I have recent shoulder pain without injury, what should I do?

There are many different types of shoulder conditions that can cause pain without recent trauma. Osteoarthritis, bursitis and tendinitis, and rotator cuff and labral tears can all start to cause pain even if they were not causing symptoms before. Most of the time, these conditions are not emergencies, and you can schedule an appointment to see your primary care or orthopedic health care provider. Reasons to go the emergency department include severe pain not relieved with treatment at home.


Until you reach a doctor, you will want to do the following:

REST – Acute shoulder pain will be greatly relieved by resting the arm for 24-48 hours – elbow, wrist and hand motion should be ok. Again, if you have concerns of having a fracture or a dislocation, you should go to the emergency room – where you would probably be treated with a sling. Otherwise, you should not wear a sling for more than two days.

ICE – Ice is a very effective anti-inflammatory. You can ice your shoulder for 20 minutes every hour. Prevent ice burns by protecting your skin with a towel between your skin and the ice pack.

ANTI-INFLAMMATORY MEDICATIONS ** DO NOT EVER ATTEMPT TO TAKE ANTI-INFLAMMATORY MEDICATIONS IF YOU HAVE A HISTORY OF ALLERGY TO ANTI-INFLAMMATORY MEDICATIONS OR ASPIRIN. DO NOT TAKE ANTI-INFLAMMATORY MEDICATION IF YOU ARE NOT SURE IF YOU HAVE AN ALLERGY TO THEM. **
Anti-inflammatory medications, also known as NSAIDs, include the over the counter medications ibuprofen (also sold as Motrin or Advil), naproxen (also sold as Aleve), and many different prescription medications. Anti-inflammatory medications are very useful after a recent injury in decreasing pain and inflammation. Tylenol (or acetaminophen) is not an anti-inflammatory; it may also help with pain, but will not help with inflammation.

Studies have shown that all anti-inflammatory medications carry a VERY MINIMALLY increased risk for heart attack in people with heart conditions. If you are concerned about this risk or have a heart condition, you should not take anti-inflammatory medication until speaking to a health care provider.