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How do I Treat a Sore Shoulder?

By C. Martin
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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To treat a sore shoulder, relief is often obtained using an approach often referred to as the “RICE” regimen. RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Acute shoulder injuries often respond successfully to this regimen.

Specifically, rest is often recommended for the sore shoulder for 48 hours. Ice packs may be applied to the sore area for about 20 minutes at a time, and this can be repeated eight times or more each day. Compression may be performed using elasticized bandages, which are readily available from most drug stores, and this may reduce the swelling of the limb. Keeping the injured shoulder elevated may help to alleviate the shoulder pain, and the goal is to raise the arm above the height of the heart, keeping the limb comfortable with pillows.

For chronic sore shoulder conditions, applying heat to the affected area may bring relief. Heated pads, warm wet towels, or special heat devices using infrared light may be used. Heat should be applied for approximately 20 minutes at a time. Heat treatment for a sore shoulder increases blood flow to the painful area, and assists in relaxation and loosening of the muscles.

Sore shoulders are also often treated using over the counter or prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers. The approaches described are commonly effective for a wide variety of shoulder problems, including various types of shoulder strain or shoulder sprain injuries. Should the cause of the sore shoulder be due to a systemic problem, or a more severe injury, then specialized medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment are likely to be required. A sore shoulder may respond to a variety of treatments, depending on the root cause of the problem.

A dislocated shoulder generally results in very severe shoulder pain. The treatment for this type of injury consists of physically manipulating the shoulder joint to put it back into the correct alignment. This is termed shoulder reduction, and is often performed under anesthesia. After the shoulder reduction is performed, rest and pain relief are usually recommended for a relatively prolonged period.

Further treatment may be required for many shoulder injuries, or after shoulder surgery, for the purpose of shoulder rehabilitation. Exercises that are specially designed for shoulder strengthening may be recommended by a doctor or by a physical therapist. In the case of patients suffering from a chronic recurring sore shoulder, physical exercises can serve a preventative purpose.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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