The shoulder joint has several different muscles that help it to move, protect it, and allow it the wide range of motion it enjoys. When one or more of these muscles is pulled or strained it can affect even the smallest movements. As a result, a pulled shoulder muscle can make simple activities difficult, painful, and downright impossible. Read on to discover the best treatment and recovery options for a pulled shoulder muscle.
The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint that allows for a wide range of motion. Pulling a muscle in the shoulder can be caused by an injury, overuse, or general wear and tear. Minor shoulder injuries should heal on their own with some at-home remedies. More severe shoulder muscle problems should be addressed by a medical professional.
Common Pulled Shoulder Muscle Causes
Pulling a muscle in your shoulder can happen quickly, as in falling on your shoulder or in a car accident. It can also develop after months or years of repetitive motion and overuse, as is common among those who play certain sports or work jobs where they perform repetitive motions with the shoulders. They can also just sort of happen, with no apparent cause. No matter what the cause, recovery depends on the type and severity of the injury.
Common Shoulder Muscle Injuries
The shoulder joint is surrounded by several different muscles and tendons that help it move, provide support, and give it protection. Since the shoulder can do so much, it’s a fairly common area for a pulled or strained muscle. There are several different shoulder muscle injuries that fall under the umbrella terms of “pulled” or “strained.”
- Rotator Cuff Tear
- Shoulder Tear
- Shoulder Strain
- Shoulder Sprain
- Pulled Muscle in Shoulder Blade
How to Tell If It’s a Pulled Muscle or Something Else
Unless you’re a medical professional or you’ve experienced this specific type of pain before, it can be hard to tell exactly what the cause is. After all, shoulder pain can be caused by things other than a pulled muscle, like inflammation of the tendons and joints. It can also be caused by the joint itself. So, here are a few ways to tell what is causing the shoulder pain.
Pulled Shoulder Muscle Symptoms
- Pain in the shoulder blade area due to a pulled muscle is characterized by a dull, sore, or aching pain. Sometimes it can cause shooting pain in the area between the shoulder blades. This can cause pain in the front or back of the shoulder.
- Shoulder instability is common for injuries to the muscles or tendons of the shoulder. The shoulder feels fragile, movement causes pain, and a bump may develop at the top of the shoulder near the end of the collarbone.
- General pulled muscle symptoms include pain when the shoulder is at rest, pain when the specific muscle is used, tenderness and possible swelling of the area, and an inability to use the muscle at all.
Is A Pulled Shoulder Muscle Serious?
Most of the time a pulled shoulder muscle is not serious. If the pain isn’t severe and you haven’t been involved in an accident, it’s okay to try home remedies to reduce pain and help the shoulder heal, which we cover below. However, there are certain symptoms you should look out for that indicate a serious injury or medical problem. If you experience shoulder pain and any of the following, seek help from a medical professional.
- Severe and intense pain
- Severe, abrupt pain that has no apparent cause
- Numbness or pain in the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Coughing up blood
- Difficulty speaking or seeing clearly
- Sudden swelling, pain, or redness in the legs
- Paralysis on either side of the body
If you experience shoulder pain that doesn’t get better over time, it’s a good idea to seek professional help, even if the pain is mild. With the right treatment, you can reduce pain and recovery time quickly, getting you back to normal in no time.
Best Treatment and Recovery Options
Treatment and recovery vary from person to person and depends on the severity of the pull and the person’s overall health. Many people find that their pain is reduced with home remedies in 2 or 3 weeks. Chiropractic care for a pulled shoulder muscle can provide relief within 1 or 2 weeks.
1) Home Remedies for Pulled Shoulder Muscles
Depending on the severity of the pull and how much pain you’re experiencing, you may want to take a NSAID like Ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling. You can also do one or more of the following:
- Limit Your Rest
- If the issue is a new one, you’ll want to rest the shoulder for no more than 2 or 3 days. This allows the healing process to start and prevents you from injuring the area further.
- Wrap or Sling
- During your days of rest it can be hard to keep the shoulder from moving. To avoid this, you can wrap the shoulder or use a sling to support your arm. Just remember that you shouldn’t use these for more than 2 or 3 days, max.
- Ice for Swelling
- If you experience swelling of the shoulder, applying ice to the area can help. Make sure to place a cloth or towel between your skin and the ice pack and only apply it for 20 minutes an hour. The swelling should fade in a day or two.
- Gentle Stretching
- It’s important to get the muscle working again after 2 or 3 days of rest. Stretches can help the muscle group strengthen and heal. If you don’t stretch the muscle and keep from using it for a long time, you could make the injury worse and increase the risk of further injury. Read below for some recommended stretches.
2) Stretching a Pulled Shoulder
Stretching a pulled shoulder muscle can be counter-intuitive. If it hurts to move the shoulder, the common sense thing to do is to keep from moving it. However, this can cause more problems in the long run. Resting the shoulder is fine for a couple of days, but it needs to get back to normal. Not using the muscle can cause it to atrophy, meaning it will take longer to heal and the surrounding muscles will weaken. Here are some gentle stretches you can do for a pulled shoulder muscle.
- Cross-Body Shoulder Stretch
- Bring the affected arm across your body at an angle.
- Cup the elbow of the affected arm with your other hand.
- Use that hand to gently pull the arm toward your body, stretching the shoulder.
- Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat 3 to 5 times.
- Pendulum Stretch
- Bend over slightly, supporting your body by placing your unaffected arm on a table or chair.
- Allow your affected arm to hang straight down.
- Start by swinging the arm in small circles clockwise that gradually become larger.
- Perform for 1 minute, then perform counterclockwise for another minute.
- Repeat 4 to 8 times throughout the day.
3) Chiropractic Care for Pulled Shoulder Muscle
If home remedies don’t seem to be working, chiropractic care can help. Chiropractors use several different modalities to help treat pulled shoulder muscles. These include:
- Chiropractic Massage
- Electrical Stimulation
- Manual Stretching
- Ultrasound or Cold Laser Therapy to Reduce Pain and Swelling
- Lifestyle Tips
- Posture Correction Exercises
- Manual Adjustments
If the pain is persistent, it may be a sign that something other than a pulled muscle is causing the pain, like a pinched nerve or an issue with the joint. This is where a doctor of chiropractic can advise you on the best recovery options and get to the root of the issue. Most chiropractic patients see relief with 1 to 3 sessions.