Since Monday, I’ve been living with an old injury that has resurfaced – Rotator cuff tendinitis. During my last ordeal, the doctors were amazed that someone so young had it, that my background did not fit their risk profiles, and that my particular case also had a rare twist with it. The injury, they explained, was the result of too much stress on the shoulder muscles to the point where they become inflamed and rub against each other. The rubbing causes the pain. There can also be some tearing, which causes scar tissue to form and that scar tissue will rub against the other muscles and also cause pain.
I had to attend a class on this injury to learn more about it and what were my options regarding treatment. I was the youngest one present by a span of decades. I learned that the injury “almost always” occurs in relation to your occupation or if you are a certain kind of athlete that needs to routinely raise their arms in the air (think tennis player, traffic cop, hairdresser). Those kinds of professions and activities over a lifetime can lead to rotator cuff tendinitis. None of these kinds of activities describes what I do or even anything I regularly perform, let alone having done them over a lifetime. I also have a twist upon the normal tendinitis in that my muscle scar tissue calcifies… becomes tiny bits of bone. I was told it was like having very rough sandpaper sprinkled throughout the muscle and it causes severe pain whenever the muscles flex.
There are two basic treatments for this kind of injury – surgery or rest. Surgery came with a 50/50 risk vs. reward, with the risk being that increased damage to the shoulder is just as likely as not and that any damage incurred during surgery is likely permanent. Just getting rest is both long (6 months is common) and complicated by the fact that relaxing the shoulder is damn near impossible. You see, the shoulder is a ball and socket joint with muscles all around it. It is one of the few joints the body has which allows extreme movement in any direction. This means that no matter what position you are in (sitting, standing, lying down, etc.) at least one of the muscles in the shoulder is flexing just to counteract the weight of the arm against gravity to keep the ball joint centered within the socket. This also means that at least a few of the muscles are constantly being flexed and cause pain.
I do not wish to choose surgery, I do not want to risk further injury. I have lived with it before, in 2006, and fully recovered, so I plan to do so again. The pain was much worse then and I took nearly 10 months to fully recover. It was during that time that I learned to play WoW with one hand. I eventually got to a point where I could prop my right arm such that I could use the mouse, but it was still limiting with having to type with one hand. This time, while still quite painful, I already know the symptoms and the treatment process and have taken steps already to minimize the effects, but they are still present. I hardly sleep more than 4 hours since that’s how long it takes for the ibuprofen to wear off and the pain to come back in force. I cannot use my right arm for just about anything and merely holding my cell phone is enough to cause pain – lifting my arm is impossible at this stage. I am able to prop my arm up so that I can play WoW and use a mouse, but typing is severely hampered by having to use just one hand. I’ve recently managed to use my left arm to lift my right arm from the mouse and place it on the keyboard in order to type, but by doing so, it also means a brief pause when I finish typing to move my arm back over to the mouse. Such back and forth movements during combat are prohibitive, which forces me to be quiet or have slow reactions to written communication. If my dwelling had thicker walls, I could use a microphone without disturbing anyone, but unfortunately, that is not the case.
Getting dressed using just one arm, brushing teeth with my offhand, complications using a computer… I’ve gone through this all before and it lasted many months. I am hoping that I’ve learned enough during my previous experience that I am able to adapt quicker and hopefully recover in a much shorter time than before. This time I do not have to retrain my body to not sleep on my injured arm, which is what I had to do last time. You don’t realize how hard it is to train your body to perform, or not to perform, certain actions while you are asleep, but it can be done. I used to require placing my head upon my right arm as I went to sleep each night. Once that became impossibly painful, I had to retrain myself to avoid doing so, usually waking up many times a night wracked in pain from having rolled over and back onto my arm. Sleeping is still painful though since nothing is ever comfortable or relaxing for my injured shoulder. Thankfully, Advil works to lessen the pain enough most times so that I get some form of sleep until it wears off and I need another dose.
Apologies in advance to those who group with me in WoW. Playing can be painful at times, but I hope it has little impact on my reaction speed… though it definitely has an impact on my communication responsiveness.