Our shoulders have the widest ranges of motion in our bodies, so when they’re out of commission due to pain, it can be very limiting and frustrating. Shoulder pain has many causes and levels of intensity. Whether your pain is caused by injury, muscle soreness, a chronic condition, or otherwise, a chiropractor can help you ease your pain and build strength and flexibility in that area to decrease your chances of injury in the future.
But, what do you do when you’re not at the chiropractor? To maximize your shoulder health, there are some steps you can take in between chiropractic sessions to ensure you’re getting the best treatment possible – both at home and in the doctor’s office. Read on to learn about the common causes and best treatments of shoulder pain, along with what you can do in between chiropractic sessions to decrease your shoulder pain. It’s easier than you think!
Common Causes of Shoulder Pain
Your shoulder is basically a ball-and-socket type of joint consisting of three bones, two joints, a rotator cuff with four tendons, and cartilage to cushion all of this and help it work together to give you the most mobile joint in your body. The three bones are the clavicle (or the collarbone), the scapula (or shoulder blade), and the humerus in the top of your arm. The joints include the acromioclavicular joint in between the scapula and the clavicle, and the glenohumeral joint at the top of the arm bone and the scapula.
As you can tell, there are a lot of elements working together here to give you the widest range of motion in the human body – forward, backward, and all around! But that also makes the shoulder very susceptible to injury, as all of these muscles, bones, and joints can be injured or irritated in many different ways. While shoulders are strong and flexible, they’re just as at-risk for injury as any other part of our bodies.
Short of a full-on fracture, which would require a high amount of care, shoulder pain is usually caused by one of the following:
Tendinitis in the rotator cuff is the most common causes of shoulder pain. This is simply an inflammation of the tendons around the rotator cuff, which can feel like the entire shoulder is inflamed and in pain. In this case, it’s painful or almost impossible to move your shoulder in any direction since you can’t rotate it.
You can easily overexert your shoulder in a number of ways; playing sports, manual labor, lifting heavy objects, performing repetitive movements, or working out without proper alignment or form can all overexert the joint. You may think you can handle more than your shoulder actually can, and this could lead to pain or injury.
In more extreme cases, you may have dislocated the arm bone from the joint entirely. This happens when the arm is pulled back too hard, rotated too extremely, or during a fall or other injury. Here, you will probably feel pain, but you also may get a numbing sensation of the area and may lose feeling in the arm and hands as well.
Shoulder pain may also be caused by an injury to any part of the shoulder area, particularly the joints. If you took a fall or injured yourself in sports or at work, you may experience shoulder pain as a result of torn cartilage in the area, which can then feel like its spreading to the other bones, muscles, and tendons in your shoulder. A cartilage tear is intensely painful.
Your shoulder pain may also be caused by chronic health conditions like arthritis, especially osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. As we age and our bodies are more susceptible to these kinds of degenerative diseases, it is more likely that the fluid and cushioning in our joints will decrease, leaving us with pain and discomfort.
Another type of shoulder pain is “referred pain,” which just means that your shoulder is overcompensating for, or caused by, an injury or pain in another part of your body. For example, if you have a back injury, your shoulder may be working overtime to compensate for that lost strength, causing pain there as well.
There are countless other causes for shoulder pain – a pinched nerve, frozen shoulder, and bursitis to name a few – but let’s get into some of the treatments, both at home and at the chiropractor’s office, you can take advantage of to manage, reduce, or even get rid of your shoulder pain entirely.
The most effective way to treat shoulder pain is under the regular care of a chiropractor. The doctor will assess the damage and cause of the pain, likely asking you questions such as:
- Can you show me where the pain is located?
- Is it a sharp or dull pain?
- Has there been any inflammation?
- Does it hurt more when you move it?
And more. After assessing the pain and determining the cause with a few lifestyle questions, they will determine how often you should come in and be adjusted in order to heal properly and effectively in the quickest way possible.
In extreme cases like severe injury or chronic disease that’s affecting the joint, more extreme measures like prescription medication or a brace may be the best treatment option for you. But anything short of that will likely just need some regular chiropractic visits, along with some of the best practices below that you should be doing in between visits to keep your shoulder healthy and pain-free.
What You Should Be Doing At Home
While visiting the chiropractor regularly is a great start to getting rid of shoulder pain, doing some of these practices at home in between visits will yield the absolute best results for you.
A nice cold compress will help alleviate most types of shoulder pain. It will cool, calm, and soothe any inflammation, and also numb any other type of pain at the surface level with time. If you’re making your cold compress with ice, which is preferred, make sure to wrap it in a fairly thick towel, as ice directly on the skin can cause irritation.
More often than not you’ll want to use a cold compress, but sometimes a hot compress can work wonders for shoulder pain too. This is great to use for easing muscle tension. If your shoulder is referred from a neck or back injury, or if you overexerted your shoulder muscles in a workout muscle tension is likely the root cause of your shoulder pain. If that’s the case for you, try a heat pack instead of a cold compress.
In some cases, wrapping an elastic medical bandage around the shoulder can act as an all-day compress to ease inflammation as well. This is also helpful if you have a dislocation or other condition that implies that the shoulder needs some stability in order to function properly. You can find these elastic bandages in pretty much any drugstore.
Over the Counter Pain Medication
If these don’t help or aren’t available to you, over the counter pain medication can also really help people with shoulder pain, especially if it isn’t chronic. Acetaminophen, branded as Tylenol, ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) all help ease inflammation and pain receptors so you feel less pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, are also an option you can find over the counter if inflammation is the root cause of your pain.
The most important thing you can do, especially if the pain has just started, is to rest the area. Lay off any activity that may have caused the pain in the first place, and get plenty of rest to let your body heal and recover. As you sleep, it may benefit you to try not to roll over onto the shoulder that has pain, as this can create more muscle tension and compression in the joint, or create an unnatural alignment of the bones.
Ease Back Into Normal Activity
When you’re feeling better and in the stages of recovery, resist the urge to jump back into your regular activities all at once. While you may feel better, it’s likely that you’ll have to build some strength back up in your shoulder before you’re able to do what you did previously. And as we know, overexertion can lead to further injury, creating a vicious cycle here. Ease into it!
You may be wondering just how to build that strength back up in a healthy, safe way considering the pain or injured area. There are a few gentle stretches and exercises that will help you decrease shoulder pain and build strength and flexibility in that area to prevent future injury:
- Back Stretch: Hold your left hand out in front of you. Using your right hand, pull your left arm in front of and across your chest. If you feel any pain or tension in your shoulder here, move your arm down or not so far across your chest until you’re comfortable. Hold here for a few seconds. Repeat 3-5 times, and on the opposite side.
- Neck Stretch: Sitting up straight with good posture, tilt your chin down to meet your chest until you feel a slight stretch in the back of your neck. Hold here for a few seconds, then gently and gradually move your head to the left, stretching out the right shoulder and neck area. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute. Move back to center with your chin at your chest, and repeat on the opposite side. Do this for however long you’d like.
- Chest Stretch: After that neck stretch, take an exercise band or a bar and hold it in both hands behind you. Tilt your chin up so that you are looking up and opening up the chest while compressing the shoulders. If you can, gently pull outward to stretch and strengthen the shoulder muscles.
- Twist: Again, seated in an upright position with good posture, sit with crossed legs and place your right hand on your left thigh. Bring your left hand behind you, and try to look behind you as far as you can. This will stretch the neck and shoulders and increase the mobility of the area. Hold for about 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Shoulder pain can be anything from annoying to downright painful and disruptive. The shoulder is the most complex and mobile part of our entire body, and there are a lot of ways that its function can be disturbed, which can cause you pain and discomfort.
Luckily, regular visits to a chiropractor can not only alleviate shoulder pain but also prevent it in the future. Maintaining proper alignment and treatment can ease any stress or pressure on that area of the body, allowing you to properly build strength, flexibility, and joint health in the shoulder over time, leaving it less susceptible to injury.
However, you may only see your chiropractor a few times per week. What should you do in the meantime? There are many things you can do at home to decrease shoulder pain in a safe and effective way.
You can try cold or hot compresses, over the counter pain medication, and light stretching and exercises, but the most important thing to do is to rest the area and not rush back into any potentially harmful activities. Easing back into your old habits and movements is imperative to assuring your shoulder is strong enough to handle them again, and they should only be done once all of the pain is gone.
What is your experience with shoulder pain? If you’ve ever had any, was it from an injury? What were some home remedy tips that you used that seemed to work? Share your experiences with us below!
About the Author
Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab and has been a chiropractor for over 20 years. His practice has treated thousands of patients from different health problems using services designed to help give long-lasting relief.
Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe, Organic Facts, and Thrive Global. He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. And he continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.