Conditions > Shoulder Pain
Natural Shoulder Pain Relief
Life with shoulder pain can be debilitating. The good news is shoulder pain does go away on its own.
Your shoulder pain can most likely be tied back to a damaged ligament and muscle pain resulting from the ligament damage.
Natural remedies for shoulder pain include: shoulder stretches, osteopathic manipulation, acupuncture treatments, and regenerative prolotherapy injections.
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What causes shoulder pain?
Your shoulder pain can most likely be tied back to a damaged ligament. Either the ligament itself is hurting (ligaments have nerves and nerves are sensitive), or the overstraining of muscles as a result of the damaged ligament results in painful muscle strain. Usually, it’s a bit both.
That’s the basic and oversimplified way of understanding shoulder pain. The reality is many things can be causing your shoulder pain. The shoulder is a very complex joint. There are four muscles that surround the shoulder joint (referred to as the rotator cuff) and allow it to move through a full 360-degree range of motion.
When these motions become restricted due to an injury, pain typically follows. Mundane things like fastening a bra, getting dressed, or putting on a sports coat can become painful and burdensome. So, shoulder pain is not fun! And when the shoulder hurts, most people know it. The next step is to figure out what part is responsible.
Common causes of shoulder pain
Rotator cuff tear
The “rotator cuff” describes four muscles that surround, or cuff, the shoulder joint and make shoulder movement possible. As we age, the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the rotator cuff don’t have as much blood flow (darn aging) and don’t heal as well or as quickly when damaged. Coincidentally, rotator cuff injuries and tears become more likely (and common) as we age.
Over time, rather minor injuries like an awkward landing on the shoulder, a fall, or a sudden and jerky movement can result in a tear that can take months to heal. This can lead to significant pain. Depending on what was injured, muscle pain can and usually does accompany the injury.
Shoulder muscle pain
When you injure a ligament in your shoulder, your muscles typically tighten up to pick up the slack. Ligaments are the connective tissues that hold your bones together. A weakened ligament that can’t hold together the bones in your shoulder needs help. Muscles surrounding the joint are the body’s backup system until the injured ligament heals and regains strength. The result is a collection of muscles around a joint that are constantly straining while accounting for new and awkward movements as you attempt to minimize use of the injured shoulder.
The result is painful muscle strain and often times painful trigger points. Paul Ingraham of PainScience.com describes this process as going out of the frying pan of an injury into the fire of an irritated muscle (and trigger point). Fitting, indeed!
Muscle pain accompanies ligament injuries, and trigger points often form in painful muscles. A vicious cycle. Trigger points are (very) painful knots in muscles. If you think of muscle fibers like strands of your hair, and then think of a knot in the hair, you’ll have a good idea of what a trigger point is. Most likely, trigger points result from the awkward and new movement patterns muscles must deal with when you are living with an injured shoulder. Long after the pain from an injury has healed, pain from sensitive trigger points can make it feel like that shoulder injury is never going to heal. Although slow healing, shoulder injuries do heal.
Trigger points can be healed with self-massage or trigger point injections. Either way works, and the release of a trigger point can make severe shoulder pain go away seemingly overnight. This is because after the injury has healed, painful trigger points can stay behind.
Shoulder pain after a car accident often has a torn ligament behind it. Whiplash and seat belt injuries may not break or fracture the collarbone or clavicle, but whiplash can tear the ligaments of the acromial-clavicular (AC) joint. Ligaments are sensitive, and depending on how severe the ligament tear, you may experience mild pain and discomfort, or a misalignment and movement of the clavicle if the ligament tear is large enough.
Whiplash from a car accident can also break or fracture your collarbone. The pain from a bone break is much more sudden. If you suspect you have a broken or fractured bone, go to the emergency room!
Sports injury and shoulder pain
Landing on your shoulder during a friendly (or not so friendly) pickup game may not result in a broken collarbone, but the impact can be strong enough to tear ligaments. If you experience pain in your shoulder after taking a hit, realize you may have a damaged or torn ligament. The cascading consequences of ligament damage follow, and muscle pain can begin. Remember, overstrained muscles cause a great deal of pain because muscle tissue is incredibly sensitive!
Degenerative arthritis (Osteoarthritis)
If you’re suffering from osteoarthritis in your shoulder, pain is almost certainly present. Typically, osteoarthritis pain is most severe in the mornings and dissipates within 30 minutes. This is an important distinction. Other forms of arthritis have different “morning pain”. Rheumatoid arthritis, for example, lasts more than 45 minutes. Although there is no cure for osteoarthritis, degeneration of the joint can be slowed. You can read more about osteoarthritis treatments in this article.
How to relieve shoulder pain? Naturally.
Healing a ligament can take months. Even then, the circumstances have to be good enough to facilitate complete healing. And unfortunately, the shoulder is not one of those fertile healing areas. Its poor blood supply is to blame, as is our general tendency to use our arms. This makes the shoulder easy to reinjure and slow to heal. So what is a shoulder pain sufferer to do?
To relieve shoulder pain, a combination of the following natural treatments should come before steroid injections or surgery, both of which often don’t work and just make everything worse. Natural remedies for shoulder pain:
- Shoulder stretches
- Osteopathic manipulation
- Acupuncture treatments
- Regenerative prolotherapy injections
Stretches for shoulder pain help. Self-massage is better.
Shoulder pain relief at home comes from stretches and massage. Any stretches that provide motion and increase circulation to the shoulder can provide temporary relief.
Stretches can also relieve pain from trigger points. If you can identify the location of a trigger point (pressing on it sends a dull pain throughout your entire shoulder), gently press on it. If you can’t reach it, use a medium-sized rubber ball to address the trigger points in your back.
There are many guides on how to you can do this - PainScience.com’s advanced guide to trigger points is a great start.
Osteopathic manipulation for shoulder pain before surgery.
Manual manipulation treatments can free up the joints and release the tension in your strained shoulder muscles. The idea here is that by manipulating (moving) the joints and by massaging the tight muscles, the shoulder can regain range of motion.
Before considering any type of surgery for your shoulder, give manual manipulation a try. You have literally nothing to lose, whereas cutting and slicing leaves you with permanent results… good ones and bad ones.
Acupuncture for shoulder pain instead of Advil.
Acupuncture can increase blood flow to the shoulder, and help control pain by increasing the body’s own natural painkillers. It’s a safe procedure and does what it claims. Many shoulder pain sufferers experience relief from pain, especially when it is combined with the remaining treatments on this list.
Prolotherapy and PRP for shoulder tears and sprains.
When healing a torn ligament in the shoulder, the biggest roadblocks to healing are lack of blood supply and sufficient time to heal (or risk of re-injury). Regenerative injections remove these roadblocks by increasing blood supply to the area, and accelerating the body’s healing time. But does it work?
The basic idea behind prolotherapy is that your body can heal itself. So, by injecting the damaged ligament with a (natural) irritant, you force healing. The injection site experiences a rush of blood and inflammation, which brings with it the body’s healing properties. Almost instinctually, these healing properties repair the injection site. This means weakened and damaged ligaments are strengthened as new tissue is added on top. Over the course of a few treatments, the ligaments are strong enough to relieve the muscle strain in the area, and pain decreases. In some cases, disappears entirely.
Is this treatment for everyone? Prolotherapy is a treatment for chronic shoulder pain sufferers. It’s been popularized in the media by the likes of Tiger Woods and more recently Mel Gibson, but the basic premise of prolotherapy still applies to your body: the body can heal itself. Only when it has failed to do so, and chronic pain ensues, should regenerative medicine treatments be considered in conjunction with all of the other treatments on this list. Prolotherapy alone is not a miracle cure, even if for those who have avoided surgery thanks to prolotherapy and PRP, it might seem like it.
Diagnosing shoulder pain
Usually, patients that have shoulder pain or shoulder injury know it because an injured shoulder really hurts. So it’s not hard to figure out if the shoulder has a problem. Figuring out what structures are leading to it is more challenging. A few simple tests you can do at home:
Do I have rotator cuff tear?
If you experience shoulder pain when lifting your arm, you may have a rotator cuff tear. Ask a partner to hold your problem arm out to the side and parallel to the floor. If it hurts to keep your arm extended after your partner has let go, it’s possible you have a rotator cuff injury.
Do I have AC joint separation?
The AC joint compression test involves gently pushing on the front and back of your shoulder at the same time. If a dull, throbbing pain is experienced, or movement is felt, pain may be coming from an injured acromioclavicular (AC) joint.
Do I have a Frozen Shoulder?
Probably not! Frozen shoulder is typically over diagnosed and mistaken for rotator cuff tears, bursitis, even osteoarthritis. Frozen shoulder is not hard to diagnose because the entire shoulder slowly becomes severely painful to move. There is no cure, but the good news is it’s not as common as you think. If you think you have Frozen Shoulder, see your primary care physician for confirmation.
Living with shoulder pain
Life with shoulder pain can be debilitating. The good news is shoulder pain does go away on its own. If after several days of pain, you continue to have limited mobility, it hurts to lift your arm, and the pain is getting worse, save yourself the headache and see your primary care physician or osteopathic doctor.
When should I see a doctor about shoulder pain?
Most shoulder pain typically resolves on its own. If you are experiencing severe shoulder pain, schedule a visit with your primary care physician. Don’t ignore it. But chances are, you probably can’t ignore it. Shoulder pain is very painful, even if it is rather common.