You can usually do things to ease shoulder pain yourself. See a GP if it doesn’t start feeling better after 2 weeks.

How to ease shoulder pain yourself

You usually need to do these things for 2 weeks before shoulder pain starts to ease. It can take 4 to 6 weeks to recover fully from mild shoulder pain.

A pharmacist can help with shoulder pain

A pharmacist can suggest:

  • the best painkiller – this might be tablets, or a cream or gel you rub on the skin
  • other ideas for pain relief and things you can buy to help, like heat and cold packs
  • seeing a GP if you need to

See a GP if:

  • the pain doesn’t improve after 2 weeks
  • it’s very difficult to move your arm or shoulder
  • the pain started after an injury or accident, like a fall

Treatment from a GP

A GP will examine you to work out what’s causing your shoulder pain. They might send you for tests (such as an X-ray) to check the cause.

They’ll suggest a treatment based on the cause, for example:

  • stronger medication or injections to ease pain and swelling
  • physiotherapy or exercises to do at home
  • things to avoid to stop the pain getting worse or returning
  • seeing a specialist for tests or treatment

Causes of shoulder pain

Shoulder pain that doesn’t improve after 2 weeks might be caused by something that needs treatment. Don’t self-diagnose – see a GP if you’re worried.

Shoulder symptoms Possible causes
Pain and stiffness that doesn’t go away over months or years frozen shoulder, arthritis (osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis)
Pain that’s often worse while using your arm or shoulder tendonitis, bursitis, impingement
Tingling, numb, weak, feels like it’s clicking or locking shoulder instability, sometimes because of hypermobility
Sudden very bad pain, can’t move your arm (or it’s difficult), sometimes changes shape dislocated shoulder, broken bone (such as the upper arm or collarbone), torn or ruptured tendon
Pain on top of the shoulder (where the collarbone and shoulder joint meet) problems in the acromioclavicular joint, like dislocation or stretched or torn ligaments