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Shoulder Pain and Weakness

Posted on by Thomas Fetterman

Over the years I have been very active crutch user starting when I was eight years old. After college my wife and I bought and renovated pre-Civil War houses for 20 years and we did most of the work ourselves. I climbed scaffolding, did brick laying, installed roofs and roofing, built chimneys, and everything else. Then for adventure we traveled around the world 4 times and explored Third World countries for months on end traveling on local trains and busses and sometimes even horses and elephants. Wow it's no wonder my shoulders gave it up!

I started having shoulder pain in my mid 40's and hence developed my patented gel filled shock absorbing crutch tip technology...necessity is a mother! I then went on to invent my gel grips and padded arm cuffs and the titanium body all of which continues to serve me well and I credit for my great mobility. However, when I was in my early 50's I took a bad fall an put a tare in my left rotator cuff. My shoulder hurt so much that I became quite inactive trying "to baby it." I have since learned that it only takes 4 days of inactivity for muscles to start to atrophy. Within weeks both shoulders were hurting and popping and grinding (crepitus) and my arms were getting weaker and weaker. I started taking pain pills, going to a chiropractic doctor, a massage therapist, and would have tried VooDoo if I thought it would help. I was sure I had post polio syndrome and this was the beginning of the end of life as I knew it.

A few years earlier my wife and I had adopted a beautiful baby girl and she was then only 7 years old when I had that bad fall. I became really depressed because of the wearing pain and the thought that I could no longer participate actively in her growing up. Finally I went to a well know polio doctor in Philly who x-rayed my shoulders and literally gasped when he read the x-ray (I hate that). I have zero cartilage left in both shoulders and my bones have actually worn valleys in each other and I have multiple scars on my rotator cuffs. The doc said I had to stop using crutches altogether and use a wheelchair or scooter (easy for him to say). This really bummed me out but being so used to being paternalized by doctors I took him at his word and bought a scooter and began living my life on wheels. I learned to cook and get around but it was slow, awkward and frustrating. Worst of all my shoulder pain got worse and my arms grew weaker so I could barely get up out of a chair or off the toilet or in and out of my car. This is when I began using the UpLift seat. It was a great help in getting up so I took it everywhere.

Years ago I built a Japanese soaking tub in my bathroom that is not long and shallow but short and deep. Every morning I take a long hot bath to get my muscles limber and my thoughts organized and of course get clean. One morning I tried stretching my arms forward and pulling my hands back to my chest in a rowing motion. This first morning I was able to do only 10 or 12 cycles because it hurt so much. Nevertheless, I did it again the next day and was able to do 20 cycles. I continued daily and worked my way to a 100 cycles and stayed at a 100 for some time. In two months from the time I started my the pain in my shoulders and the burning in my arms was gone! And I was feeling stronger. I began using my crutches more each day and little by little my mobility improved.

Before my bad fall I had made some major changes in my physical world. I moved from my three story townhouse to a house in the woods with no basement or second floor. All transfers are a stressful challenge to our shoulders but stairs are the most demanding thing our shoulders have to do so I avoid them whenever possible. I also changed out our two toilets for the tall toilets and even my able bodied wife appreciates the comfort. I designed a new bed and had it fabricated. It is what I call "butt-neutral"...I don't have to climb up into it or down off it. I bought a Honda Odyssey that has a seat the is "butt-neutral" for me.

I am now 60 and I still do this exercise in my tub. There are periods that I don't and now I mostly do it every other day but do it for 15 minutes or so. I start slowly and slow down near the end to bring my heart rate down slowly. If my shoulders start to ache or I can feel clicking or popping, I back off for a few days. I supplement my rowing exercise with taking walks and doing physical activities like washing my car, doing dishes by hand, shopping, vacuuming my office, and sailing my 9' dingy and fishing etc. I am nowhere nears as strong as I was when I was renovating houses all those years ago...but who is? Over the last five years I no longer use a scooter except as a workhorse to help maintain our two acre wooded lot and tend my summer chickens. I am still very active and pain free and getting stronger little by little. Recently were enjoying our annual winter holiday in Mexico and my now 14 year old daughter and I went out snorkeling for three hours straight...something I haven't done in 5 years. What a joy that was, resurrecting my love for snorkeling and sharing it with my daughter. Life is indeed great!