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How do I Treat Shoulder Swelling?

By Harriette Halepis
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Shoulder swelling can be caused by many different factors, including bursitis, a rotator cuff tear, a frozen shoulder, and tendinitis. In most cases, shoulder swelling can be treated easily. However, if it becomes difficult to stand up, pick up light items, or raise your arm, then it is crucial that you visit with a physician as soon as possible.

Embarking on a treatment plan is often difficult without knowing the cause of shoulder pain. Therefore, any persistent pain should be expertly diagnosed right away. The number one treatment for shoulder swelling is rest. Simply by resting the shoulder area, swelling will often subside. If rest does not prove to be useful, other treatments may be better suited.

Ice can be placed on a minor injury that has just occurred. Ice packs placed on a swollen shoulder within two days of an injury will often reduce shoulder swelling. An ice treatment can also be used for recurring problems such as sports injuries. Ice packs should be wrapped in towels, as they should never come in direct contact with skin. Heat should only be used for chronic injuries, and never for recent injuries. Heating devices should not be left on an injured area overnight or for more than two hours at a time.

Sometimes, stretching the shoulder area can also reduce pain. While this might seem like an oxymoron, stretching an injured muscle may help to alleviate severe pain. Should you decide to use stretching techniques, make sure to ask your doctor about the various exercises that will benefit you.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers are also entirely useful for shoulder swelling. These pain relievers can be purchased over-the-counter, and they will help to reduce pain temporarily. If a daily recommended dosage of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine proves to be useless, it may be wise to seek the advice of a medical doctor. Serious treatments such as cortisone injections and physical therapy may be prescribed after visiting with a medical doctor.

Frequently, shoulder swelling can be the result of a poor movement. This type of movement can occur when a person participates in a sport or activity that they are not familiar with. If you have recently participated in an unusual form of activity, the best course of action is to take an anti-inflammatory pain reliever followed by an ice treatment and rest. More often than not, these simple treatments will reduce swelling and alleviate pain.

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Discussion Comments
By Mammmood — On Jul 04, 2011

@janeAir - I totally agree about the ice. I was diagnosed with bursitis and tendinitis resulting in neck and shoulder pain and I was told to ice the swollen area. In addition, I was give a range of exercises to perform each day meant to strengthen my muscles and straighten out my shoulder.

Both of these have helped. I also had to pay attention to correcting my posture, as this is what caused the problem in the first place.

If these treatments don't work, your doctor will probably recommend cortisone but that should be a last resort, as cortisone has been shown to weaken muscles through prolonged use.

By KaBoom — On Jul 04, 2011

@JaneAir - Very sensible tips. I would like to add that stretching can help injuries, it can also help avoid injuries!

Stretching should be done before physical activities but I know a lot of people who don't do it. And of the people who do, very few remember to stretch their shoulders! This doesn't make sense to me as shoulder stretches are fairly simple and not very time consuming at all.

By JaneAir — On Jul 03, 2011

It seems counterintuitive to ice a sore area but trust me that is what you're supposed to do! Even though it feels good heat causes expansion so it can actually make the initial swelling worse. I learned this the hard way a few years ago.

Also I would like to reiterate how important it is to go to the doctor for shoulder swelling and pain. Without a proper diagnosis you won't know how to treat the shoulder pain and it's pretty difficult to diagnose yourself!

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