Shoulder injuries

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

  • taking off your coat
  • lifting something awkwardly
  • taking part in sport

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

Shoulder problems usually settle within 6 weeks

Keeping active

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
  • prevent weight gain

More about keeping active

Resting or moving?

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

  • rest your shoulder but avoid long spells of not moving at all
  • move your shoulder gently for 10 to 20 seconds every hour when you are awake

After 48 hours:

  • Try to use your arm more - exercise really helps your shoulder and can relieve pain
  • 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.

What about sports?

You should take your time before taking part in any sports after a shoulder problem. If you take part in sports too soon this may flare up your symptoms again and they may take longer to settle.

Before doing sports, you should:

  • have no swelling
  • be able to move your shoulder properly through full range of movement
  • have full or close to full strength

Remember to stretch and warm up fully before sports.

Can my shoulder problem cause trouble anywhere else?

You may feel pains around your shoulder and neck, and also in one or both of your arms. This can be due to nerve pain, which often feels hot, burning, shooting, or stabbing.

Speak to your doctor about this if you have any of these for over a week.

If you have any of these, you may be able to take other more appropriate medication. 

Do I need to see my doctor?

You don't normally need to see your doctor if you follow the right advice and take the right medication.

Your shoulder problem should improve over the next 6 weeks.

If you experience any of the following, you should speak to your doctor as soon as possible:

  • Pain that spreads below your elbow
  • You're unable to move you arm at all
  • You're unable to move your hand above your shoulder
  • Any lumps or bumps which have suddenly appeared around your shoulder
  • Hot, burning, shooting or stabbing pains around your shoulder or into your arm lasting more than a week
  • Pain that worsens
  • Your shoulder problem has not improved within 6 weeks

Find your nearest GP Practice

Musculoskeletal (MSK) Helpline

If you have a shoulder problem, the Musculoskeletal Advice and Triage Service (MATS) can provide information and advice to help with your problem, and refer you to a healthcare professional if you need it.
How to contact