Shoulder Strain

Minor injuries to the shoulder, such as a strain, should settle with time and can be managed at home. A ‘soft tissue injury’ refers to an injury to the muscles, tendons or ligaments of the shoulder and may result in the following:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Stiffness and loss of function

The pain can be particularly strong in the first few weeks as this is the inflammatory phase of your body healing itself. Typically, these injuries last 4 to 6 weeks depending on the severity.

Painkillers, like paracetamol, will ease the pain but need to be taken regularly to control the pain. Always follow the medication instructions on the packet. Anti-inflammatories, like ibuprofen, can help with swelling, and therefore help you move more freely. Again, follow the medication instructions on the packet and discuss using any medication with a pharmacist or prescribing healthcare professional if you are unsure. You should not take ibuprofen or anti-inflammatories in the first 48-72 hours after an initial injury, and should use with caution after this, as it may slow down healing.

  • Protection – Protect the affected area from further injury; for example, avoid the painful activities that may have caused the injury
  • Rest – Rest the area for two to three days only. Resting for a short time may help any inflammation or discomfort to settle. However, resting beyond two to three days may lead to the surrounding muscles becoming stiff and weaker which will not be helpful in the longer term.
  • Ice – Should you notice any swelling or tenderness around the joint, you can apply an ice pack, or bag of frozen vegetables, to the affected area for about 10 – 15 minutes, every two to three hours. This may help to reduce the swelling and give some pain relief. Please be sure to avoid injury to your skin and wrap the cold object in a moist towel, or similar, to avoid direct contact with the skin.

Up to date guidelines can be found on the NHS website:

Get emergency advice now if:

  • the pain is sudden and/or very severe
  • you cannot move your arm
  • your arm or shoulder has changed shape or is badly swollen
  • you have pins and needles that do not go away or there is no feeling in your arm
  • your arm or shoulder is hot or cold to touch

These could be signs of something more serious. You can also call 111 for advice or go

Speak to a doctor or Physiotherapist if:

  • the pain is severe or stopping you doing normal activities
  • the pain is getting worse and/or keeps coming back
  • the pain has not improved in any capacity after following the simple advice below

After 48 – 72 hours is important to start using your shoulder as your pain allows and getting back to doing normal everyday activities.

Recovery time and returning to activity

It usually takes 6 weeks to heal from simple soft tissue injuries to the hip or knee. However, everyone recovers from injuries at different rates. Some may be back in a few days however for some it can take several months.

Returning to work

Gradually build up your strength and function, practice doing similar tasks that you would do at work before returning. Start doing this little and often ensuring there is minimal pain or swelling.


Returning to hobbies/sport

It is advised not to return to these activities until you have full strength and range of movement without pain or swelling. Try to practice the specific movements of your hobby / sport in a controlled manner and build up the time and intensity that you do the movements before returning to your activity fully.