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Nonsurgical Treatment Options for Shoulder Impingement

Doctor examining woman's shoulder.Rest is key to healing your shoulder. If an activity hurts, don’t do it. Otherwise, you may prevent healing and increase pain. Your shoulder needs active rest. This means avoiding overhead movements and activities that cause pain. But DO NOT stop using your shoulder completely. This can cause it to stiffen or “freeze.” In addition to rest, impingement can be treated a number of ways. Your healthcare provider can help you find which of these is best for you.

Image Ice

Ice reduces inflammation and relieves pain. Apply an ice pack for about 15 minutes, 3 times a day. You can also use a bag of frozen peas instead of an ice pack. A pillow placed under your arm may help make you more comfortable.

Note: Don’t put the cold item directly on your skin. Place it on top of your shirt, or wrap it in a thin towel or washcloth.

Image Heat

Heat may soothe aching muscles, but it won’t reduce inflammation. Use a heating pad or take a warm shower or bath. Do this for 15 minutes at a time.

Note: Avoid heat when pain is constant. Heat is best when used for warming up before an activity. You can also alternate ice and heat.

Image Medicine

To relieve pain and inflammation, try over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Or, your healthcare provider may prescribe medicines. Ask how and when to take your medicine. Be sure to follow all instructions you’re given.

Image Electrical stimulation

Electrical stimulation can help reduce pain and swelling. Your healthcare provider attaches small pads to your shoulder. A mild electric current then flows into your shoulder. You may feel tingling, but you should not feel pain.

Image Ultrasound

Ultrasound can help reduce pain. First a slick gel or medicated cream is applied to your shoulder. Then your healthcare provider places a small device over the area. The device uses sound waves to loosen shoulder tightness. This treatment should be pain-free.

A physical therapist can also help you with exercises specific for your condition.

Image Injection therapy

Injection therapy may be used to help diagnose your problem. It may also be used to reduce pain and inflammation. The injection typically includes two medicines. One is an anesthetic to numb the shoulder. The other is a steroid, such as cortisone, to help reduce painful swelling. It can take from a few hours to a couple of days before the injection helps. Talk to your healthcare provider about the possible risks and benefits of this therapy.

Online Medical Reviewer: Larson, Kim APRN, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Joseph, Thomas N., MD
Last Review Date: 10/14/2015
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