Shoulder Sprain: Care Instructions

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Parts of the shoulder


A shoulder sprain occurs when you stretch or tear a ligament in your shoulder. Ligaments are tough tissues that connect one bone to another. A sprain can happen during sports, a fall, or projects around the house.

Shoulder sprains usually get better with treatment at home.

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 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?

  • Rest and protect your shoulder. Try to stop or reduce any action that causes pain.
  • If your doctor gave you a sling or immobilizer, wear it as directed. A sling or immobilizer supports your shoulder and may make you more comfortable.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on your shoulder for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake) or until the swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin. Some doctors suggest alternating between hot and cold.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • 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.
  • For the first day or two after an injury, avoid things that might increase swelling, such as hot showers, hot tubs, or hot packs.
  • After 2 or 3 days, if your swelling is gone, apply a heating pad set on low or a warm cloth to your shoulder. This helps keep your shoulder flexible. Some doctors suggest that you go back and forth between hot and cold. Put a thin cloth between the heating pad and your skin.
  • Follow your doctor's or physical therapist's directions for exercises.
  • Return to your usual level of activity slowly.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your pain is worse.
  • You cannot move your shoulder.
  • Your arm is cool or pale or changes color below the shoulder.
  • You have tingling, weakness, or numbness in your arm.

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

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.