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Shoulder Pain: Care Instructions


You can hurt your shoulder by using it too much during an activity, such as fishing or baseball. It can also happen as part of the everyday wear and tear of getting older. Shoulder injuries can be slow to heal, but your shoulder should get better with time.

Your doctor may recommend a sling to rest your shoulder. If you have injured your shoulder, you may need testing and treatment.

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?

  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • 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.
    • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines contain acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • If your doctor recommends that you wear a sling, use it as directed. Do not take it off before your doctor tells you to.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on the sore area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • If there is no swelling, you can put moist heat, a heating pad, or a warm cloth on your shoulder. Some doctors suggest alternating between hot and cold.
  • Rest your shoulder for a few days. If your doctor recommends it, you can then begin gentle exercise of the shoulder, but do not lift anything heavy.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have chest pain or pressure. This may occur with:
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain that spreads from the chest to the neck, jaw, or one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Dizziness or light-headedness.
    • A fast or uneven pulse.
    After calling 911, chew 1 adult-strength aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
  • Your arm or hand is cool or pale or changes colour.

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

  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness in your shoulder.
    • Red streaks leading from a place on your shoulder.
    • Pus draining from an area of your shoulder.
    • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, or groin.
    • A fever.

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

  • You cannot use your shoulder.
  • Your shoulder does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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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.