Shoulder pain is one of the biggest causes of physical limitations in adults as they get older. This can make it hard to sleep, work, or perform even the simplest activities in their daily routine. Most causes of chronic shoulder pain in adults isn’t from one traumatic incident. Instead it is the result of years of repetitive irritations that add up over time.
In order to successfully treat shoulder pain, we need to focus our efforts on removing these irritations by improving movement, restoring balance, and building strength. In this guide on how to treat shoulder pain at home we’ll teach you everything you need to know to build strong, pain free shoulders that will keep you active for years to come.
Step 1: Determine Body Type
Over the course of my career, I’ve worked with 100’s of adults to overcome shoulder pain. In general, I’ve found there to be two body types that contribute to pain. The first is the person who is too stiff (think rounded mid back, harder to move). The second is the person who is too flexible (think yoga, dancer, gymnast). Both lead to repetitive irritations of the shoulder but in different ways.
Determining where you lie on the spectrum will dictate the best exercises for you. If you’re too stiff, you’ll need more mobility exercises. If you’re too mobile, you’ll need more strength and stability. Many people know if they’re too stiff or hyper flexible, but you can also use the following test to see if you have enough mobility for healthy shoulders.
Step 2: Ease Pain and Speed Healing
The obvious first goal of any treatment plan is to get you out of pain as fast as possible. This is where things like chiropractic, massage, and other sports therapies that target the shoulder can be beneficial. However, if that’s not an option there are many things you can do at home to ease pain and speed the healing process at home.
- Avoid Irritating Activities
- Alternate Heat and Ice
- Self Massage Techniques
- TENS Unit
- Pain Free Movement
Step 3: Restore Range of Motion
Many people with shoulder pain also experience a loss in range of motion. If this is the case, regaining this range of motion should be goal #1. This will allow you to perform all the exercises requred to restore balance and build strong, healthy shoulders. The Passive Shoulder ROM exercise is my favorite to improve shoulder range of motion and help with shoulder pain. Be patient as regaining full range of motion can sometimes takes weeks.
Step 4: Re-Engage Shoulder Stabilizers
Spending hours in a rounded forward posture can cause weakness and loss of control of many important shoulder stabilizers. Being able to engage these smaller, but very important muscles is a great place to start treating shoulder pain at home. Because they are smaller movements they can be done even if you’re still dealing with limited range of motion and pain.
Step 5: Regain Control Of Shoulder Blades
The shoulder joint is part of a larger shoulder complex that includes the shoulder joint itself as well as the shoulder blades and throacic spine. Improving movement of all three is vital in learning how to treat shoulder pain at home. Scapula circles are one of my favorite exercises to improve motor control of your shoulder blades. Give it a try, it’s harder than it looks!
Step 6: Stretch Pecs
Muscle imbalances is one of the most common causes of shoulder pain in adults as they get older. The most common imbalance seen with shoulder pain is tightness in the front of the shoulder (pec muscles) and weakness in the back (deltoids, rhomboids, etc). One of the first things we want to do to treat shoulder pain at home is to stretch the pec muscles to take pressure off the shoulder joint.
Bi-Phasic Pec stretching is one of the best ways to loosen your pec muscles.
Step 7: Improve Mid Back Mobility
Shoulder movement is directly linked with your mid back (or thoracic spine) movement. Stiffness in the mid back leads to limitations in shoulder movement that cause increased strain on the muscles, ligaments, and tendons of the shoulder. Improving mid back mobility is an important part in learning how to treat shoulder pain at home.
Note: Remember from Step #1 – if you’re on the hypermobile side, you can skip mobilizing exercises (focus on strength).
Step 8: Isolated Shoulder Rehab
The next step to treating shoulder pain at home is rebuilding strength of the injured tissues Traditional shoulder rehab exercises are designed to rebuild strength of commonly injured shoulder structures includes the supraspinatus, rotator cuff, and biceps tendon.
Specific rehab protocols are beyond the scope of this article. However, if you know what area is injured there are already lots of resources on the internet with the best shoulder rehab exercises. I’ve listed a few (with links) below.
Step 9: Get Shoulder Joint Centered
Shoulder centration is a term that refers to keeping your shoulder joint ‘centered’ in it’s socket. Muscle imbalances can cause the joint to lose this position and put more strain on the structures of the shoulder. For many of the adults I’ve worked with over my career, shoulder centration exercises are the missing piece to helping them ease shoulder pain so they can work, sleep, and exercise without shoulder pain.
Step 10: Lots and Lots of Pulling Exercises
Pushing, pulling, and pressing are the three movements to improve for strong, healthy shoulders. The pull exercise is going to be the most important to restoring balance to the shoulder joint. Some experts even suggest that for every ‘push’ movement you should perform three ‘pull’ movements for healthy, strong, pain free shoulders.
Step 11: Improve Pushing Movement
The push is the second movement to improve for healthy, strong shoulders. While an important movement, if performed incorrectly can actually contribute to shoulder pain. Push ups are easily the most popular shoulder exercise to build upper body strength. Learning and practicing good pushing form will help you build strength, without stressing your shoulder joint.
Step 12: Improve Pressing Movement
The press is the third movement to improve for strong healthy shoulders. Repetitive, overhead activities are one of the leading causes of chronic shoulder pain in adults. Building strength with the press movement is important to improve real world, functional activities.
The shoulder joint is one of the most complex joints in the body. Following the steps in this guide on how to treat shoulder pain at home you can build strong, healthy, and pain free shoulders while avoiding dangerous injections and surgery.