My Old Shoulder Injury Flared Up

Karen Del Vecchio avatar

by Karen Del Vecchio |

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Well, we’re back to school and we’re rolling! It’s hard to believe that students have been back for nearly three weeks, and I’ve been back for nearly six. I really enjoy my job teaching history and doing college counseling with juniors and seniors, but it can be stressful at times. Chronic exhaustion from my Ehlers-Danlos syndrome definitely doesn’t help.

I’ve noticed that when I’m really tired at night, I tend to run into one of two issues while sleeping. I either don’t move at all and wake up so stiff I can barely walk, or I roll over onto my right side and don’t wake up. That’s a problem because my right shoulder is badly damaged from an injury I sustained as a teenager.

While playing soccer, I was tripped by an opponent and flipped literally head over heels, landing on the back of my right shoulder. I broke my right clavicle and only avoided surgery because one splinter still held the two pieces together. I also tore my trapezius muscle, damaged my rhomboid muscles, and dislocated my shoulder. To say it’s a mess is a bit of an understatement.

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I had terrible chronic pain for years afterward, and my range of motion was at about 30%. Because this occurred several years before my diagnosis, no one could figure out why I wasn’t healing well and was in so much pain. Further perplexing doctors and therapists was the fact that the more physical therapy I did, the worse my range of motion became.

Only after my EDS diagnosis did we realize that we had to approach therapy differently. The severe instability in my shoulder was causing my surrounding muscles to flare with the exercises as they struggled to keep my joint from dislocating again.

In the time since then, we’ve made enormous progress, and my range of motion is at about 80%. My pain is far less than before, and my injury no longer dictates everything I do. Sleeping or lying on my right side, however, still causes extreme pain. Usually, I wake up if I roll onto my right side, but if I don’t, the morning brings sharp pain in my shoulder, severe stiffness, and greatly impaired mobility. It doesn’t happen too often anymore, but it did last week.

It’s a very odd sensation, as if my arm has dissociated from the rest of my body. It hangs limply at my side, and when I walk, it stays still instead of swinging with me. Occasionally, I’ll look down and notice that I have it folded across my chest or stomach like I’m wearing a sling. My body has become so used to this injury that it will initiate all these self-protective mechanisms without me even consciously realizing it. While it’s certainly no fun when it happens, I do find it fascinating that my body can do all of this on its own. That’s pretty cool.

Thankfully, my awesome massage therapist, Kim, has figured out which muscles she needs to work when it happens, and can now ease my pain pretty efficiently. I’m feeling much better now, and here’s hoping I don’t do that again soon!


Note: Ehlers-Danlos News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Ehlers-Danlos News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Ehlers-Danlos.


Cynthia Willner avatar

Cynthia Willner

Here's something I've noticed that others may experience. I wake up feel really pretty good and then I stretch. You know the morning stretch before you get out of bed, then oh my goodness I'm in so much pain I can barely believe it. The P.A. at Neuro thinks I'm throwing off everything and dislocating my joints pulling everything out of alignment. There's no going back to feeling really pretty good. I can barely walk once out of bed and need pain meds as soon as I can get them. To comment on your shoulder pain I found that the "My Pillow" did wonders for my shoulder and neck pain. If you decide to try it I wouldn't try the firm. I'd also like to know does anyone get severe muscle cramps when asleep?


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