How do I Treat Chronic Shoulder Pain?

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  • Written By: Vicki Hogue-Davies
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 16 May 2019
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To correctly treat chronic shoulder pain, it is important to first have your doctor diagnose what is causing it. The shoulder — a ball-and-socket joint — has a wide range of motion that can make it easily susceptible to strain and injury. Your doctor usually can determine what the problem is and give you a plan to treat chronic shoulder pain. To treat chronic shoulder pain until your appointment with your doctor, try taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs containing aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Using an ice pack for 15 or 20 minutes several times a day also can help, as can restricting use of the painful shoulder.

There are a range of treatments to treat chronic shoulder pain after the cause has been determined. Some possible reasons for chronic shoulder pain are arthritis, a torn rotator cuff, tendinitis and bursitis. Other problems that cause shoulder pain can include general shoulder strain and sprain from overuse or a stiff shoulder brought on by lack of use following injury or surgery.


In milder cases of chronic shoulder pain, your doctor might advise you to take over-the-counter medications regularly. You might wish to ask your doctor about combining an over-the-counter drug containing acetaminophen with one containing ibuprofen, which can sometimes be helpful against pain. A prescription anti-inflammatory drug that reduces inflammation and pain also might help. Sometimes the painful shoulder will be injected with a corticosteroid, or steroidal drug, to reduce inflammation and pain. Using cold packs or heat on the affected area also can help.

Other treatments for chronic shoulder pain can include using ultrasound to warm underlying tissues and improve blood flow. Stretching and strengthening exercises, performed under the supervision of a physical therapist or doctor and continued at home once the stretches and exercises are learned, can help strengthen the shoulder over the long term and can reduce pain. Surgery to replace an arthritic shoulder joint, repair rotator cuff tears or relieve pressure and repair damage from bursitis is another possible option in more extreme cases. Surgical options normally would be used after less invasive options have been tried and have not been successful.

When you visit your doctor, he or she will talk to you about your medical history to determine possible causes of your chronic shoulder pain. He or she will test your range of motion and perform other tests of the affected shoulder. The doctor might then order an X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test or other procedure to discover the cause of your chronic shoulder pain.



Discuss this Article

Post 3

Alternating between heat and cold compresses is great for shoulder pain. I also take fish oil and glucosamine supplements. These improve my body's ability to heal.

Post 2

@SarahGen-- When I had chronic shoulder pain from tendinitis, my doctor told me that I have to rest. If your job requires that you lift things, you might want to take some time off and get bed rest.

A month is a very long time and you don't want to make this injury worse. You can suffer for years if you don't take care of it. I think you should see your doctor. The most you will need will be an x-ray.

Tendinitis heals on its own with rest and anti-inflammatory medications but I know there are other more serious causes of chronic shoulder pain that requires stronger medications like steroids and even physical therapy. If nothing else, you should see your doctor for proper pain management. It doesn't sound like what you're taking now is relieving your pain.

Post 1

I did strained my shoulder while lifting something heavy at work over a month ago. I still have pain from it. I apply ice on it every day and I take pain relievers but it's not getting better.

I'd see a doctor but I don't want to get caught up in endless testing. I don't think it's extremely serious. I just want the pain to stop.

What can I do?

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