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Managing Shoulder Pain or Injury

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Heat and cold can be used for short-term pain relief. Try both to see which works best for you.

Pain medication such as acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen can help reduce the initial pain and inflammation so you can get active and start exercising. Check with your doctor first to ensure that the pain medication is right for you if you have other medical conditions. Take the recommended dose at the recommended intervals to manage your pain. If your pain is not improving with over-the-counter medication see your doctor and they may prescribe a medication that can help you.

Some patients have reported doing pendular exercises throughout the day and night helps reduce pain. Try to see if it works for you.  

Regardless of whether you are sitting or lying down, ensure your arm is supported in a position where your elbow/hand does not fall or rest behind the midline of your body.

In sitting, use an arm rest or place a pillow under your elbow to support your arm. Make sure you are not reaching down to the arm rest or propping it too high, such that you shoulder is pushed up toward your ear. You may also feel more comfortable with support under your elbow while driving.

When lying on your back, place a pillow or folded towel under your elbow and upper arm to keep it level or above the midline of your body. You may also find having the pillow placed under and between your arm and chest more comfortable.

Many people find it very uncomfortable or painful to lie on the injured or painful side.

When lying on your good side, you may want to place a large pillow in front of you to “hug” and support your arm from dropping across the front of your body or place a pillow between your elbow and side.

In extreme cases of night pain, some patients have found it helpful to sleep in a more upright position such as a recliner or propped up on pillows in a slightly reclined sitting position. Make sure to support behind your elbow so your elbow doesn’t fall back behind the midline of your body.

Movement is important and it can help us heal. You should continue to move in your pain-free range. Do not avoid moving or using your shoulder for activities of daily living.

  • Keep all arm and hand movement in front of your body. Do not reach behind you with your hand e.g. reaching into the back seat of your vehicle. Support your arm so your elbow and hand are always in line with or in front of your shoulder.
  • Minimize prolonged repetitive positions or activities at or above shoulder height.
  • Avoid heavy lifting, pushing or pulling with the affected arm at home or at the gym.
  • Avoid long lever lifting. Keep anything of weight or load close to your body.
  • Keep good posture!  Posture affects our shoulder mobility. Poor posture limits how far we can lift our arms overhead. Poor posture can
    also cause impingement in the shoulder which can be painful. Good posture will help decrease pain and improve your shoulder mobility.
  • When moving your arm/shoulder, ensure you do not shrug your shoulder toward your ear. Keep your shoulder down when lifting your
    arm up. This will minimize neck-related issues and stress on the rotator cuff (impingement).
  • It is okay to work into soreness or stiffness when doing exercises but sharp pain, pinching pain or catching is not.  You should be stretching to, but not far beyond, the edge of discomfort. Pushing to the proper limit will slowly tell the body where to heal and lengthen to improve mobility.   
  • The general rule is IF IT HURTS DON’T DO IT.

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