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Know when to see a doctor for shoulder pain

November 30, 2015
Know when to see a doctor for shoulder pain

Working your shoulder too much can lead to shoulder pain. Often, an over-the-counter medication can provide quick relief. Seek medical care for lasting pain, or if you hear a pop or experience a tearing sensation, says orthopaedic surgeon Lee Diehl, MD.

Overuse of your shoulder can lead to soreness

“Some shoulder pain is related to overuse or work,” said Dr. Lee H. Diehl, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon with North Carolina Orthopaedic Clinic. “If you spend several hours painting, holding your arm overhead cleaning, or packing and moving your house; or if you start a new exercise routine and experience the onset of soreness, give yourself some time to recover.”

Place ice or a bag of frozen vegetables on the sore area of the shoulder for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day, and take over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen.

Frozen shoulder can improve with exercise regimen

When the pain lasts several weeks or if you develop a stiff “frozen” shoulder, “a majority of people will still get better with time, education about their problem and a home exercise program to improve the way their shoulder muscles work together,” said Diehl. You may also get pain relief from a steroid injection.

When to seek immediate help for shoulder pain

If you hurt yourself and experience a loss of function, however, seek more immediate help.

“If you fall or have a strain injury, feel a ‘pop’ or tearing sensation in your shoulder and then have problems lifting your arm, seek medical care,” Diehl advised.

In some cases, you may need surgery to ultimately feel better and restore function.

Learn more about shoulder treatments at Duke

Shoulder pain and injuries