Skip to main contentSkip to main content

Shoulder pain

You can usually do things to ease shoulder pain yourself. See a GP if it does not start feeling better after 2 weeks.

You usually need to do these things for 2 weeks before shoulder pain starts to ease.

It can take 6 months or longer to recover from shoulder pain.

Do

  • stay active and gently move your shoulder

  • try shoulder exercises for 6 to 8 weeks to stop pain returning – the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has exercises for shoulder pain

  • stand up straight with your shoulders down and gently back

  • sit with a cushion behind your lower back

  • rest your arm on a cushion in your lap

  • use pain relief so you can keep moving – try painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen, and heat or cold packs

Don't

  • do not completely stop using your shoulder – this can stop it getting better

  • do not do things that seem to make it worse

  • do not make up your own strenuous exercises or use heavy gym equipment

  • do not slouch when sitting – do not roll your shoulders or bring your neck forward

Putting heat or cold packs on your shoulder

Try either a:

  • pack of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel for up to 20 minutes, 3 times a day
  • hot water bottle wrapped in a tea towel for up to 20 minutes, 2 to 3 times a day

They may suggest:

  • the best painkiller – this might be tablets, or a cream or gel you rub on the skin
  • other ideas for pain relief and things you can buy to help, like heat and cold packs
  • seeing a GP if you need to

A GP will examine you to work out what's causing your shoulder pain.

They might send you for tests (such as an X-ray) to check the cause.

They'll suggest a treatment based on the cause, for example:

  • stronger medicine or injections to ease pain and swelling
  • physiotherapy or exercises to do at home
  • things to avoid to stop the pain getting worse or returning
  • seeing a specialist for tests or treatment
Information:

Physiotherapy for shoulder pain

The number of physiotherapy sessions a GP might prescribe depends on the cause of your shoulder pain.

If you're still in pain after your sessions end, go back to the GP.

They might prescribe more physiotherapy or suggest another treatment.

Physiotherapy from the NHS might not be available everywhere. Waiting times can also be long.

You can also pay to get physiotherapy privately.

Find a registered physiotherapist

Shoulder pain that does not improve after 2 weeks might be caused by something that needs treatment.

Do not self-diagnose – see a GP if you're worried.