This overview is about chronic shoulder pain treatment. A 71- year old health conscious patient was exercising in a gym. When he used the shoulder machine, he suddenly experienced a stinging pain in his left shoulder. The pain seemed to be localized in the upper (superior) portion of the trapezius muscle. With this he also felt pain in his left neck.
This was fitness gone wrong! It can happen, that exercise is overdone or lack of judgment leads to injury. Trainers caution us, when we embark on exercise programs, and yet, it happens! Often the road to recovery is a bumpy stretch, and if the problem is not corrected, it can lead to chronic pain. With this knowledge the patient sought help. The first approach was visiting a
He sought the help of a chiropractor and had 6 manipulations in the neck and thoracic spine. The spine had good range of motion, but the left shoulder pain in the trapezius muscle stayed.
He found that heat application to the trapezius muscle helped, so he bought an electric heating pad that he applied once or twice a day for pain relief. He also sought the input of his G.P. He was offered
This was the predictable regimen, but the patient was concerned about the side effects of pain pills, and he declined. He had heard of a supplement, called Trilipotropic (from Trophic), which contains 300 mg of choline bitartrate, 300mg of inositol and 300 mg of methionine in one tablet. He learnt at a medical conference that two of these tablets were as effective in relieving the pain as one tablet of Motrin, an anti-inflammatory drug. He took two of these pain relievers from the health food store a couple of times per day alternating with the heating pad to control his pain.
Since the condition improved only marginally, he looked at the option of
When the chiropractor mentioned after 5 treatments that he could not treat the pain successfully, the patient decided to try prolotherapy, because he had heard that this would be good for chronic musculoskeletal pain. The naturopath whom he saw examined thoroughly and determined that the patient would be a good candidate for 2 to 4 prolotherapy treatments. After one treatment on the left side along the cervical spine and the left trapezius area the pain was reduced by 30% of what it was before. The second prolotherapy treatment was given again to the left side and also to the right side to keep it symmetrical. The naturopathic physician told the patient that he would see him for follow-up in 4 weeks. The treatment of the right asymptomatic side did not cause any pain, but the left side started flaring up after the second treatment, causing pain that was almost as bad as the original pain. When the patient returned to the naturopath and told him about the flare-up of pain in his left shoulder, he was told that this is what sometimes happens when treatments are not spaced far enough apart. He felt that this should be observed now and reassessed in 6 months in case there was
No progress. It was time to look at other options:
When the chiropractor had admitted that he could not help removing the pain, he suggested that maybe a physiotherapist trained in intramuscular stimulation treatment (IMS), also known as dry needling could be of help. The patient was waiting for the appointment with the naturopath for prolotherapy when he saw the physiotherapist for IMS treatments. He examined the patient and noticed a persistent trigger point in the upper trapezius muscle, which he thought was causing the chronic pain.
Two IMS treatments relieved the pain by about 50%. But about two or three days later the pain came back to about 75% of the original pain after the gym injury. The appointment for the prolotherapy by the naturopath had taken two months to wait for, so he had already had 3 IMS treatments just before the prolotherapy to get some pain relief. The IMS trained physiotherapist thought that perhaps a few more treatments, up to five or six might be able to take the pain away. So the patient continued treatments on a weekly basis.
Unfortunately the hope for pain relief did not materialize. The pain improved to about 30 to 40% of the original pain, but it always came back just 2 or 3 days later. Fortunately for him he could apply the heating pad and the pain would stay away for 3 to 5 hours. It also responded to taking two tablets of the choline bitartrate/inositol/methionine combination that took the residual pain away for several hours. Self-massaging the trigger point also gave some relief. But occasionally the pain came back with a vengeance and felt like a charley horse that suddenly could occur in his left shoulder making it difficult to move his left arm, particularly when he needed an outstretched arm for ballroom dancing, lifting of heavy objects or for working out in the gym. Even just holding on to the rails of the treadmill when doing a fast walk on the treadmill for half an hour could lead to a flare up of the left shoulder pain. It is frustrating, when there is only temporary relief, but no real cure, but giving up is no option. Often we find more information on the Internet. What came up was
Low-dose laser therapy
The patient remembered having heard of low-dose laser therapy that might be useful in treating chronic pain. This method, called interstitial low-laser therapy was used to treat his trigger point in his left shoulder. A physician who is the president of ISLA –the international society for laser applications- specializing in laser treatment treated him by inserting a cannula into his left trapezius muscle close to the trigger point. He injected a small amount of procaine (local anesthetic), then 5 ml of normal saline. This was followed by three low-laser beam treatments for 10 minutes each, first blue, then green and finally yellow color, all given interstitially after which the cannula was removed.
He was surprised to feel relief almost instantly. There was still a bit of pain from the interstitial needle for about two days, but he noticed that the trigger point in the trapezius muscle had completely vanished. Finally after 6 months of intermittent pain there was relief of about 50% of the original pain. This time the pain in that particular trigger point stayed away, which was encouraging.
But there were two other trigger points that were bothering him. After one month he got a second interstitial low dose laser treatment by the naturopath who had previously given him the prolotherapy into another trigger point, and finally 2 weeks after this, the third laser treatment was given for yet another trigger point. This continued on for another few months. The pain disappeared, then it crept in slowly again, but at a lower level. It became a quest to eradicate the trigger points! Each time the latest trigger point that was still palpable was treated with the same low-dose laser treatment method. It took a total of 9 interstitial treatments to finally reach the point where all of the pain was gone.
It felt strange: the chronic left shoulder pain had disappeared!
When pain lasts for more than 3 months, it is referred to as “chronic pain” and is often termed neuropathic pain that is difficult to treat. You may have guessed by now that I was the patient in this blog, and so I had a vested interest in getting rid of this pain. I had previously described a similar pain in my lower back that was relieved with just one interstitial low-dose laser treatment at that time and my back has remained pain free since. Shortly after that successful treatment I developed the left shoulder pain from a soft tissue injury in the gym as mentioned. I was fortunate that Dr. Weber could treat me again, this time at his clinic in Lauenförde, Germany on occasion of a Germany trip that I had booked for holiday purposes.
I was lucky that this treatment responded similar to the one in my lower back. The difference was that my left shoulder required a total of nine low-dose laser treatments to be resolved and my pain had lasted a total of 14 months!
It occurred to me that a successful outcome of treating pain requires collaboration between patient and therapist. Call it trial and error. In my case it was only the fourth treatment modality, the low-dose laser therapy that worked permanently.
I feel that the chiropractor did his best to ensure there was no nerve root irritation and told me when he had reached his limits.
The IMS trained physiotherapist treated me before and after the prolotherapy and also told me after a total of 12 visits that he likely could not help me any more than he did.
The naturopath who did the prolotherapy said that he had strengthened the ligaments along the spine on the left side, but that the trigger point from the gym injury likely was not responding to prolotherapy.
The final answer came from the treatment by Dr. Weber in Germany and the naturopath in Kelowna using the same Weber system machine with low-dose lasers. I think that this is an under-recognized treatment modality of musculoskeletal injuries, including sports injuries. You can find treatment providers for low-dose laser therapy throughout the US, Canada and Europe where many physicians and naturopathic physicians use it as part of their pain management methods. The equipment has been FDA approved; Health Canada approved and is approved by the Medical Devices Directive in Europe. Please note that this type of laser (low-dose laser) has nothing to do with laser treatment for cosmetic purposes.
It has to be stressed that chronic pain treatment requires attention to detail, feedback from the patient to the healthcare provider and persistence on behalf of the patient to follow through until the chronic pain is resolved. It also shows that giving up is not an option!