A Muscle Tear, A Lot of Tears and Finally...a Repair
Several years ago I tore my supraspinatus muscle in my left shoulder.
The supraspinatus muscle is located just above your shoulder blade. If you put your hand on top of your shoulder, your fingers will be resting near/over the supraspinatus. This muscle helps stabilise the shoulder and enables you to move your arm out to the side.
I didn't realise, at the time, that I had torn my supraspinatus! But I woke up in agony and unable to move my left arm at all without tons of pain - and even then, with very very limited movement! I couldn't dress, undress, bathe, sleep, drive or do any movement without lots of pain.
My journey through the NHS seeking treatment took over a year and almost every professional I saw said it wasn't a muscle tear, even though I said I was sure it was.
I started with my GP then was referred to physiotherapy (with poorly designed exercises that made the pain worse), then on to the musculoskeletal consultant in the physio department - who gave me steroid injections but didn't agree it was a muscle tear and wouldn't initially approve an MRI scan of the shoulder.
By this time I had used prescription and over the counter medication and acupuncture for the pain. All the exercises made the pain worse and didn't increase or improve the movement or function of the shoulder. The steroid injections didn't help either.
Over the year my shoulder gained slightly more mobility as the muscle healed but my total range of motion was still severely limited, the stiffness increased and I still had daily pain with most activities.
Finally after 12+ months of a lot of pain, appointments, advice, exercises and steroids that weren't working, I was referred to the hospital for a 3D scan.
And there it was...on the screen...in front of me...A MUSCLE TEAR IN THE SUPRASPINATUS! The consultant confirmed it and sent me home.
I saw the musculoskeletal consultant one more time and he offered me more steroid injections or surgery if it didn't heal. The injections weren't helping and I will do almost anything to avoid surgery - it is a last resort as far as I'm concerned.
So I left, vindicated that my initial thought had been right about the tear, but still living with limited range of motion, regular pain and bad options.
Finally I decided I was going to have to fix this myself. And I turned to the only exercise I know to be truly healing, Pilates.
I started with small, slow, easy movements just to get my arm moving in all directions. Over time I added bigger movements, weight, and finally some resistance in the form of a Theraband and then my own weight (wall press-ups, plank, PNF stretching). I just kept pushing myself little by little to improve, using the Pilates exercises and theory I knew to make small but regular improvements.
It took a long time, but I finally have my full range of motion back. I'm still working on regaining the full strength (and trust) in my shoulder with weight bearing exercises in rotation. It's coming along slowly and I just keep working at it, trusting that Pilates will get me where I want to be ultimately.
Pilates is SO much more than a weekly exercise class! I think it verges on Amazing (but then, as a Pilates instructor, I'm biased).
I started giving my massage clients Pilates exercises after their treatments to work though issues at home to aid their recovery. And it worked! They came back better, stronger and amazed that small, relatively simple movements could make such a big difference.
When massage clients started signing up for Pilates classes they began seeing more regular improvements. And their progress was not just in the area related to their initial trouble spot; they were more flexible, their muscles were toned, their focus was improved and they were stronger with greater mobility overall.
"Change happens through movement and movement heals."
Now, even more than before my injury and recovery, Pilates is my go-to for musculoskeletal therapy. Pilates is adaptive and can be used to strengthen, encourage movement, stretch and tone muscles - all of which are important to repair work - and to our overall movement and general health and quality of life.