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Topic: Anyone with frozen shoulder or rotator cuff issues?

Forum: Stage I Breast Cancer — Meet other members with a Stage I breast cancer diagnosis to share information and support.

Posted on: Jan 17, 2011 09:15PM

ByFaith wrote:

I completed my rads end of August 2010 and started Femara a week after.  In November I slowly began noticing shoulder and upper arm aching on my lumpectomy side (no known injury), particularly when sleeping, better as day would go along, some days worse than others, but never pain, always aching.  Saw my primary doc and he dx'd rotator cuff tendinitis (no lympedema) with thoughts it would resolve with anti-inflammatories and time. When I went for my last rad/onc followup they also said it wasn't lymphedema and I show no signs of that. The shoulder/arm aching and range of motion isn't making great progress, so I have an appt with a specialist for an x-ray and consult.  

I've taken 3 Advil and it doesn't seem to help, so I just put up with the aching. (Don't bother with 4 Advil since 3 don't seem to help.) I had been using a heating pad (forgot to ask doctor) for the longest time and was disappointed it didn't help.  Tonight, for the first time I used an ice pack (what was I thinking) after the heating pad and I felt rather good relief; not perfect, but definitely some relief.  Could I have been using the wrong method all along with a heating pad? 

Since my BC dx is still rather fresh (last May), I'm making myself literally sick at the idea it might be mets, even though my onc NP tried to calm my fears given my symptoms, doc dx, and early stage BC.  

Has anyone else had a shoulder issue without known injury and what was yours like, how did you treat it, etc.?  How can I get over this fear of mets? Counselor says hypervigilence about body issues is normal at this stage, but I hate the worrying! The dull aching and limited range of motion I can handle; the fear is the hard part.   


Dx 4/2010, IDC, 1cm, Stage I, Grade 2, 0/5 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2- Surgery 5/20/2010 Lumpectomy: Left Radiation Therapy 7/12/2010 Breast, Lymph nodes Hormonal Therapy 9/1/2010 Arimidex (anastrozole)
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Jan 18, 2011 10:41AM GG27 wrote:

I had this, I was taking pain killers, anything I could find in the medicine cabinet!   I took the anti inflammatories & they did nothing.  So finally had a cortisone shot, most painful thing I've ever had, but the pain was momentary & then I could literally feel the pain subside from my shoulder.  I would be careful with a heating pad on the rads, I was told ice pack, but it didn't help me.    I hope you find some relief soon.  Cheers! Dee

Dx 10/2008, IDC, Both breasts, 3cm, Stage IIB, Grade 2, 3/9 nodes, mets, ER+/PR+, HER2- Surgery 1/8/2009 Lymph node removal; Mastectomy: Left, Right Chemotherapy 2/1/2009 Other Radiation Therapy 7/5/2009 Whole-breast: Breast, Lymph nodes Dx 5/14/2014, IDC, Stage IV, mets, ER+/PR+, HER2- Hormonal Therapy 5/19/2014 Arimidex (anastrozole)
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Jan 18, 2011 01:02PM - edited Jan 18, 2011 01:03PM by Blah2

YES YES.  I had an MRI that diagnosed inflammation and arthritis in the Clavicle -  it's that bone where mets can go !! So I was all freaked out about the pain also.  I think that an MRI is the only sure way to know what is going on.

I know exactly how you feel!  I keep asking, is this how the rest of my life is going to be?  Every little ache and pain...cancer back?

PT has helped with the range of motion.  The cortisone is a temporary fix I believe?     mfrog?

My PT told me it can wear down tissue and you can only get 3 of them a year?

My Dr. said ice right on top of shoulder and heat in the other areas that hurt. (I did not do rads)

I also have a RX Gel - Voltaren that I rub on 2x a day that I think is helping.

I do think the MRI is the only way to a SURE diagnosis.  My Dr. told me tendinitis on the first visit also

Good Luck !  I think you will get a lot of replies here on this topic !!

ALso taking percocet

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Jan 18, 2011 01:15PM alex56 wrote:

I have LE in my left arm, but started having pain in my right shoulder shortly after my mastectomy last year.  Finally got a referral to the ortho and he ordered an MRI which confirmed a partial tear of the rotator cuff.  I had no history of injury.  He gave me one shot of cortisone which took all the pain away for about 3 months.  I had the second cortisone shot and went to an OT who gave me theraband and stretching exercises to do.  The excersises have made the shoulder much stronger and pretty much pain free.  I really don't want to get more shots as they do have consequences over time, nor do I want the surgery (quite hideous I've heard).  OTC pain relievers did not help me much, but ice and heat do.  I also have bone mets on the spine, but the RC issue is not at all related.  Occupational or physical therapy will definately help your range of motion too. 

Dx 12/2009, Stage IV, Grade 2, 20/25 nodes, mets, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Jan 18, 2011 03:29PM Mouser wrote:

I started with rotator cuff problems 9 months after starting Femara. No injuries, and it was on the not-cancer side, so it was not due to rads, etc. Confounder: posture?  I had a bad mammo (1st after diagnosis) that led to a mastectomy. There was some shoulder problem there already; i pit it off until the breast issures were settled, but I also hunched my shoulders during that stress, and certainly the shoulder got worse. When i saw a PT after the mx, and mentioned the shoulder, she said - first, try not hunching forward like that!.... 3 months PT improved it, but it did not go away until i went off Femara.... then it took no more than 3 weeks to go away completely. (The wrist problem, which began as a ganglion cyst and which may or may not include arthritis) is almst gone, 15 months after i quit Femara (and still improving).

So - not to be pessimistic, but it may be Femara that triggered this.

mouser - IDC 0.4 cm + DCIS 1 cm, 2007; Stage 1, grade 2, ER+PR-, Her-; lumpectomy, rads, letrozole. More calcs 2008; mastectomy. Quit letrozole 10/09.
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Jan 18, 2011 04:08PM voraciousreader wrote:

OY! OY! OY!  WHERE DO I BEGIN.... How about with TODAY.  Schlepped off to the orthopedist for my SECOND cortisone shot in three weeks.  Last week, I was on an oral cortisone for 6 days.  I'm STILL in agony!  The DH offered to accompany me to the doctor to tell him how miserable I am.  I told him that was kind of him.  But I worried that he would tell the doctor how miserable I've been for the last 31 years!  I think he's MISERABLE because I wake him up every night..two or three times...YELPING in PAIN!

I posted a few months ago that I was having shoulder pain and a pain running down my armpit as well.  Turns out, after numerous visits to the doctor and an MRI... I HAVE THE TRIFECTA!  I have an axillary web syndrome,a nerve entrapment AND a rotator cuff tear with tendonosis in MY GOOD ARM!  The bad arm, until recently had a rotator cuff tear, an elbow entrapment and a pinky fracture that were all fixed over time.  I know... Just call me bionic.

So...what have I been doing?  Physical therapy and lots of ice.  There's so much snow here in New York, that when I wake up in the middle of the night in pain, I want to run outside and lay down in the snow.

I tried the Voltaren gel and it helped get rid of some of the burning.  Anti-inflammatories did nothing.  Can't take pain killers because they make me sick.

I'm heading back for physical therapy on Friday...The doctor told me today to try and rest it for a few days and remain calm...But he also said, "Frozen shoulder can take months to subside."  Yikes!

He also offered surgery to fix the rotator cuff.  I declined.  Not only did I have enough surgery last year for breast cancer...my last rotator cuff surgery took me two years to recover from!

My advice.  Get to a good orthopedist and a good physical therapist.  Put the ice on it as much as possible.  I have an ice pack that has velcro straps that seems to work well.  I found it at Rite Aid.

Good luck...and I just want you to know... I feel your pain.Surprised

Doctor told me regarding my prognosis that I WASN'T on the Titanic! Hmmm...Really?....Okay! 02/2010 Pure Mucinous Breast Cancer, Oncotype DX 15, Stage 1, Grade 1, 1.8 cm, 0/2 nodes, ER+ 90% /PR+ 70% HER2- (+1)
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Jan 18, 2011 04:35PM LizM wrote:

Sounds like you have frozen shoulder to me.  I had it twice and will probably get my 3d diagnosis shortly.  I have been on an aromatase inhibitor for 4 1/2 years and I suspect it is  strong contributor in addition to a bi-lateral mastectomy and rads to the area.  My frozen should IS on my treatment side.  I am also being evaluated for LE when I can get an appointment.  I have never had imaging done on the area because I know it is at risk due to my treatment plus there are so many stories of what AI's can do to your shoulders, wrists and other joints.  If Femara is not the cause, it surely exascerbates the issue.  When it acts up I go back into physical therapy and she works on the area and I do my exercises.  When it doesn't bother me, which seems to be over the summers months I forget about it and don't do exercises and then it starts again in the winter, kind of strange but that has been the way it has been going for me.

Dx 9/19/2005, IDC, 2cm, Stage II, Grade 1, 1/8 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Jan 18, 2011 05:25PM mrsnjband wrote:

Yes, I had frozen shoulder on the bc side.  I don't think it is that unusual. I went to PT and that really helped.  NJ

Norma June, Bi-lateral MX 2008, Bi-lateral DIEP 2011 Dx 1/10/2008, IBC, <1cm, Stage IIIB, ER-/PR-, HER2- Chemotherapy 1/24/2008 AC Chemotherapy 3/9/2008 Taxol (paclitaxel) Chemotherapy 5/28/2008 Taxotere (docetaxel) Surgery 7/9/2008 Lymph node removal: Right; Mastectomy: Right; Prophylactic mastectomy: Left Radiation Therapy 8/10/2008 Surgery 8/14/2011 Reconstruction (right): DIEP flap Surgery 8/14/2011 Reconstruction (left): DIEP flap Surgery 12/11/2011 Reconstruction (left)
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Jan 18, 2011 05:32PM Alpal wrote:

Do a search for frozen shoulder and a really long thread will come up. I already had bone mets when mine started - was getting frequent PET scans, so didn't worry it was more mets. Mine was also on my good side. I was on Arimidex when this happened. PT really helped, but I had to do the exercises at home between sessions. By the number of posters on here who have had frozen shoulder, I'd say it's fairly common in BC patients.

Allison Dx 7/2008, IDC, Stage IV, mets, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Jan 18, 2011 06:43PM GG27 wrote:

Erica,  The cortisone didn't seem to be temporary for me.  That was last summer & I'm still good.  fingers crossed!
Dx 10/2008, IDC, Both breasts, 3cm, Stage IIB, Grade 2, 3/9 nodes, mets, ER+/PR+, HER2- Surgery 1/8/2009 Lymph node removal; Mastectomy: Left, Right Chemotherapy 2/1/2009 Other Radiation Therapy 7/5/2009 Whole-breast: Breast, Lymph nodes Dx 5/14/2014, IDC, Stage IV, mets, ER+/PR+, HER2- Hormonal Therapy 5/19/2014 Arimidex (anastrozole)
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Jan 18, 2011 06:50PM Blah2 wrote:

That is great.  Did you do anything else?  PT ?

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Jan 18, 2011 07:18PM Blah2 wrote:

What is the difference in "frozen shoulder" and rotator cuff injuries or inflamation?

Can they tell from MRI  the correct diagnosis ?

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Jan 18, 2011 08:37PM Nana60 wrote:

I am thankful for this thread. I had left MX this past Aug & have been having an aching shoulder on my Non-surgery side since early November. It has terrified me.(I can't have an MRI because of Tissue Expander.)  I did have an Xray & CT Scan, but don't feel totally comfortable with those tests. My GP told me to use ice. It is very frustrating trying to move on and be faced with so many aches and pains. What a pain!! 

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Jan 18, 2011 11:33PM GG27 wrote:

I didn't really do anything else, but I have been trying to improve my movement with weight training, but I also do alot of gardening like raking, digging etc.  I'm afraid I don't know the differences in the three injuries.  Just trying to help with what worked for me.  HTH, Dee

Dx 10/2008, IDC, Both breasts, 3cm, Stage IIB, Grade 2, 3/9 nodes, mets, ER+/PR+, HER2- Surgery 1/8/2009 Lymph node removal; Mastectomy: Left, Right Chemotherapy 2/1/2009 Other Radiation Therapy 7/5/2009 Whole-breast: Breast, Lymph nodes Dx 5/14/2014, IDC, Stage IV, mets, ER+/PR+, HER2- Hormonal Therapy 5/19/2014 Arimidex (anastrozole)
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Jan 19, 2011 08:45PM ByFaith wrote:

Hi everyone - original poster here. I hate to say it brought me "relief" to hear that all of you have suffered as well from frozen shoulder or rotator cuff issues, but at least I didn't feel alone and could identify with so much of what you had to say .... so thank you.

 Am I understanding some of you correctly in that BC survivors should try NOT to have any imaging if at all possible?  My primary doctor (who works in tandem with my entire team) has suggested a simple shoulder x-ray and rheumatology consult; his reasoning for rheum versus orthopedics was that orthopedics at our hospital was more geared toward surgery.  I do trust my long-standing primary care doctor very much, so I'm fine with that.  However, should I be concerned my primary doc wants a simple x-ray on that shoulder because it's on the side of my lumpectomy and lymph node (5) removal?  Is it bad because it's even more radiation (excuse my ignorance)?

I also seem to hear a lot about applying heat with rad patients, but Im confused.  I remember seeing in my literature before and during radiation treatment to avoid heat to the arae, but thought that was during rads only and didn't know if it was still a no-no.  Am I to avoid all heating pads to that area?  Ironically, I recently found ice seems to work better, but would still like to know.  Hugs to all...

Dx 4/2010, IDC, 1cm, Stage I, Grade 2, 0/5 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2- Surgery 5/20/2010 Lumpectomy: Left Radiation Therapy 7/12/2010 Breast, Lymph nodes Hormonal Therapy 9/1/2010 Arimidex (anastrozole)
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Jan 27, 2011 08:47AM sherryc11 wrote:

Hi Dawnsm,  I have frozen shoulder and a partial torn rotator cuff as well as swelling in the lymph area all on the arm my surgery was.  I thought it was just discomfort from radiation but now two months after treatment ended I'm still in alot of pain and can't sleep well so I got it checked.  Both my surgeon and oncologist felt that getting an xray was worth knowing for sure that there were no signs of cancer in the arm where the pain was.  They are both very conservative with what imaging I will have going forward.  It eased my mind a great deal to know for sure.  At this point an MRI is not worth it for me because unless PT does not help and further tests are required, any results of an MRI probably would not change the course of treatment so it's not worth the radiation exposure to me, to know for sure that there is a tear.  Once the Xray was clean, they sent me to physical therapy at a place that has women who are trained with common breast cancer issues as well as lymphodema.  As far as they think, I do not have LE but do have issues with my underarm still having swelling.  Not uncommon after radiation.  At this point the PT is concentrating on helping with the frozen shoulder.  She said an ortho would not want to treat the rotator issue with the other issues being more paramount.  I go three times a week and they do soft tissue massage, which really hurts and they very slowly stretch to try to get movement back.  I have a few stretching excersizes to do on my own a few times a day.  They suggest a heating pad to loosen up before excersizing and then ice after.  The ice does help.  My understanding is that during radiation we were not to use heat or ice as it may break down the skin, but now that treatment is over, it's fine as long as the skin is healed.  I'm only just done with my first week of PT and in some ways it's worse, more achy and throbbing but in another way better already because I feel like it's moving in the right direction.  Two of the PT's have told me that frozen shoulder can be one of the most painful therapies they deal with but as painful as it is, it's no more pain than I was already having.  The other thing they say is I need to stop keeping my arm close to my body protecting it.  It's become a habit and I don;t even realize I'm doing it so I have to really think about it during the day and I've been trying to keep a small pillow under my arm to try to break that habit.  Best of luck, I'm sure as soon as you start getting help, it will start feeling better.  I'm looking forward to a good night's sleep soon!

Dx 5/13/2010, IDC, 1cm, Stage IIA, Grade 2, 1/8 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Feb 21, 2011 11:30AM Tri1031 wrote:

Hi Dawnsm

I am so glad that I am not alone. I was diagnosed with Ductal Carsinoma in Situ on left side in April 2010. Had a lumpectomy in June 2010 as well as 21 days of radiation in October 2010. On the 5th day of the radiation I had this sharp pain in my left shoulder blade area and couldn't turn my neck to the left. I informed my oncologist of this and he told me that it was just a sprain as a result of sleeping incorrectly and to get a new pillow. As the radiation went on I found it more and more difficult to lift my left arm up for the radiation treatment. Than in early January 2011 I gradually noticed that I couldn't move my left arm very much. Again I informed this info to my Oncologist on my post radiation treatment follow up and he non chalantly told me that this had nothing to do with the radiation and that it is a result of getting older and that there was nothing much that could be done. The pain got progressively worse along with the loss of range of motion. So I decided to see my walk in doctor whom I use as a family doctor and he dx it as frozen shoulder. I am dissapointed with my oncologist for not referring me to a phsyiotherapist sooner. Any way looks like you are not alone in this. Hope you have made some progress

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Jan 7, 2014 06:20PM jeni1970 wrote:

I am so thankful that I was able to find information here regarding Femara and shoulder pain! I have had pain in both shoulders since July of 2013. The chronic ache is just terrible and the loss of range of motion has been such an inconvenience, to say the least. I recently had an MRI on the right shoulder (its worse on that side right now) and there seems to be a mess going on in there!! Rotator cuff tears, tendonitis, fluid build up, and a few other things I am not familiar with. Today I had a routine appointment with my oncologist and he mentioned that this could be a product of taking Femara. Why haven't I been informed of this side effect sooner??

I have stage four BC and as of November 2012 it metastasized to my bones.  I was very relieved to know that this new shoulder pain is not due to a spread,  but surgery for my shoulders is not an option that I wish to consider. 

I have a friend who is an ortho surgeon and he will be giving me cortisone injections in both shoulders tomorrow and tells me that within four days the pain should subside. This gives me great hope, because as you ladies know, waking with this pain makes it difficult to even want to get out of bed. I have been on Femara for almost a year now and if it can do this to a shoulder joint, does this mean it can effect knee joints, hip joints, ankle joints.... The benefit of the medication makes the side effects manageable.  I am 43 and was diagnosed with Stage II on left side at age 39. Last November 2012 I had been having back pain (for a few months) that would not go away. A bone scan determined that I had tumors in my spine and hips. The Femara has done its job in stopping the bone cancer in its tracks and my condition has been stable for a year now.  If cortisone gives relief to this constant shoulder ache, I will follow up and let you know. 

Stay positive and your strength will follow.


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