What to do about shoulder ache

First thing, find out (decide) why does your shoulder ache?

Get somebody who likes you to carefully move your shoulder through its range of motion. You want them to be careful not to hurt you and make it worse, but you want to be able to relax, and not use your muscles at all, while the gentle manipulation is going on. So you need somebody else to do the handling and movement.

Probably you should sit for this. If the shoulder ache is constant, whether you move it or not, whether the arm is supported or not, and doesn't get worse when you move the arm, then it's likely that you have some damage inside the joint, that this page can't help, or acute damage outside the joint, and you should be icing it. Otherwise, carry on.

Tell the person doing the heavy lifting that if you flinch and/or say "stop", they should just stop the motion and perhaps go back just a fraction, but they should not drop your arm. The position and motion should be controlled all the time. Better they should be gentle and steady and let you concentrate on the extent and source of your shoulder ache, than they should waste your time and theirs by being reckless with your sore bits.

Range of Motion Discovery

The other person should raise your arm in front of you, until it is extended straight up. If your shoulder ache appears before you get to that full overhead extension, holler "stop!"

If no big pain has occurred, the helper should lower your arm out to the side, keeping it extended. When your arm is horizontal out to your side, your shoulder should be low and relaxed. You should not be exerting any effort - the helper should be doing all the work, so you should not even need to remind yourself to prevent your shoulder from rising up toward your ear while all this movement is going on.

In fact, ask your helper (if they have sufficient arm strength) to manipulate your arm using one of their hands, while the other hand rests on your shoulder, preventing it from rising. That way you don't have to activate any of the muscles in the area and the manipulations can give a truer picture of the state of the joint. This all goes toward isolating the shoulder ache so that you know what to do with it.

Having gone to the top of the range, have the helper go all the way down until your arm is at your side in neutral, hanging position.

Then have them raise the arm out toward the back. You shouldn't get a lot of range that way - shoulders just don't rotate very far in that direction. But both of you should pay attention that the range to the rear is at least the same for both arms, and that you get approximately as much rearward rotation as the helper can manage with her/his own arm and shoulder. That is, compare to yourself and compare to another (healthy) person.

Next, bring the arm - well, again, the helper does this; you just relax and let it happen - up and out to the side. Have the helper twist the arm in place. You can help with this part, we just want your arm extended out to the side without you putting much/any effort into getting it up there or keeping it out there. Now, you want to twist the arm to face your palm up, toward the ceiling, and go a little past that, if you can.

Twist the other way, so that the palm faces forward, then down, then finally faces behind you. Allow the palm to resume a comfortably neutral position, facing slightly down and forward.

Crank it

Your assistant should now take the extended arm and - keeping it extended - crank it in the biggest circle that you can manage without pain.

Repeat all this for the other arm, even if that one has not been giving you trouble, just so that you can establish if there's a different passive range of motion.

Pain During Passive Manipulation

If you encounter pain at any time during the procedure, have the helper stop the motion with the arm position just at the edge, the beginning of the pain. Now clench your entire shoulder firmly. Does the pain go away? Does it persist unchanged? Does it get worse when you clench? Try to get a feel for when a change happens and for where it happens - deep inside the joint, or maybe at one particular point/position in any of the muscles.

If the pain goes away when you clench, the muscles and ligaments surrounding the joint, the shoulder capsule, are probably loose. You need to tighten up all around.

The simple exercises that can help (later on this page) are the same ones that help if the pain occurs only when you use your own muscles to do the movement (next section).

Pain During Active Manipulation

If you survived the passive range-of-motion test above, do it all again under your own power. Yes, both arms. Whether or not you had pain when the other person was doing the manipulating, you want to find out where the pain shows up when your own shoulder muscles are doing the pulling, and if it's different when your muscles are involved.

It will help if you can write down what appears to cause the pain, and when/where in your range of motion it manifests.

That's for later, when you want to know that you are making progress.

Simple Exercises that Should Help

Assuming the pain is not from some pathology that's eating your shoulder from the inside, and it's not a tear that will need surgery (in which case, you would have constant pain, swelling, localized heat, and a general idea that this is not some simple strain or imbalance that can be cured by exercise), then you should be able to do the following exercises for a few minutes per day, for a few weeks. Either they'll work to ease your shoulder ache or they won't, but they'll do no harm and should generally improve how the shoulders (yes, you do both sides) function in normal use.

Quick Links to all our shoulder ache related pages

Here's the handy selection of our shoulder ache / sore shoulder related pages on this Men's Health Tips (MHT) site:

The MHT page What the page is about

Sore shoulder? (this page)

The introductory page for this section about shoulder aches, what causes them, and what to do about them.

Relieve / Reduce Shoulder Pain

Simple, quick, EASY exercises to fix that shoulder

If this page wasn't where you wanted to be, then from this shoulder ache page, go back to the home page.

PLEASE be aware that by using this site you agree to our Terms and Conditions. If ever there were a good time to not click a Terms and Conditions link, this would be it, dontcha think? Heed those heebie-jeebies you're feeling, and don't click the link.

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