How do I Treat a Sprained Shoulder?

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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 22 October 2019
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A sprained shoulder occurs when one of the ligaments that supports the shoulder becomes excessively stretched or partially torn. This may occur due to a fall, a direct blow to the shoulder, or a forced twisting of the affected arm. Symptoms of a sprained shoulder may include pain, swelling, or a decreased ability to move the affected arm or shoulder. Treatment options may include rest, ice therapy, or supportive devices such as a brace or sling.

If a sprained shoulder is suspected, a doctor should be consulted in order to have the extent of the damage medically evaluated. In many instances, this condition can be successfully treated at home. Resting the affected shoulder is an important part of recovery, as too much movement could delay the healing process or cause further damage.

Ice therapy may help to reduce the pain and inflammation associated with this kind of injury. This treatment method is particularly useful during the first 24 to 48 hours following injury. An ice pack can be placed on the injured shoulder for about 15 minutes at a time and may be repeated several times per day.


Over-the-counter medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen may be helpful in easing the pain and reducing the inflammation associated with a sprain. If these medications do not provide sufficient pain relief, a doctor may prescribe stronger pain medications. Supportive devices such as slings or braces may help to stabilize the shoulder and make it easier to avoid overuse during the healing process.

After the pain from the injury begins to subside, gentle exercises may help to speed up the healing process and restore strength to the injured shoulder. If these exercises become painful, they should be discontinued until the shoulder has had a little more time to heal. A doctor or physical therapist should monitor the exercise program to make sure that the exercises are performed in a safe manner that avoids additional stress to the shoulder.

Occasionally, surgical intervention may become necessary to effectively treat this kind of injury. This is not common and is usually indicated only if there has been significant damage involving the shoulder ligaments or surrounding structures. If surgery does become necessary, it is particularly important to try to avoid future injuries to the shoulder, as these ligaments may continue to be a bit weaker than they were before the original sprained shoulder.


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Post 3

After a shoulder sprain, using soft, cold compresses can be used throughout the healing process to reduce swelling and pain. As you heal, a good idea is to continue using them to keep the injury from flaring up again.

Post 2

When your sprained shoulder starts to heal, you should talk to your doctor about seeing a physical therapist to put together an exercise program for your shoulder. If your issue does not require shoulder surgery, the right exercises will help relieve pain and get your shoulder moving properly again.

Some exercises that your physical therapist or doctor may recommend include stretches, lifts, and rotation movements. Sometimes after a sprain, the shoulder can become stiff and painful to move. These types of exercises may sound like they would be painful after an injury, but they actually help get shoulder muscles and tendons moving again.

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