There are a number of things which can be used to treat a stiff shoulder. While many of these treatments can be used at home, it is important to have a stiff or painful shoulder evaluated by a doctor if the condition persists for more than a few days. A doctor can determine the cause and determine which treatments would be most effective. Many conditions can cause people to develop stiffness and pain in the shoulder, and all treatments are not necessarily alike. In some cases, if someone opts to treat a stiff shoulder with the wrong treatment, it can actually do further damage.
Sometimes shoulder stiffness is simply the result of strain, in which case rest may be the best treatment. It can also be caused by a condition known as adhesive capsulitis or frozen shoulder, by tendinitis, by tears in the tendons and muscles in the shoulder, by sprains, by breaks, by bursitis, and by shoulder impingement, in which something in the anatomy of the shoulder is inhibiting movement. Someone with a stiff shoulder may have difficulty moving the shoulder and can experience pain and soreness.
While rest can be used to treat a stiff shoulder and may be effective in many cases, gentle physical exercise is also important. The shoulder should stretched so that it will retain freedom of movement, and with the goal of improving freedom of movement over time. In addition, massage can help to free up a stiff shoulder. A physical therapist can develop a specific treatment plan for a stiff shoulder and make recommendations for exercises to do both under supervision and at home.
It may also be necessary to take anti-inflammatory drugs to treat a stiff shoulder, and sometimes steroids will be recommended to bring down pain and swelling. This is designed to reduce the risk of additional damage and to increase comfort. Moist heat can also sometimes help to free up the shoulder joint, and activities like saunas can sometimes be beneficial for this reason.
If shoulder stiffness and pain persists, a medical imaging study of the shoulder may be ordered to get a look at the inside. Such studies can be used to determine the cause for the stiffness, and also for the purpose of monitoring the course of treatment. If someone cannot treat a stiff shoulder with these basic treatments, it may be necessary to perform surgery to address the problem.