Rest, Ice, Pills (R.I.P.) doesn’t work for bursitis

If you’ve ever been medically diagnosed with “bursitis” in your hip or your shoulder, you have come across the mysterious and oft frustrating world of medical diagnosis of musculoskeletal conditions. What is it that makes it so frustrating? It’s that the supposed causes of these conditions mean visiting your doctor is pointless!

In 2002, I was snowboarding with a friend at Big Bear. We are  both pretty good snowboarders (he’s a speed junkie) capable of landing good jumps, so we decided to hit the super half pipe.

It was my first time attempting a half pipe so large, but I was confident in my skills.  I charged the wall and up I went. As I twisted my body in the air to prepare for landing, I felt my right shoulder pop and incredible pain shoot through my shoulder, neck, and down my back along the line of my latissimus dorsi. I spent several minutes face down in the snow cursing. My shoulder felt like it was hanging out of the joint and was totally unstable. Lying down on my back on the hotel room floor, I could feel something was completely wrong. My shoulder blades were no longer even and it felt like my shoulder was jutting forward.

My family doctor at first gave me anti-inflammatories and told me to rest it. After a few more visits with no improvement, I was told that I had “bursitis.”  What is bursitis?  Well, it’s inflammation or irritation of the bursa in a joint (usually shoulder or hip).  How do you know you have it?  You have a limited range of motion and it hurts.  What can you do about it?  Well, the answer lies in what your doctor thinks causes it.  The options are:

  1. You’re too old. (see a related post on old age allegedly causing pain)
  2. You used it too much.
  3. You have arthritis.

If the doctor thinks #1 is the answer, you’re out of luck. Rest it, ice it, and have some pills.

If the doctor thinks #2 is the answer, you’re out of luck. Rest it, ice it, and have some pills.

If the doctor thinks #3 is the answer, you’re out of luck. Rest it, ice it, and have some pills.

R.I.P. – Rest, Ice, Pills.  The treatment options are dismal, to say the least.  What I found, and what a lot of my clients have found, is that even after resting, icing, and popping pills, trying to gradually work back into the activities you like is still impossible.  The flare ups and instability are obvious very quickly, and resting, icing, and popping pills doesn’t seem to address the underlying problem (if you believe the problem is any of the above three, you actually don’t have any options to address the underlying problem and are doomed to just “manage” the pain).

There is a fourth answer though that is very, very poorly understood in the medical community, and that’s

4. An abnormal or poorly placed bone or joint.

Unfortunately, even if you have a doctor who knows what good position of joints looks like, very few know what to do about it.  You’ll be told to wait until it magically goes back to its regular position or wait until your symptoms get so bad that you can be given a stronger diagnosis and stronger medicinal treatment or some fantastic new surgery.

Well, you can fix the abnormal position if you just work with the parts of the body that determine the position–your muscles. Think about this: when orthopedic surgeons go in to re-engineer your joints, they are snipping and reattaching the soft tissues (i.e. muscles, tendons, and ligaments) to change the position of joints.  And yet it’s not even a question that it’s possible to change the length and tension of those soft tissues with exercises (does yoga ring a bell?) — the trick is knowing what exercises applied when and where will give you the change in position you need and then YOU actually doing them!

So where am I now, having already gone through the R.I.P. protocol and gotten no results?  After Rolfing and posture alignment therapy, I’m bursitis free and I have full range of motion in my shoulder (as long as I keep the joints where they’re supposed to be!).  No surgery, no more pills, and a whole lot of hockey!


About the Author

Matt Hsu is a trainer and orthopedic massage therapist. He fought a long battle with chronic pain all over his body and won. He blends the principles he learned in his journey, empirical observations with clients, and relevant research to help others get their lives back.

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