Shoulder problems

Shoulder problems can cause a range of symptoms, including:

  • pain
  • stiffness
  • weakness

You don't normally need to see a healthcare professional. New onset or flare-up of a longstanding shoulder problem should begin to settle within 6 weeks.

What causes shoulder problems?

Shoulder problems are common and are often caused by simple things like:

  • taking off your coat
  • lifting something awkwardly
  • taking part in sport
  • a trip or fall

As you get older, normal wear and tear can cause your shoulder problem to flare-up now and again, often for no reason.

Can this cause problems anywhere else?

You may feel pains around your shoulder and neck, and into your arm.


Keeping active is an essential part of your treatment and recovery and is the single best thing you can do for your health.

Being physically active throughout your recovery can:

  • prevent a recurrence of the problem
  • maintain your current levels of fitness – even if you have to modify what you normally do, any activity is better than none
  • keep your other muscles and joints strong and flexible
  • help you aim for a healthy body weight

It's recommended you stay at or return to work as quickly as possible during your recovery. You don't need to be pain or symptom-free to return to work.

More about keeping active

You can also complete our self-help guide to asses your symptoms.

Shoulder pain self-help guide

Complete this guide to assess your symptoms and find out if you should visit your GP, pharmacist or treat your condition at home.
Self-help guide: Shoulder pain

Pain treatments

Pain medication can help to reduce the pain and help you move more comfortably, which can help your recovery.

Speak to your community pharmacist or other healthcare professional about taking medication or other methods of pain relief​. It's important to take medication regularly.

More about taking painkillers

Resting or moving?

Within the first 24 to 48 hours after a shoulder problem you should try to:

  • rest your shoulder but avoid long spells of not moving at all
  • move your shoulder gently for a short period every hour when you're awake

After 48 hours:

  • Slowly return to normal activity
  • Do whatever you normally would and stay at, or return to work - this is important and is the best way to get better

Avoid sports or heavy lifting until you have less discomfort and good movement. Remember to warm up fully before you start sporting activities.

When to speak to a health professional

Speak to your GP as soon as possible if there's been significant tauma - for example a fall from height or direct blow to the shoulder - and your pain is preventing any shoulder movement at all.

Help and support

If, after following the above advice, your shoulder problem hasn't improved within 6 weeks a referral to a physiotherapist may be of benefit.

If available in your health board area, the Musculoskeletal (MSK) Helpline can refer you to a healthcare professional if you need it.