Tricks for Treating Shoulder Pain

by Christina Lasich, MD Health Professional

Very few joints in the body work harder than the shoulder joint. Pushing, pulling, reaching, lifting; the shoulder does it all. And all that work can lead to a painful problem like rotator cuff tendonitis, a rotator cuff tear, shoulder bursitis, or shoulder arthritis. How can you keep that shoulder moving comfortably and get through some shoulder aches and pains? A few tips and tricks can come in handy some day or maybe even today when wicked shoulder pain comes your way.

Trick #1: Icing; when icing your shoulder, especially an inflamed rotator cuff, place the hand of the same limb behind your back. This "back-pocket" position exposes the shoulder tendons which hide underneath the shoulder bone (the acromion) to the ice. The ice pack (like a sack of frozen peas) is positioned slightly forward near the collarbone. Leave the ice on the area for 15 to 20 minutes.

Trick #2: Massage; after icing an inflamed rotator cuff, find the most painful spot and rub it against the grain. This age-old technique is called cross-fiber friction massage. Try rubbing back and forth for one minute a few times per day to help eliminate swelling and scar tissue formation. This massage technique does not feel good, but icing the shoulder before and after helps to numb the area before applying the painful friction massage.

Trick #3: Rebalance; the biggest reason that shoulders develop so many problems is that these joints get out of balance. As the front (anterior) chest muscles like the pectoral muscles become shortened and stronger over time, the back (posterior) chest muscles like the rhomboids get weaker and stretched. This imbalance between the major shoulder muscle groups causes the shoulder to drift forward, impinging the muscles and the bones together. By stretching the front muscles and strengthening the back muscles, the shoulder joint can be rebalanced.

Trick #4: Shrug; shrugging the shoulders before lifting. Many folks have drooping shoulders. For some drooping shoulders cause problems like stretching the sensitive nerves in the area. For example, thoracic outlet syndrome is also known as "drooping shoulder syndrome" because the constant stretch on the nerves causes pain, numbness, and tingling down the arm. By shrugging the shoulders before lifting, your protective muscles are engaged and minimizing the tension on the nerves. Eventually, a strengthening program for your trapezius muscle can help eliminate the drooping shoulders.

Trick #5: Resting; such a hard working joint like the shoulder joint needs a rest once and a while. Using arm rests on a chair can help a great deal to ease the work load. Even putting your hands in the pockets of your jacket or pants relieves the weight of the arms off the shoulders. And in order to rest the rotator cuff, you should also keep your elbows at your sides. Without the elbows flapping out there in the breeze like chicken wings, the rotator cuff is able to rest and recover from overuse. With a little rest, wicked shoulder pain can be relieved.

A lot of shoulder problems can be self treated or avoided all together just by utilizing these five shoulder tricks: icing, massaging, rebalancing, shrugging and resting. So, tuck these tricks into your bag of treats and bring them out on a wicked day of shoulder pain. Eventually, your hard working shoulder will need a few tricks up your sleeve.

Christina Lasich, MD
Meet Our Writer
Christina Lasich, MD

Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.