Whether it’s caused by your high school pitching days or it seems to come out of nowhere, shoulder pain can put a real crimp in your day, turning once-easy tasks into major challenges. Who knew it could be so hard to put on a T-shirt or blow-dry your hair?
First, here’s some background. Your shoulder is made up of three bones—your upper arm bone, shoulder blade and collarbone. Muscles and tendons work together to keep your arm bone centered in the socket in your shoulder blade. These tissues are called the rotator cuff—and it’s where many shoulder problems originate.
There are many causes of shoulder pain, including broken bones, arthritis, frozen shoulder, instability and tendon tears and inflammation (also called bursitis or tendinitis). Serious problems, like broken bones, must be dealt with immediately. So the first step is to see a doctor if you’re experiencing pain that occurs while resting or persists beyond a few days. Inability to use the arm should also trigger a doctor’s visit, as well as signs of infection such as fever, redness or warmth.
For ordinary aches and pains, you can take steps to feel better. The trick is to take care of your shoulder, while also taking care of the pain. Here are a few tips for shoulder pain relief.
This may seem obvious, but quite a few people subscribe to the “play through the pain” theory. If your shoulder hurts every time you serve a tennis ball, you may want to put down your racket for a week.
If you just injured your shoulder, applying ice will help reduce swelling in the 48 hours after an injury. Ice is also helpful for athletes who are battling overuse injuries. After playing, ice the shoulder to minimize inflammation. (Never ice before playing.) Limit ice treatments to 20 minutes.
Heat, on the other hand, is used to treat chronic conditions. Heat relaxes and loosens tissue and can stimulate blood flow. Heat treatments should not be used to treat acute injuries.
Do you sit all day at a computer, hunched forward slightly and slouching? Take a break every 20 to 30 minutes by dropping your arms at your side and relaxing them. Gently shake your arms and shoulders for five to 10 seconds. Rest and repeat the exercise two more times. Here are a few more stretches for computer users. When you get back to work, check your posture. Do your feet rest firmly on the floor? Is your computer monitor at eye level? Proper ergonomics at work can make a difference.
Limit your use of NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
While over-the-counter pain relievers like Aleve and Advil reduce inflammation and pain, they should not be used indiscriminately for long-term treatment of pain due to adverse side effects such as an increased risk of heart attacks. That’s bad news for many, especially those with arthritis, who have come to depend on such medications. Because everyone’s risk is different, the best approach is to have a conversation with your doctor to determine a strategy that’s safe for you.
Many incidents of shoulder pain can be treated at home with a combination of rest, ice, proper ergonomics and over-the-counter medication. But for shoulder pain that persists, you’ll want to seek medical help to determine the cause of your pain—and best path to recovery for you.