A journal of running, healthy food, mountains, bikes and technology by Julia Revitt

I fell off my mountain bike in July and landed heavily on my left shoulder. At the time I was just pleased that I hadn’t broken anything but now, nearly six months on, I’m still suffering. I’ve been diagnosed with ‘Impingement Syndrome’. There’s not much ‘real world’ advice out there, so I thought I’d share my experiences and let you know what is working and what isn’t.

My first piece of advice is to go see a physio to get a proper diagnosis. My second is a warning that I’m not a doctor or a physio although I have studied anatomy and physiology this does not qualify me to help anyone suffering with impingement syndrome. This article is simply an account of what I’ve tried and whether it works for me.

My condition started quite mildly, just a short, sharp pain when taking off tight tops and when doing (or trying to do) press ups. It didn’t get any better so after 6 weeks I went to see my physio. Her knickname is ‘iron fingers’ and boy did she live up to it. The day after seeing her, I realised by shoulder was much, much worse. I couldn’t do any of the exercises she gave me and sleeping was uncomfortable, the pain which was just in my shoulder joint had spread down my upper arm.

I went back after 2 weeks and this time had a gentle massage but the damage had been done. It did little more for me than relieve my tense shoulder and neck muscles. The physio couldn’t do anymore for me so I was referred for acupuncture. It was actually a form of acupuncture called ‘Western Dry Needling’ and was quite painless. It made my arm feel like it had been run over by a bus but did loosen up my muscles a bit. A second round had the same results. With no pain relief in the joint itself, I gave up. I then tried ultrasound which did nothing.

The physio suggested I have a steroid injection and I was referred to a clinic to have this done. My new physio (my third) was qualified to give the injection which cost me £120. The idea is that it reduces the swelling in the tendon enough for me to regain movement and during the 6 – 9 weeks that it lasts it should allow the supraspinatus tendon to repair.

Initially for the first week I was in a lot of pain. Aches and shooting pains in my upper arm, neck and shoulder. Then eventually I got some relief from it and under the physio’s instructions started to mobilise the joint again. I was making good progress but not as good as the physio thought I should. He thought that the cushion in my shoulder joint called the bursae may have split into two and the injection only got one side of it.

Despite this, it still felt a lot better than before. I did the exercises religiously and made a bit of progress raising my arm up to 85 degree angle from about 45 degrees before the treatment. Then it wore off and that’s where I’m at now. The pain has returned and I’m losing flexibility again. It wakes me up at night, getting dressed is difficult, somedays it hurts all the time, I can’t lift my arm up or tuck a shirt in without pain.

So I’ve taken my recovery into my own hands and am using some common sense to see if I can get rid of this injury once and for all.

Here’s what I’m doing:

  • Stretching as per the physio’s instructions twice day
  • Icing after each stretch and throughout the day when the pain returns
  • Not sleeping on my left side
  • Generally trying to move my arm as much as possible without causing pain. I noticed that my shoulder is stiff and doesn’t move normally anymore, so I’m trying to encourage as much natural movement without pain that I can
  • Trying to restore normal movement to my arm by doing biceps curls with no weights and pushing my arms back, rotating my shoulders and neck regularly throughout the day
  • Taking cod liver oil tablets for the inflammation
  • Taking Glucosamine and Chondroitin for joint health
  • Taking Turmeric for the pain

Watch this space – I’ll let you know what works. Drop me a line if you’ve suffered/are suffering too so we can compare and help each other through this.