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Shoulder Pain

The shoulder is a ball and socket joint, similar to that of the hip joint. However it is more complex; there are 5 linked bone groups and 4 joints in total allowing the shoulder to perform more complicated movements. This means that the ligaments and muscles are extremely important to produce and control movement from the shoulder. The rotator cuff muscles are commonly involved in shoulder problems; this is a group of 4 muscles located around the shoulder blade and control rotational movements and stability.

It is common to have referred pain from a shoulder problem, which can often radiate down the upper arm, although usually not past the elbow. Pain may also be felt at the back around the shoulder blade or in more specific points if one of the smaller joints is affected.

If you have had trauma to your shoulder and have a significant loss of movement then please self-refer to be assessed in person

What can I do to help?

Pain relief: Simple painkillers (like paracetamol) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAIDS, (like ibuprofen) are available over the counter and can be very effective but don’t use them for more than 2 weeks without seeking medical advice. You should carefully read the Patient Information Leaflet that is provided with this medication. 

It is advisable to consult your GP or pharmacist before taking additional pain relief if you are currently:

•              taking any form of medication

•              have any other pre-existing medical conditions

•              pregnant

Ice or heat: If your shoulder is painful then applying an ice pack, hot water bottle or gels may be helpful for reducing pain. A packet of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel works well as an ice pack. Leave the peas in place for up to 20 minutes at a time. This can be repeated several times a day. If using gels then check with your GP or Pharmacist if you have other health conditions/medications which may prevent this.

Reducing the strain on your shoulders: It is usually best to carry out your normal activities, but try not to overdo it. You need to pace yourself to start with and try to do a bit more each day. During tasks where you need to lift your arm up over your head, keeping your arm bent until your elbow is above shoulder height will reduce the strain going through the shoulder joint.

Rest: Aim for a balance between rest and exercise to prevent your shoulder from stiffening up. Try to avoid the movements that are most painful, especially those that hold your arm away from your body and above shoulder height. However, it’s important to remain generally active even if you have to limit how much you do.

Exercise: Exercise is often a helpful treatment for shoulder pain and will give the joint strength and flexibility. Below are a few exercises to try for your shoulder. They should not aggravate your pain whilst you perform them, if they do, do not push through the pain.

A little post exercise discomfort is not uncommon and not a sign of damage. If you experience pain that regularly lasts for more than 30 minutes after exercise and feel that overall your pain is worsening please stop all exercises and seek advice from the physiotherapy department.

Helpful Documents

Exercises to try:

Weighted Abduction

Shoulder Abduction

Weighted Abduction

In standing or sitting

Holding a light weight (water bottle or tin) or unweighted

Lift your arm to the side until you reach 90 degrees if able

Slowly return to starting position and repeat


Sitting External Rotation


Supported External Rotation

Sitting next to a table with a pillow supporting your upper arm

Bend your elbow to 90 degrees

Gently rotate your lower arm towards the table and away


Wall Press Up

Wall Press Up

Wall Press

Standing with your hands on a wall or door, shoulder width apart

Step back with both feet 

Slowly bend both elbows to bring your chest towards the wall

Push back up to the starting position


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