Shoulder pain

You can usually do things to help ease shoulder pain yourself. You should see your GP if your shoulder pain doesn't begin to feel better after two weeks.

How to ease shoulder pain yourself 

You usually need to do these things for two weeks before shoulder pain starts to ease, see below. It can take four to six weeks to recover fully from mild shoulder pain.

There are some things you should and shouldn’t do to help ease shoulder pain. See information below for what these include.

Do

  • stay active and gently move your shoulder
  • try exercises for shoulder pain – do them for six to eight  weeks to stop pain returning
  • stand up straight with your shoulders gently back
  • sit with a cushion behind your lower back
  • rest your arm on a cushion in your lap
  • use pain relief so you can keep moving – try painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen, and heat or cold packs
  • if you injure your shoulder, try a pack of frozen peas in a tea towel for 5 minutes, 3 times a day to reduce bruising of soft tissues
  • if the pain starts more gradually, try a hot water bottle in a tea towel for 20 minutes, 2 to 3 times a day to ease the pain

Don't

  • completely stop using your shoulder – this can stop it getting better
  • do things that seem to make it worse
  • make up your own strenuous exercises or use heavy gym equipment
  • slouch when sitting – don't roll your shoulders or bring your neck forward

A pharmacist can help with shoulder pain 

A pharmacist can offer advice on shoulder pain, and for example, can suggest:

  • the best painkiller – this might be tablets, or a cream or gel you rub on the skin
  • other ideas for pain relief and things you can buy to help, like heat and cold packs
  • seeing a GP if you need to

 

When to see a GP 

You should see your GP if:

  • the pain doesn't improve after two  weeks
  • it's very difficult to move your arm or shoulder
  • the pain started after an injury or accident, like a fall

When to get immediate medical advice 

You should go to your nearest emergency department if:

  •  the pain is sudden or very bad
  • you can't move your arm
  • your arm or shoulder has changed shape or is badly swollen
  • you have pins and needles that don't go away
  • there's no feeling in your arm or shoulder
  • your arm or shoulder is hot or cold to touch

These can be signs of something serious, like a broken or dislocated bone, or a torn (ruptured) ligament or tendon.

Treatment from a GP 

Your GP will examine you to work out what's causing your shoulder pain. They might send you for tests (such as an X-ray) to check the cause.

They can also suggest a treatment based on the cause, this can include:

  • stronger medication or injections to ease pain and swelling
  • physiotherapy or exercises to do at home
  • things to avoid to stop the pain getting worse or returning
  • seeing a specialist for tests or treatment

Physiotherapy for shoulder pain

The number of physiotherapy sessions your GP might recommend depends on the cause of your shoulder pain.

A physiotherapist will assess your shoulder and decide how long to treat you based on how you respond to the treatment.

If you're still in pain after your sessions end, go back to your GP. They may suggest another treatment or refer you to a specialist at the hospital.

Physiotherapy through the health service may not be available immediately. Waiting times can also be long.

You can also pay to get physiotherapy privately.

Causes of shoulder pain 

Shoulder pain that doesn't improve after two weeks might be caused by something that needs treatment. Don't self-diagnose – see your GP if you're worried.

Below are health conditions that are linked to some common causes of shoulder pain.

These include:

  • pain and stiffness that doesn't go away over months or years -
    possible causes - frozen shoulder, arthritis (osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis)
  • pain that's often worse while using your arm or shoulder - 
    possible causes - tendonitisbursitisimpingement
  • tingling, numb, weak, feels like it's clicking or locking -
    possible causes - shoulder instability, sometimes because of hypermobility
  • sudden very bad pain, can't move your arm (or it's difficult), sometimes changes shape -
    possible causes - dislocated shoulder, broken bone (such as the upper arm or collarbone), torn or ruptured tendon
  • pain on top of the shoulder (where the collarbone and shoulder joint meet) -possible causes - problems in the acromioclavicular joint, like dislocation or stretched or torn ligaments

 

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

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