Acute Shoulder Pain Treatment Strategies

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By Dr. Kevin Bloom
Published on March 1, 2014

Acute Shoulder Pain
Shoulder problems most commonly present when normal shoulder movements are limited. Most of these problems occur due to rotator cuff injuries/pathologies.

The following strategies often prove helpful in the acute phase of such problems:

  • When dressing (ie. putting on your coat), put your sore arm in the sleeve first before putting the other arm in.  This will minimize any unnecessary reaching.
  • For females, strap your bra on in the front and then wrap it around.  This method will result in less strain on the sore shoulder.
  • When putting on your seatbelt in the car, try to use your other arm as much as possible.
  • Try to avoid any unnecessary reaching.  For example, in the kitchen, put commonly used objects (ie.  dishes) on a lower level and put objects that are rarely used on higher shelves.
  • When sleeping, avoid sleeping on the sore shoulder specifically.  Either sleep on your back or on the other side/shoulder.  If your partner happens to see you sleeping on the sore side, tell him/her to wake you up so you can change out of this potentially aggravating sleeping position.
  • Avoid heavy lifting and carrying. If you need to lift/carry, keep the object as close to your body as possible.
  • Avoid repetitive movements of the sore shoulder/limb as much as possible.  If performing a repetitive task, try to switch arms as much as possible.
  • For extremely acute shoulder pain, apply ice over the shoulder region for 10 minutes 3-4 times per day.  If the ice pack is too cold, wrap it in a paper towel or a t-shirt.  If symptoms increase, discontinue use.  Heat is not recommended for extremely acute cases.
  • For shoulder pain that is not extremely acute, you can try applications of either ice or heat for 10 minutes each.  Another strategy is to try ice for 10 minutes, and then the heat pack for 10 minutes directly following.  Do whatever you believe yields the most relief.  The success of these strategies can vary patient to patient.  If symptoms increase with any of the above strategies, discontinue use.

It should be noted that these strategies are only relevant for the acute phase where shoulder ranges of motion are greatly impaired.  Once the shoulder noticeably improves in terms of movement and pain, it is recommended to try to be as functional as possible so as to maintain the improved shoulder ranges of motion (within reasonable levels of pain tolerance of course).  For further information, contact your chiropractor, physiotherapist, family physician, or medical specialist.

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