Shoulder: Pain and Virus

I woke up after a couple of days of hard climbing with severe pain in both shoulders. It's mostly in the rear deltoids but radiates down my arm into the triceps. Coincidentally(?), I had a bad virus during the night.

By Rock and Ice | October 20th, 2009

I woke up after a couple of days of hard climbing with severe pain in both shoulders. It’s mostly in the rear deltoids but radiates down my arm into the triceps. Coincidentally(?), I had a bad virus during the night.

In the following days, the shoulder pain went away, but I have limited range of motion. It has been about 10 days since the last of several aggravations from climbing. During that time I haven’t done any climbing and my shoulders feel better but not pain free.

My basic plan is to rest, ice, take ibuprofen for about a month, and then try to ease back into climbing depending on how I feel. Sound reasonable? Is it worth going to a doctor to get a steroid shot?

Obviously, I’d like to get back on the rock as soon as possible without re-aggravating the injury.

RYAN PEVNICK
RICHMOND, VIRGINIA

Both shoulders with suspiciously similar symptoms will engage cerebral overdrive in any practitioner.

This is likely to be a fairly complex interplay between a virus on the rampage and resultant musculoskeletal mayhem. The initial pain you experienced was almost certainly related to the viral invasion, causing what is known as brachial neuritis (inflamed nerves that feed your shoulder and arm).

Viral attack on the nerve supply to musculature controlling the shoulders is well documented, if not well understood. Usually, however, following pain, paralysis is the primary lasting symptom. Though it does not sound like you have noticed any weakness, a mild paralysis may not be obvious, and can rain carnage.

Though the shoulder has a fairly good capacity for power, the huge and variable forces required to climb can inflict serious wounds when the delicate control system has what is technically known as a cluster fuck. If viral neuritis was the bomb, altered motor control by virtue of pain or paralysis is the nuclear fallout.

The ensuing soreness is almost undoubtedly either a tendonitis or a bursitis due to a muscular maelstrom around the shoulder. That said, it is a very dubious call to make without seeing your shoulder.

Nonetheless, something in your shoulder is getting pissed off under the new, post-microbe regime. Cortisone would help only if the current pain is perpetuating the motor-control problem. It sounds like it is healing anyway, so I would first try some less invasive options to speed that process.

Some well-targeted stretching is a great start. Try putting the back of your hand on the small of your back, and leaver your elbow forward using a door jam. A massage from a beautiful masseuse can also be rather therapeutic, and the only side effect will be a naughty smile of indulgence. If coin is a problem, try lying on your back with a tennis ball positioned behind your shoulder, followed by running with a pair of scissors.

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