more than 45 degrees. It was basically useless unless I wanted to be in screaming pain.

The wonderful insurance company decided for me that I needed 6 weeks of torture physical therapy before I could have an MRI to find out what was going on  in my shoulder. I made it through 5 appointments before I couldn’t stand it anymore. I’d leave each session in tears and then not sleep for a night or two before the pain before would subside a little. I was literally living on Aleve, just to take the edge off.

Now September of that year, after two full months of not being able to move my arm, the insurance company finally agreed to the MRI. Why was physical therapy so painful? Well, because I had two torn rotator cuff tendons (partial tears that didn’t require surgery, thank goodness), tendonosis (where the tendon around the tears actually died and will never recover), a torn bicep tendon, bursitis and a frozen shoulder. Some of the physical therapy for the torn rotator cuff tendon is counter-productive for the other injuries. My doctor’s colleague chalked it up to the fact that I had a 48-year-old shoulder. Ouch. I think that hurt worse than the shoulder itself. Apparently, torn rotator cuff tendons/frozen shoulders aren’t uncommon in women in their 40s and 50s.

When I started swimming, it was on the advice of my orthopedic doctor (also a triathlete who has had a torn rotator cuff), who said it was one of the best strengthening exercises I could do for my shoulder if I could handle it. While I have my mobility back in that arm, I still have lingering pain. Usually, my shoulder will be a little stiff in the beginning of a swim, but swimming does loosen it up. It took awhile, but swimming generally feels good on my shoulder.

This morning, my shoulder/arm is still achy. It was to be a swim workout today but  I opted out because I won’t risk injuring this arm again. It was the most unbearable pain I can ever remember (and I was in unmedicated labor for 30 hours with my daughter). I believe it was the frozen shoulder that caused the majority of the pain (the membrane sheath that encapsulates the shoulder shrinks up and makes movement difficult) and that’s preventable as long as I keep moving my arm, but even feeling the familiar deltoid muscle pain is enough to send me into a panic.

I have a race on Sunday and I was hoping to get at least one more swim in before then. But if I don’t, at least the swim is the leg of the race where I feel most confident. Even if I swim easy, I’ll do OK in the swim. And in the meantime, I’m hoping that the twingy pain I’ve had in my arm these last couple of days are the result of a tendonosis flare-up and not a new tear. Fingers crossed.

Going from sedentary to active, I’ve taken all of my training pretty slow and steady to avoid injuries. I’d rather go slower than not be able to go at all. I’ll push myself through achy muscles and whiny knees. But this? It’s just not something to be screwing with. I promised myself in the beginning that I would always pay attention when there’s pain.

Lifting The Limits – Why I Started Losing Weight

When I see people I haven’t seen in a long time, I am usually met with surprise at the changes I’ve made. After the “You look great!” comments, which of course I love, the questions start. “How’d you do this?” “What motivated you?”

Answering the how is easy: Eating healthier and exercise.

Answering the why is a lot harder. What was my motivation? Why did it work this time when it hadn’t in the past? That’s the $6 million dollar question.

I’ve always told people that I was turning 50 and I didn’t want to feel old. And that’s what I told myself too. But I knew that wasn’t the whole reason. I just couldn’t put my finger on it. After all, the age factor didn’t help when I was turning 30 or even 40.

I’ve thought about this often during the journey. Why, this time, is it easier to control what I eat? What makes me get out of bed at 5:45 and go swim or run or get on a bike? Why am I going to the gym this week to pay them more money so I can start Pilates and Yoga classes? What makes me believe that this is the time these changes will stick?

The answer came to me when I was writing yesterday’s post about swimming in the ocean after a long time away.

I had gotten to a point where I was allowing my weight and my fitness level to impose limits on what I could and couldn’t do.

Of course, we all have limits. I’ll never be an olympic gymnast, for example, and I can’t play golf to save my life.  I wouldn’t have aspired to those sports when I was 14 either. But I used to love swimming in the ocean. And I had stopped because I was out of shape and afraid that I couldn’t do that anymore.

At 48, I tore two rotator cuff tendons, a bicep tendon, and developed bursitis and arthritis in my left shoulder. Don’t ask me how. I’m not really sure. But it hurt to move my arm so I didn’t. And my shoulder froze and for four painful months, I couldn’t move my arm. Physical therapy and time helped me get my range of motion back. I didn’t need surgery, thank goodness. But I will never be completely pain-free in that shoulder. Had I been in better physical condition, maybe I wouldn’t have damaged my shoulder. Or even if I had, maybe my recovery would have been easier.

I’m getting older. There is no stopping the clock. And I’m ok with that. As long as I don’t let my age get in the way of the things I want to do in my life.  I realized as I approached 50 that it wasn’t my age so much as my fitness level that was limiting me. Getting winded going up stairs, being uncomfortable in a plane seat or walking on a beach, worrying that I was going to break a horse I was riding on vacation when I was only 20 pounds below the weight limit (that’s a whole different story!).

And it was more than that. When I bought my car in 2007, the seat was a little too small to be really comfortable. My knees hurt always and I couldn’t crouch down. Going up and down stairs to do laundry…ugh. I would get so winded. Walking anywhere carrying stuff would hurt my back. Activities I always enjoyed, I avoided.

I could have just continued to contribute my limitations to getting older. I know people who do that. But I also knew that wasn’t really the case. When I started Weight Watchers in July of 2008, I knew I had to do something. Did I think Weight Watchers was the thing? Not really. I figured I’d start and stop the way I always had before. And then something wonderful happened. I lost a few pounds and started walking again. And I felt better. And there was more energy. And I felt younger again and the whole thing just clicked.

I think then, even though I may not have consciously realized it until Saturday, subconsciously, I knew that my age wasn’t setting the limits. My fitness level was. From there, I’ve gone on to lose 60 pounds and participate in triathlons. And I’m planning to run a half marathon next year too. Why? Because I can. Because I’m redefining my limits.

I’m realistic as to how long it may take to reach these goals, but I’m not going to let my weight and fitness level stop me anymore from trying. Enough limits are placed on us from forces we can’t necessarily control. But I’m done limiting myself with unhealthy habits and a body that I’d forgotten had so much strength.

What’s limiting you and what can you do to change it?

My Birthday Promise To Get Fit And Fabulous

I turned 49 on Sunday (yes for the first time!) And to celebrate my birthday, I took a couple of days off from work to do some soul searching and unwind. The weather Saturday morning was spectacular, so I went for a walk. And then I went again on Sunday, and Monday and today. And I had energy and got more done and I was just so proud of myself. Right now, I’m the fat girl. My family hates when I say that but with at least 50 pounds to lose, it’s justified. And I’m ok with that. I don’t hate my body and I certainly don’t feel 49 most of the time. But I sit at a desk all day, and then I’m a crafter by night, either sitting at the computer more or sitting at my craft table. And my butt? Well that is just starting to take the shape of the chair!

I’ve loved my forties and I’m looking forward to 50. I’ve never been one to cry about my age. My thing with turning 49, however, is that over the last couple of years, I’ve had a couple of surprises related to my age and my level of fitness. I had a torn rotator cuff tendon which turned into a frozen shoulder. I can move it again, but after almost a year, it still hurts. What hurt more was the doctor telling me I had a “48 year old shoulder” and these things can be expected.

I also take blood pressure medication for hereditary heart palpitations that I can thank perimenopause for. And last but not least, occasionally my calf swells and the doctor can’t find anything wrong. I’ve always been strong, but lately I stopped feeling that way.

So for my 49th birthday, my gift to myself is to go from the “fat” girl to a “fit” girl. I’ll never be Hollywood skinny; I wouldn’t want that. And I like–scratch that–LOVE sugar.

So I am NOT going on a diet. I’m going to start with walking. Not only am I doing something good for my body, I’m letting my creativity flow and I have more energy throughout the day. It’s amazing how quickly you can feel the effects of such a simple thing.

And then I’m going to add better foods to my daily intake. If I want a piece of gooey chocolate birthday cake like I had this weekend, I’m going to have it. But I’m going to be more diligent about the fruits and veggies too.

And I’m going to explore and share my experiences on this blog as I go. I think it will help. Maybe it’s even the key. I chose this title Fat Girl to Fit Girl because the word FIT has an I in it. I’ve never been good about putting myself first. I think to take care of my body, I have to add the letter “I” into my vocabulary, as in “I am going for my walk and the rest of you can wait….”

It’s time to take care of me. And if you are struggling with the same feelings, join me. Let’s put ourselves first together and be accountable to the world. 🙂