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Shoulder Sprain: Care Instructions

Parts of the shoulder


A shoulder sprain occurs when you stretch or tear a ligament in your shoulder. Ligaments are tough tissues that connect one bone to another. A sprain can happen during sports, a fall, or projects around the house.

Shoulder sprains usually get better with treatment at home.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Rest and protect your shoulder. Try to stop or reduce any action that causes pain.
  • If your doctor gave you a sling or immobilizer, wear it as directed. A sling or immobilizer supports your shoulder and may make you more comfortable.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on your shoulder for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake) or until the swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin. Some doctors suggest alternating between hot and cold.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • For the first day or two after an injury, avoid things that might increase swelling, such as hot showers, hot tubs, or hot packs.
  • After 2 or 3 days, if your swelling is gone, apply a heating pad set on low or a warm cloth to your shoulder. This helps keep your shoulder flexible. Some doctors suggest that you go back and forth between hot and cold. Put a thin cloth between the heating pad and your skin.
  • Follow your doctor's or physiotherapist's directions for exercises.
  • Return to your usual level of activity slowly.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your pain is worse.
  • You cannot move your shoulder.
  • Your arm is cool or pale or changes colour below the shoulder.
  • You have tingling, weakness, or numbness in your arm.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.