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As far as minor shoulder pain is concerned, you can effectively manage or even treat the problem at home, too. There are several remedies, simple exercises, and certain lifestyle changes that can help you shake off that shoulder ache and keep you safe from falling victim to it again.
However, it is advisable to consult a doctor if the symptoms seem to be worsening.
Home Remedies to Soothe Shoulder Pain
Here are some home remedies for shoulder pain.
1. Apply a cold compress
Cold compresses are highly beneficial in alleviating shoulder pain. The cold temperature helps numb the area, which in turn reduces inflammation and pain. (1)
How to use:
- Put some ice cubes in a plastic bag and wrap the bag in a thin towel.
- Place it on the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes.
- For swelling, reapply the compress after two hours.
- Keep doing this until the swelling and pain subsides.
Alternatively, you can also soak a towel in cold water and apply it on the distressed shoulder.
Note: Do not place ice directly on the skin as it can cause frostbite.
2. Apply a hot compress for relief
Just like cold compresses, hot compresses also help treat shoulder pain, inflammation, and swelling. (1)
It is, however, best to use hot compresses at least 48 hours after the injury has occurred. Hot compresses also help relieve the pain stemming from tense muscles.
How to use:
- Fill a hot water bag with hot water and apply it on the aching shoulder for 10 to 15 minutes while lying down comfortably. Repeat a few times a day until the pain goes away for good.
- Also, you can stand in the shower and run warm to slightly hot water on your shoulder for 5 to 10 minutes. Try to keep still while exposing your shoulder to the soothing stream of water.
- Additionally, you can enjoy a hot shower twice daily.
3. Compression and elevation can help soothe the pain
According to the Arthritis Foundation, both compression and elevation can help reduce shoulder pain and swelling, especially if the problem is associated with arthritis. (2)
Compression means putting even pressure on the painful area to help reduce the swelling. A compression wrap gives ample support to your shoulder and makes you feel comfortable.
On the other hand, elevation helps to promote proper blood flow to the affected area, which, in turn, facilitates faster healing.
How to use:
- You can compress the affected area using an elastic bandage or a warm wrap, which are readily available at most pharmacies. Wrap the affected area for a few days or until the pain and swelling are gone.
- Also, keep your shoulder elevated with the help of pillows to promote healing.
Note: Avoid securing the wrap too tightly as it can lead to poor circulation and thereby can worsen the condition.
4. Massage the affected area
Massage is another good way to reduce shoulder pain. A gentle massage will help your shoulder muscles release stress and tension. In addition, it will improve blood circulation and reduce swelling and stiffness.
In a 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis of 15 studies published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, researchers found that massage therapy had a significant effect on reducing shoulder pain for short- and long-term efficacy. (3)
You can also get someone else to give your shoulder a nice and gentle therapeutic rub. For the purpose of massaging, olive, coconut, sesame, or mustard oil will work just fine.
How to perform:
- Before beginning the massage, take a hot bath or shower for 10 minutes to relax the tight muscles.
- Warm the oil slightly and apply it on the shoulder.
- Gently squeeze the shoulder muscles and apply pressure to relieve pain and encourage blood flow.
- Massage for about 10 minutes, and then put a warm towel on the affected area for best results.
- Do massage therapy a few times daily until the pain subsides.
Note: Do not massage the injured area if it seems to aggravate your pain.
5. Perform shoulder stretching and strengthening exercises
Exercise that targets the shoulder is an effective way to treat shoulder pain. It restores joint movement and reduces pain.
Stretching exercises are especially beneficial as they encourage lengthening of your muscles, which in turn promotes flexibility and proper mobility. Strengthening exercises are also effective.
A 2003 study published in Occupational & Environmental Medicine reports that a home exercise routine that includes shoulder stretching and strengthening exercises can be effective in reducing symptoms and improving the function of the shoulder. (4)
Another 2018 study published in Trials highlights the effectiveness of adding a simple shoulder strengthening exercise program to your daily schedule for mitigating shoulder pain. (5)
Aside from alleviating injury- or muscle strain-related shoulder pain, exercise has been found to relieve shoulder pain related to breast cancer treatment as well. (6)
You can use a number of different stretching methods, but one of the most effective is described below.
How to perform:
- Standing up straight, raise your shoulders and hold this position for 5 seconds or more.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades back and together. Hold this position for 5 seconds.
- Pull your shoulder blades downward and hold this position for 5 seconds.
- Relax and repeat this stretching exercise for 10 minutes.
- Do this three or four times a day.
Another exercise beneficial for shoulder pain is the “shoulder rolls” exercise.
To do this exercise:
- Sit with your feet together or slightly apart.
- Lift your chest gently as you straighten your back.
- Lift your shoulders up toward your ears and start making small forward circles by gently rolling your shoulders forward, down, back, and up.
- Breathe normally while doing 5 to 10 forward circles.
- Take a break for a few seconds, and then move your shoulders in backward circles.
- Do this exercise four or five times a day.
6. Acupressure and acupuncture therapy can help
Acupuncture and acupressure, which are traditional Chinese treatments, are beneficial and effective for relieving pain and improving shoulder function. (7)
In acupuncture, a therapist uses thin needles to apply pressure to specific points, helping ease the pain. Acupressure is performed on the same points but without the needles.
A 2015 study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases highlights the potentially positive role of acupuncture in treating shoulder pain. It is a good alternative, especially for patients who regularly experience the adverse effects of traditional drugs. However, a large-scale, rigorously designed study is needed to confirm the results. (8)
Some of the acupressure points to ease shoulder pain are LI 15, LI 16, SI 9, SI 10, SI 11, and SI 12. Always get acupressure and acupuncture done by an expert for optimal relief.
7. Take proper rest
To treat shoulder pain and reduce the associated discomforts, resting the affected area can help a lot. Keeping your pain-ridden shoulder free from any undue exertion is an important prerequisite in reducing pain and inflammation. However, keeping the joint completely immobile can also be counterintuitive to wholesome recovery.
Even the experts at American Family Physician recommend active rest. One must avoid lifting heavy objects when suffering from shoulder pain. However, it is recommended to keep moving the shoulder from time to time. (9)
A 2005 study published in the BMJ reports that any kind of rotator cuff disorders should be treated initially with relative rest of the shoulder. (10)
So, if you are experiencing shoulder pain, reduce or stop the activities that make the pain worse. However, try to move the shoulder gently. This is important as it helps to keep the shoulder muscles strong and flexible.
8. Ensure adequate vitamin D intake
Vitamin D is important for cartilage and muscle functioning. Lack of adequate vitamin D in the body can cause general muscle pain and muscle cramps.
Also, a low vitamin D level does not allow calcium to reach the skeletal system. Hence, increasing vitamin D intake can be beneficial for those suffering from shoulder pain.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience notes that vitamin D supplementation works as a useful prophylactic for muscle pain. (11)
Another 2016 study published in the Journal of Inflammation Research found vitamin D to positively influence bone and muscle healing. However, more research is needed to conclusively determine the role of vitamin D in skeletal tendon health and healing. (12)
How to consume:
- Vitamin D is best acquired through direct sun exposure, preferably early in the morning when sunlight is at its clearest best and for about 10 minutes.
- Also, you can eat foods rich in vitamin D, such as fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, and salmon), egg yolks, and vitamin D-fortified foods, including some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals.
- You can opt to take a supplement as well, but only after consulting your doctor.
9. Try using ginger
Ginger contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce pain and inflammation of any kind, including shoulder pain.
A study published in Pain Medicine in 2011 highlights the anti-inflammatory role of ginger constituents, which may reduce the subjective experience of pain in some conditions such as osteoarthritis. (13)
In addition, it improves blood circulation which promotes quick recovery.
How to use:
- Drink 2 to 3 cups of ginger tea daily. To make the tea, simmer 1 tablespoon of sliced ginger in 1½ to 2 cups of water for 10 minutes. Strain, add honey, and drink it.
- You can mix ginger oil with olive oil and then use it to massage the affected shoulder two to three times a day.
- You can also take ginger supplements after consulting your doctor.
10. Use turmeric
Turmeric is a good remedy to relieve pain in your shoulder. The curcumin in turmeric contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce pain and swelling.
A 2017 study published in the journal Foods highlights the benefit of curcumin in inflammatory conditions and its role in reducing pain. (14)
- Make a paste by mixing 2 tablespoons of turmeric powder and 1 or more tablespoons of coconut oil. Rub this paste over the sore muscles and let it dry. Rinse it off with warm water. Repeat twice daily until the pain is gone.
- Add 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder to 1 cup of milk and boil it. Sweeten it with honey and drink it twice daily to promote healing from within.
- You can also take 250 mg to 500 mg turmeric capsules up to three times daily. Consult your doctor for the correct dosage.
Note: Avoid excessive intake of turmeric if you are on blood-thinning medication.
11. Take an Epsom salt bath
Epsom salt, made up of magnesium sulfate, can help reduce shoulder pain. It helps to improve blood circulation and relax stressed shoulder muscles. It also helps relieve stress from the entire body.
How to do:
- Fill your bathtub with warm or tolerably hot water.
- Add 2 cups of Epsom salt and stir thoroughly.
- Soak in this water with your shoulder submerged for 20 to 25 minutes.
- Do this up to 3 times a week.
12. Try using apple cider vinegar
When it comes to treating shoulder pain, another effective household ingredient is apple cider vinegar. It has anti-inflammatory and alkalizing properties that can help reduce pain and inflammation.
How to use:
- Add 2 cups of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar to a bathtub of warm water. Soak in this water for 20 to 30 minutes. Enjoy this relaxing bath once daily for a few days.
- You can also drink a glass of warm water mixed with 1 tablespoon of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar and a little honey twice daily for a week to promote quick recovery.
13. Lavender essential oil can help soothe the pain
Lavender oil is an excellent essential oil that can relax tired muscles. This aids in reducing pain and inflammation.
How to use:
- Add a few drops of lavender essential oil to hot or warm bathwater. Soak your entire body in this soothing bath for 30 minutes. Do this once daily to relax your sore shoulder muscles.
- Mix a few drops of lavender essential oil in 1 to 2 tablespoons of warm olive oil. Use this to massage the tense and aching shoulder muscles for 10 minutes, twice daily, for a few days.
Additional Tips to Deal With Shoulder Pain
- Maintain good posture to help your shoulder muscles heal quickly.
- When experiencing shoulder pain, keep your elbow at your side in order to give your shoulder a break.
- You can even try some simple neck stretching exercises to treat the problem.
- Use a thick pillow while sleeping to give enough support to your neck and shoulder.
- You can even apply a gel containing 0.0125 percent capsaicin topically on the affected area to reduce pain.
- Do not smoke or use other tobacco products as they can slow down the healing process.
Shoulder pain should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. If you threw too much or lifted too much and your pain gets better with rest, then it is likely that there is not a major injury.
However, if you have weakness or instability associated with the pain, then that is usually a sign that additional investigation should be done. If your shoulder pops out of joint or there was a major injury, then you should see a doctor.