One of the problems that people who have desk jobs most frequently complain about is pain around the shoulder blades.
In fact, shoulder pain is common among people who work with their arms extended in front of them – be it typing on a computer keyboard, cooking, carrying children, lifting heavy objects or washing dishes.
Some other causes of shoulder pain include a broken arm or collarbone, bursitis, a dislocated shoulder, frozen shoulder, osteoarthritis, a rotator cuff injury, sprains and strains along with torn cartilage, to name a few. Other much less common causes are a tumor, an infection, or a nerve-related problem.
Shoulder pain may arise from the shoulder joint itself or from the surrounding muscles, ligaments or tendons. Pain that arises from the joint worsens with activity or movement of the arm or shoulder.
When you have pain in your shoulders, it hampers your ability to move freely. Shoulder problems often take a long time to heal, so the earlier you address the pain, the better.
There are many simple and effective tips that can help you deal with shoulder pain and improve mobility.
Caution: In cases of severe shoulder pain, unusual behavior or vomiting, seek medical attention immediately.
Here are the top 10 effective tips to combat shoulder pain quickly.
1. Cold Compress
When it comes to shoulder pain, the first home treatment that you should try is applying a cold compress on the affected area.
The cold temperature will help numb the pain and aid in reducing inflammation. It will also limit the buildup of lactic acid, a by-product of muscle metabolism that can increase muscle soreness and pain.
- Wrap some ice cubes in a thin towel.
- Hold it against the painful area for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Repeat every 2 hours for the first 48 hours.
Instead of ice, you can also use a bag of frozen peas in the same way.
Caution: Do not apply ice directly on the skin, as it can cause frostbite and make the condition even worse.
2. Heat Therapy
If your shoulder pain is not getting better even after using cold compresses for the first 48 hours, you can switch to heat therapy.
Heat will increase the blood flow to the area, which in turn will decrease stiffness and pain.
- Fill a hot water bag with hot water and place it on the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat a few times a day until you get complete relief.
- Alternatively, stand in the shower and run warm to slightly hot water on your shoulder for 5 to 10 minutes, twice daily. While enjoying the hot shower, try to stand still so the heat from the water permeates the affected area.
3. Compression and Elevation
Sometimes, the best thing you can do to fix shoulder pain is to rest the affected area for a couple of days. For this, using compression is a great idea. It will help general muscle soreness go away faster.
Compression puts even pressure on the painful area. Also, it gives ample support to your painful shoulders and makes you feel more comfortable.
- Compress the affected area by wrapping it with an elastic bandage or a warm wrap, which you can easily buy from the drug store. Use the compression wrap for a few days, or until the pain and swelling are gone.
- Also, keep your shoulder elevated with the help of pillows to promote proper blood flow to the area to facilitate healing.
Caution: Do not wrap the area too tightly. It can lead to poor circulation and worsen the condition.
4. Massage Therapy
Massage therapy is a good option to control shoulder pain. A gentle massage will help relax the stiff and tight muscles, while increasing blood circulation. This in turn will help reduce the pain.
Also, massage helps you sleep better, which is important for the healing process.
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.
- Before beginning the massage, take a hot bath or shower for 10 minutes to relax the tight muscles.
- Apply some warm olive, coconut or mustard oil on the affected area.
- Massage the oil over the area using firm yet gentle strokes for several minutes.
- To finish up the massage, glide both your hands down the back in long, flowing strokes.
- Put a warm towel on the affected area for 30 minutes.
- Do massage a few times daily until the pain subsides.
As massaging the shoulders on your own is usually not feasible, get help from a friend or a professional massage therapist.
Stretching is an effective way to treat shoulder pain. It restores joint movement and reduces pain.
It also encourages lengthening of your muscles, which in turn promotes flexibility and proper mobility.
You can use a number of different stretching methods, but one of the most effective is described below.
- Standing up straight, raise your shoulders and hold this position for 5 seconds or more.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades back and together, and hold this position for 5 seconds.
- Pull your shoulders blades downward and hold this position for 5 seconds.
- Relax and repeat this stretching exercise for 10 minutes.
- Do this 3 or 4 times a day.
6. Shoulder Rolls Exercise
This is an easy exercise that you can do while sitting down to release the tension in your shoulders and reduce the pain. It also helps release tight muscles in your neck and upper back.
- 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, then move your shoulders in backward circles.
- Do this exercise 4 or 5 times a day.
Those who sit in the same position for long hours at work, or even at home, can do this simple exercise standing instead of sitting.
7. Standing Pendulum Exercise
When performed correctly, the standing pendulum exercise is a great way to fix shoulder pain. By using the weight and momentum of your arm, this exercise encourages movement at the shoulder joint, which in turn helps reduce tension in your shoulder muscles.
This exercise also helps reduce joint stiffness as well as increases circulation and improves healing.
- Stand beside a sturdy table or chair.
- Rest one of your hands on the table.
- Allow your other arm to hang down freely.
- Swing it gently backward, forward and in circular motions.
- Repeat 5 to 10 times.
- Then, do the same with the other arm.
- Do this simple exercise 2 or 3 times a day.
Caution: If you have severe shoulder pain, do this exercise only under the direction of a doctor or physical therapist.
8. Acupressure and Acupuncture
Acupuncture and acupressure, traditional Chinese treatments, are beneficial and effective for relieving pain and improving shoulder function.
In acupuncture, a therapist uses thin needles to apply pressure to specific points that help ease 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 potential positive role of acupuncture in treating shoulder pain. It is a good alternative, especially for patients developing adverse effects related to drugs. However, a large-scale, rigorously designed study is needed to confirm the results.
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 the best results.
9. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is important for cartilage and muscle functioning. Lack of adequate vitamin D in the body can cause general muscle pain as well as muscle cramps.
Also, low vitamin D 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.
- Vitamin D is best acquired through exposing the skin to direct sunlight in the early morning 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 like some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk and cereals.
- You can opt to take a supplement, but only after consulting your doctor.
10. Anti-Inflammatory Foods
To relieve shoulder pain and reduce inflammation, include anti-inflammatory foods in your diet. There are many foods that are rich in anti-inflammatory properties that can help provide some pain relief.
Eat anti-inflammatory foods and herbs like tart cherries, olive oil, sage, ginger, turmeric, green tea, salmon, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cloves, garlic, and pineapple, to name a few.
All of these foods have a place in a healthy diet, and eating and cooking with them is easy.
- Smokers should quit smoking to allow more oxygen to reach the injured area.
- Avoid unnecessary shoulder movements for several days to lessen pain. Also, avoid difficult activities like lifting heavy objects or playing tennis.
- You may also get relief by taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicine.
- Another option is to apply a gel containing 0.0125 percent capsaicin topically on the affected area.
- Strive to maintain good posture to help your shoulders heal quickly.
- Use a thicker pillow while sleeping to provide enough support to your painful shoulder.