This common joint problem can affect anyone. Shoulder pain may involve the cartilage, ligaments, muscles, nerves, or tendons. It can also include the shoulder blade, neck, arm, and hand.
Early treatment is important. It can take eight weeks or longer for shoulder pain to heal. At-home shoulder pain remedies may help recovery.
Treating shoulder pain often involves soothing inflammation (swelling and redness) and strengthening muscles. Here are several ways you can take care of yourself and relieve shoulder pain.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) help to relieve pain and lower inflammation. Over-the-counter drugs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Reducing inflammation is important in rotator cuff injuries, tendonitis and arthritis, and other shoulder injuries.
Cold compresses can help reduce swelling in the shoulder. Cooling also helps to numb sharp pain. Apply an ice pack for up to 20 minutes, up to five times a day. Use a frozen gel pack, ice cubes in a plastic bag, or a bag of frozen peas. Wrap the cold pack in a soft towel. Do not apply a cold pack directly to skin.
Wrap the shoulder with an elastic medical bandage to help reduce swelling and pain. Use a cold compression bandage or a regular ACE bandage. You can also get a shoulder wrap from a pharmacy. Wrap it snugly but not too tight. You don’t want to block blood flow. If your arm or hand begins to feel numb or tingly, or turn blue, loosen the compression bandage.
Heat helps to relax tense muscles and soothe a stiff shoulder. It can help with muscle pain and arthritis in the shoulder. Use a heated gel pack, heating pad or a hot water bottle.
Muscle relaxants may help treat pain if you have muscle tension or spasms around the shoulder joint. Common muscle relaxants include cyclobenzaprine, tizanidine, and baclofen. You will need a prescription from your doctor.
Remember that muscle relaxants cause drowsiness and shouldn’t be taken if you’re driving or operating machinery.
Medications such as acetaminophen and aspirin can help ease pain. This helps you cope with the injury and get better sleep as you recover.
Pain medications can cause side effects such as stomach upset and heartburn. Talk to a doctor if you are taking them for longer than four weeks.
You can also try topical pain-relief gels and creams, which don’t have the same side effects as oral pain meds. Diclofenac is one medication approved in two forms by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for osteoarthritis treatment. It’s available as 1 percent diclofenac sodium gel and 1.5 percent diclofenac sodium solution.
Rest and activity modification
Stop or change the activity that may have caused the shoulder pain. It’s important to move the shoulder gently. This helps to keep the shoulder muscles strong and flexible.
Regular exercises and stretches can keep your shoulder strong and flexible. A few things to remember before swinging in to exercises:
- Stop any exercise if you have more shoulder pain. It may be too soon for you to try.
- Watch your form. Exercising incorrectly can also cause or worsen shoulder problems.
- Warm up, even before deep stretching. Light shoulder rolls, gentle movements, or even a warm shower are all ways to warm up your muscles before exercise and stretching.
Pendulum stretch for range of motion
- Stand and bend at the waist.
- Let your arm on the injured side hang straight down.
- Keep your neck relaxed.
- Move your arm in a circle up to 20 times.
- Do once or more times in a day.
Overhead shoulder stretch
- Sit or stand to do this shoulder stretch.
- Intertwine your fingers in front of you.
- Bend your elbows and raise your arms above your head. You can also place your hands on your head or behind it.
- Gently squeeze your shoulder blades together to move your elbows back.
- Continue for up to 20 repetitions. Repeat 5 to 10 times a day.
You’ll need treatment along with home remedies if you have a serious shoulder injury. See your doctor if you have any of the following:
- pain: especially if the pain does not get better with rest and medication
- repeat problems: if you have shoulder pain more than once
- stiffness: if you can’t lift and rotate your arm normally
- weakness: if your shoulder, arm, or hand is weaker than the uninjured side
- separated or dislocated shoulder: if you have a dislocation or if it feels like your shoulder could slide out
The first step is to rest enough to allow your body to heal and renew from everyday stressors. Eating a healthy, balanced diet can also keep your body fueled with the nutrients it uses to function.
If you’re experiencing aches and pains, try avoiding smoking. Smoking can affect blood circulation to the shoulder and body. This can slow recovery.
A shoulder injury can happen with repeat or sudden movements. It can happen while playing sports, exercising, or falling, and during everyday activities such as reaching for something on a shelf or gardening. This is more likely if you raise your arms above your head or lift something heavy without bending the elbows or using your legs to lift the weight.
If you have poor posture or slouch your shoulders, you may be more likely to get shoulder pain.
If you have a serious rotator cuff tear or a shoulder dislocation, you may need surgery to repair it. Your doctor may recommend steroid injections if the injury doesn’t improve or if the pain is severe. This helps to lower inflammation.
Shoulder arthroscopy is a key-hole type of surgery. A surgeon makes a small hole and uses a tiny camera to examine and help repair torn tissue.
Osteoarthritis can cause chronic shoulder pain. Specialist joint surgeons often recommend steroid injections, surgery, or shoulder joint replacement surgery in very serious cases.
Common conditions that involve shoulder pain include:
Diagnosing shoulder pain helps you and your doctor choose the best treatment and home remedies for you.
Home remedies for shoulder pain can help to heal your shoulder. They can also lower your risk of injuring the shoulder again. Simple at-home exercises combined with medications and doctors’ guidance can help strengthen your shoulder joint and soothe pain.