How does the shoulder work?
What can be done to help?
Rest and exercise
Aim for a balance between rest and activity
The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the
If your pain has a particular cause, like
to prevent the shoulder from stiffening.
body. The main shoulder joint is a ball-and-
arthritis, treating that condition may help.
Pace yourself to start with and try to do a
socket joint, which allows a very wide range
Following the self-help tips and exercises
bit more each day. Try to avoid movements
of movement. The joint is surrounded by
here will also help, but if your pain isn’t
that are most painful, especially those
a tough fibrous sleeve called the capsule,
improving after about 2 weeks then
that hold your arm away from your body
which helps to hold the joint together. A group
you should speak to your GP.
and above shoulder height. It’s important
of four muscles and their tendons make
to remain active, even if you have to limit
up the rotator cuff, which controls movement
how much you do.
Painkillers such as paracetamol and
and also helps to hold the joint together.
ibuprofen may help and you should
There’s another smaller joint where the top
use them if you need to. It’s important
of the shoulder blade meets the collarbone.
Don’t sit leaning forwards with your arm
that you take them regularly and at the
held tightly by your side. This position can
recommended dose to help you control the
What causes shoulder pain?
make the problem worse, especially if some
pain and allow you to continue exercising.
There are many causes of shoulder pain, but
of the pain is coming from your neck. When
Don’t wait until your pain is severe before
most cases will only affect a small area and
sitting, keep a pillow or cushion behind your
taking painkillers. You can also rub anti-
are relatively short-lived. Shoulder pain may
lower back with your arm supported on a
inflammatory cream directly onto the
also be part of a general condition such as
cushion on your lap.
rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis.
You shouldn’t take ibuprofen or aspirin if
Reducing the strain
Shoulder pain isn’t always caused by a
you’re pregnant or have asthma, indigestion
When raising your arm or lifting objects,
problem in the shoulder joint – problems in
or an ulcer until you’ve spoken to your doctor
reduce the strain or pull on your shoulder by:
the neck can cause pain that’s felt over the
or pharmacist. Medication can have side-
keeping your elbow bent and in front
shoulder blade or in the upper outer arm.
effects so you should read the label carefully
of your body
and check with your pharmacist if you have
keeping your palm facing the ceiling.
Main features of the shoulder
To lower your arm, bend your elbow,
bringing your hand closer to your body.
If your shoulder pain is affecting your activity
Your pain should ease within 2
and is persisting, ask your GP about referral
weeks and you should recover over
to a physiotherapist. Physiotherapy can
approximately a 4–6 week period.
help you to manage pain and improve your
strength and flexibility. A physiotherapist can
You should carry on with the exercises
provide a variety of treatments, help you
overleaf for at least 6–8 weeks to help
prevent symptoms returning.
understand your problem and get you back
to your normal activities.
If you have severe pain or your
symptoms haven’t improved after
2 weeks, contact your doctor.