How To Manage Chronic Shoulder Pain
If you have chronic shoulder pain, it may be time to consider natural remedies to manage this pain. Shoulder pain is one of the most debilitating chronic conditions, that unfortunately, ultimately leads to a decreased quality of life for very many people.
An estimated 11.2% of the US adult population suffers from chronic shoulder pain according to an article in NIH.
These are lots of people living with painful conditions and who would be glad to somehow find relief.
Living with any type of pain is not only debilitating and limiting it is also emotionally draining and stressful.
Ultimately, it can affect your overall sense of well-being- physical, emotional, and your relationships.
What is Chronic Shoulder Pain?
Chronic pain is pain that lingers on long after the event that started it and after the acute inflammatory phase is over.
Chronic shoulder pain is a shoulder pain condition that lasts for more than 6 months.
If you dislocate your shoulder you immediately have pain.
When you go to the doctor and your shoulder is fixed back into the socket, then your pain is supposed to go away eventually. However some injuries such as injuries of the shoulder leave a lingering pain even after the surgeries are done, or the bones are set. This leads to chronic pain in the shoulder joint.
The shoulder is easily injured because we use the arm so much and due to its anatomical formation.
Why Is Shoulder Pain So Common?
The answer to this question can be explained by the very anatomy of the shoulder joint.
Let’s look briefly at the anatomy of the shoulder joint.
One reason why shoulder pain is so common is due to the fact that the shoulder joint is more than one joint. It actually is several joints, supported and joined by several muscles and tendons.
This design allows for more freedom and stability so the arm can move in as many directions as it does. It is the kind of joint called a ball and socket joint.
The top of the arm is shaped like a ball that fits into the shallow hollow of the shoulder blade.
The ball of the arm is kept in place by ligaments and the muscles. The rotator cuff muscles allow the arm to move in all directions allowing you the flexibility to lift, pull. push, raise the arm up, move arm side to did and even and over the shoulder.
It is quite simply a really generous design.
You can actually move your hand all-around in a circular motion too!
Think about it for a moment. How often do you use your arm?
You can even move your arm in circles! Trying to do that with your leg! Can’t do it, can you?
How often do you raise it to reach, move it to push, or pull? Sometimes you even try to reach your back to scratch.
The shoulder joint is one of the most used joints of the body as well, doing so much in the course of your day.
The arm can move in any direction you choose. It can reach up or stretch out in any direction, reach behind your shoulder and even across either shoulder.
The beauty of this design is also the shoulder joints undoing.
Wh this ingenious design, which calls for a sort of loose joint, comes easy strain and easy dislocation as well.
It is this very flexibility that can lead to problems of the shoulder joint.
Anything you do that requires your arm requires you to move your shoulder.
And that means the shoulder joint gets moved a lot.
And it also means that pain in this joint can change your ability to do any day to day activities.
As such it is very important to have the cause checked immediately by a Dr. They will likely order X Rays, and or scans to diagnose plus check for tenderness and range of motion.
The causes as well are varied, ranging from tendinitis, muscle tears, osteoarthritis, to broken bones.
What Are The Leading Causes of Shoulder Pain?
There are many reasons why one may experience shoulder pain.
It is therefore important to make sure you see a doctor for proper diagnoses and advice.
Per Mayo Clinic, some reasons why you may experience shoulder pain include the following:
Causes of Shoulder pain
- Avascular necrosis
- Frozen shoulder
- Impingement syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Rotator calf injury
- Sprains and strains
- or other debilitating illnesses like fibromyalgia
- pulled muscles
- Heart attack; This pain may extend to the arm and shoulder and needs to be checked by a doctor immediately. This is always urgent. Indeed an emergency.
It is better to go to the emergency room or your Dr’s office to get checked out.
Better to go and be wrong rather than not going and it turns out you are experiencing a heart attack.
Other problems such as separation, fracture, and dislocation also require immediate assessment by a doctor.
Is There a Relationship Between Shoulder Pain and Neck Pain?
Well, yes. First of all the neck and the shoulder are connected. Therefore shoulder pain can sometimes be related to issues of the neck.
Stretching the neck gently can help.
Another issue that can cause problems is the position in which you sleep.
That can strain your neck muscles and can cause radiating pain to the shoulder.
Make sure to improve how you sleep by getting better more supportive pillows to prevent this from becoming a chronic problem.
Also, be mindful of how you sit and watch your posture.
Stooping is not only unattractive but can cause shoulder problems as well.
Yes, it was not just for poise and beauty that your etiquette teacher tried to instill good posture.
It could help you avoid this type of pain while maintaining a regal poise.
Treatment For Shoulder Pain
If you have had an injury that has caused shoulder pain, it is crucial to have a doctor check it first. Treatment for minor injuries such as a sprain can include home treatment such as a cold compress, use of warm compresses, and immobilization.
In many cases, the first thing is to rest the arm.
This prevents excessive stress on the joint in the beginning. Remember the acronym RICE;
This means rest, ice, compress, and elevate.
Ice is applied for 15 to 20 minutes, followed by applying heat to the joint in the form of a warm compress.
However when it comes to resting be careful not to rest it too long because that can lead to a frozen shoulder. Your doctor will guide you on this.
Depending on the underlying cause and your Dr’s. advice, some conditioning exercises can help as well.
But for all cases, the treatment will depend on the cause of the pain and how bad the injury is
Some shoulder pain causes such as rotator cuff muscle tears and fractures may require surgery, physical therapy, and immobilization as well as the use of anti-inflammation nonsteroidal (NSAIDs) medications.
However, some injuries can ultimately lead to chronic shoulder pain in spite of medical intervention such as surgery and the setting of bones.
And this may be the time when one then starts thinking of alternative treatments to manage chronic shoulder pain.
Many people suffering from chronic shoulder pain will rely on pain killers and NSAIDs to treat their chronic shoulder pain.
Pain killers such as opioids have great adverse effects ranging from addiction, constipation, to hypotension. Some such as NSAIDs can lead to Gi bleeds, and ulcers.
And so sufferers of chronic should pain can feel apprehensive as they seek for a treatment that is effective and not detrimental to other aspects of their health.
This is where natural home remedies can help.
What Natural Home Remedies Are There For Chronic Shoulder Pain?
Sometimes, shoulder pain can linger even after medical treatment, in which case it can be chronic shoulder pain.
And while prescription medications are used by many, it may be far safer to use natural treatments that do not have all the adverse side effects of NSAIDs and narcotics.
Let your doctor know about the alternative treatments you want to embark on. I know. Can I say this enough? Well, it is that important.
Some plant substances are quite potent, and some can interact with medications you may be on. These interactions can have a synergistic effect or can decrease the effectiveness of some medications.
Once your doctor approves the natural treatment then you can try them.
The following are are some natural ways to control chronic shoulder pain.
Range of Motion Exercises
To relieve chronic shoulder pain, some targeted exercises can help. Exercise, especially at the beginning, needs to be done with a professional such as a physical therapist to avoid further damage.
These exercises can include the following:
- The pendulum
- Arm across the chest exercise
- Neck release exercise
You can see instructions for these exercises here.
Shoulder Massage For Chronic Shoulder Pain
Another great way to soothe chronic shoulder pain is to have a massage. And as we all know massages are great for sore muscles.
A 2017 review in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that massage therapy is an effective way to relieve shoulder pain.
Shoulder massage increases the ROM (range of motion) in the arm. One of the problems with shoulder pain is, of course, a decreased range of motion. Shoulder massage done by a qualified professional can help relieve shoulder pain, and allow you better movement of the affected shoulder.
A good massage helps release restricted painful muscles and therefore can improve movement in the arm without as much pain. A good massage lengthens muscle fibers, releases trigger points and stretches tendons allowing for better range of motion and improved function, and decreases pain in the shoulder, states Leslie DeMatteo, a certified massage therapist
So get yourself booked for a massage session. You may need more than one for according to this study, deep tissue massage to the shoulder for 10 sessions had the greatest efficacy in relieving shoulder pain.
Hydrotherapy is the use of water to relieve shoulder pain.
This means the use of water in any of its various forms such as ice or steam for health purposes using different temperatures, and pressures.
There are many types of hydrotherapy treatments.
Some of these include warm water, some cold water, some are compresses while others call for immersion.
Hydrotherapy can also be done in saunas or steam baths.
Hydrotherapy is really nothing new though.
According to The North American Journal of Medical Sciences, the use of water or hydrotherapy to treat various conditions is indeed as old as mankind.
Hydrotherapy has been used for centuries since the time of Roman hot baths to hot mineral springs.
The English talked about taking the waters to treat various chronic aches and pains, at interesting enough a place called Bath.
And today we continue to use water to treat our aches and pains including chronic shoulder pain.
Why is Hydrotherapy Effective For Shoulder Pain Relief?
There has to be a good reason why the use of water as a therapeutic treatment for pain has been in use for centuries.
Hydrotherapy is used to relieve joint pain, arthritis pain, fibromyalgia, neck pain, and generalized aches and pains.
Let’s look at some examples of hydrotherapy and how they relieve shoulder pain.
Coldwater hydrotherapy includes forms of treatment such as cold compresses and ice treatments.
Cold compresses are very effective in reducing the pain that is associated with inflammation. When cold water is applied to the skin, the superficial blood vessel constrict.
As a result of this constriction, excessive blood is moved away from the injured area. If the area is inflamed, the swelling causes more pain. Cold treatment by constricting the blood vessels decreases the swelling and therefore reduces pain.
Construction helps to lower inflammation and pain naturally through the use of hydrotherapy such as cold compress application.
Another way to use hydrotherapy is whole-body immersion. When the body is immersed in water, 80 percent of the bodyweight is taken off, allowing a person to retrain muscles and joints in a soothing environment. This allows the shoulder to be moved a little more and improves the range of motion and pain.
Swimming is a great form of immersion hydrotherapy. I don’t mean long breaststrokes swimming, though! Head over shoulder should be avoided especially in rotator cuff injuries.
For shoulder pain relief gentle swimming is great. It helps reduce the pull of gravity, and at the same time provides some resistance for strength training for the affected muscles.
Additionally, water is soothing in general, and even this gentle exercise will relieve tension and stress giving you a generalized sense of wellbeing.
This article describes the best way to do hydrotherapy immersion exercises for shoulder pain.
Whirlpool therapy uses churning heated water to treat sore painful muscles and joints. This churning warm water relaxes muscles by improving circulation.
Additionally, the warm churning water whirlpools are great at relieving stressed and strained taut sore muscles as well.
Use of a Hubbard Tank
A Hubbard tank is a type of whirlpool for immersion hydrotherapy treatment for the whole body, that allows a better range of motion and a whirling water massage, great for relaxing aching joints and muscles as in chronic shoulder pain.
Magnesium salts can be added to boost muscle relaxation. This is great especially for those who are deficient in magnesium.
This can boost your magnesium levels up to 35 percent, research states.
Be careful though if you have diabetes, magnesium can cause more insulin to be released leading to insulin resistance.
Warm water is especially great at relieving the pain and stiffness of arthritis in the shoulder joint pain and so if you can find a heated pool, you get even better results.
An article in Arthritis Foundation says that people with arthritis and fibromyalgia who used a heated pool for mild exercises reported decreased pain, as much as 40 %, and improved physical functioning.
Mindfulness and Meditation
But first, let take a moment and clear some misunderstanding associated with telling someone that mindfulness can help their pain.
Please bear in mind that mindfulness does not seek to tell you that pain is all in your mind.
On the contrary, it is fully being present and validating pain as a physiological event and seeking to change the perception of pain in the brain.
Mindfulness puts you in control.
Studies have shown that mindfulness can alleviate the sensation of pain.
Mindfulness meditation is characterized by two distinct cognitive practices, states research in The Journal of Neuroscience
This fundamental practice of mindfulness is called focused attention or Shamatha, ( Sanskrit for calm abiding.) Usually a prerequisite for another form of mindfulness known as open monitoring or vipassana ( Sanskrit for insight into the nature of reality).
Research found that focused breathing in a nonevaluative manner effectively reduced the subjective experience of pain.
We have to remember that pain is subjective. It is both sensory and emotional.
Mindfulness calls for paying attention fully to all internal and external experiences occurring at the current moment as they occur accepting using focused attention on breathing with an objective non-judgmental acceptance of thoughts and sensations.
Researchers believe that meditation mindfulness reduced pain by altering it through enhancing cognitive control and re-flaming the contextual evaluation of pain sensation or nociceptive information.
That means that mindfulness changes the way the brain perceives pain.
Even the MRI scans in the study showed a person meditating confirmed pain reduction as evidenced by changes in various pain pathways in the brain.
Then the pain is more bearable, and this can improve
Mindfulness meditation is a mind-body
Yoga For Chronic Shoulder Pain Relief
Apparently, yoga is not just the poses that we or I associate it with but a host of practices and systems. Who knew? What we normally know as yoga is called hatha yoga.
And it involves physical postures and poses, breathing techniques, and breathing exercises.
According to Yoga Holidays, yoga is a form of the spiritual science of self-realization.
The practice comes from India and goes back 5 thousand years, and according to Patanjali, an Indian Sage, yoga is the control of the activities of the mind.
These activities are encompassing the physical, mental spiritual, and emotional being.
That includes ethical, physical postures, breath control, and mediation.
According to Psychology Today, chronic pain such as chronic shoulder pain changes the structure of the brain.
And these changes in the brain are linked to depression, anxiety, and even cognitive function.
Yoga, researchers found has the opposite effect.
Yoga helps with pain control through mindfulness, and also through its physical aspect when done correctly.
It improves muscle flexibility, and relaxation exercises and can reduce inflammation.
Yoga is a great way of releasing endorphins that work as natural morphine for pain control.
Well-doing yoga gives one a sense of self-control which helps one control pain or perhaps be able to tolerate it.
The researcher thinks that the benefit of yoga is related to its effect on the autonomic nervous system and stress reduction in relation to pain”
A bonus from these exercises is that people also get an emotional boost as well.
They sleep better and see a decrease in tension that may also help reduce pain perception.
Also, pain expectation or experience triggers the fight or flight response, triggering the sympathetic nervous system, but for yogis, the parasympathetic system is triggered which triggers the rest and digest or “tend and befriend response.”
And that is how yoga can help with chronic shoulder pain.
Therefore yoga and meditation have a potent pain-relieving effect on the mind. Sometimes the mind has a lot of power in our healing.
Essential Oils For Chronic Shoulder Pain.
One may wonder how oil can help with pain such as chronic shoulder pain.
But essential oils are gaining momentum as a healing medium. And they can help with pain like chronic shoulder pain.
The skin, the largest organ in the human body is porous.
As such the healing substances in pure essential oils are able to diffuse into the tissues to deliver their healing mostly anti-inflammatory effects.
Rosehip Oil For Chronic Shoulder Pain.
Shoulder pain may be caused by damage to tissues and joints as a result of inflammation as in arthritis.
Rosehip oil can help with relieving this inflammation.
Rosehip oil per this research reduced osteoarthritis pain better than NSAIDs
Rosehip contains polyphenols and anthocyanins that reduce inflammation.
Rosehip also has lycopene, another potent antioxidant that fights inflammation. and is also relaxing, and calms autonomic responses. All of these are beneficial in calming shoulder and chronic pain.
Lavender Oil To Manage Shoulder Pain
Several studies have shown that lavender oil has nociceptive,( pain-relieving) antiinflammatory and immunomodulatory properties.
In some cases, the effect of lavender oil was as effective as dexamethasone or tramadol two medications usually used to control pain. Lavender oil is anti edematogenic( reduces swelling) and simultaneously inhibits nociception( the sensory nervous system recognition of pain.)
And lavender oil is so relaxing! And smells great, an all in joy to the senses, helping one relax is bound to reduce pain sensation.
Evening Primrose In Chronic Shoulder Pain Management
Evening primrose is anti-inflammatory and may also relieve pain. It contains omega 3s which is anti-inflammatory.
There are claims that flaxseed oils are a great source of omega 3s and good for rheumatoid arthritis pain, lupus, and Raynaud’s phenomena, all inflammatory conditions that can lead to many aches and pains, including chronic shoulder pain.
Evening primrose lubricates joints and eases stiffness, which eases discomfort.
However, this can lead to an increased effect on blood thinning so check with your dr if on blood thinners or taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Ginger Root As an Antidote for Chronic Shoulder Pain
Ginger root has been used for thousands of years in Indian Ayurvedic medicine. In a study published in How Stuff works, ginger was found to be superior to NSAIDs in treating pain such as joint inflammatory pain.
Its superiority, researchers found, was due to the fact that ginger blocked the pain-causing prostaglandins as well as the inflammatory leukotrienes. These are pain sensation- causing substances produced due to inflammation.
Ginger also eased the activities of the COX-2 enzyme, which is another enzyme associated with pain, researchers found. Cox-2 enzymes are usually started by NSAIDs which are regularly administered for pain relief.
Gingers’ antioxidants also break down existing inflammation and neutralize the acidity within joints. This then calms the pain and inflammation in joints and muscles.
As such, ginger can be a powerful way to manage chronic shoulder pain.
Chronic shoulder pain may be related to inflammation as in osteoarthritis. So ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory, calms this inflammation thereby reducing and alleviating the shoulder pain.
A 2001 controlled study found that participants given ginger extract capsules experienced moderate pain control. However, there were some mild gi disturbances, so if you experience stomach upset, you may want to try a different natural remedy for shoulder pain.
Also, this 2015 Review published in Pub Med found ginger to be moderately efficacious in reducing osteoarthritis joint pain. This effect can be applied to shoulder pain as well.
The great thing about ginger for pain control is that it can be applied, like an ice pack or a heated pad. And can be, but it can be consumed too to heal inflammation systemically.
A 2015 study found that consuming raw or heated ginger led to moderate and in some cases a large reduction in muscle pain.
But let me say here that these studies are not conclusive.
If you take ginger orally it is recommended 2-3 grams a day and not to exceed 64 grams daily.
Take caution and again speak with your doctor before using it.
Also, it is wise to be aware of your allergies. Test on a small area for skin reactions. Be cautious as ginger can also interfere with medications.
Chamomile for Pain Control
This little flower can do so much for human health from easing one into restful sleep to pain control.
According to a study done on some volunteers, it was found that the oils in chamomile penetrate under the skin, and helped with the pain.
The study found that chamomile eased the effects of prostaglandins( pain-causing substances in inflammation) by inhibiting their release.
In this way, chamomile oils acted pretty much like your over the counter anti-inflammatory pain-relieving medications such as Ibuprofen. The best part is no risk of stomach bleeding.
And chamomile as a tea is also pretty relaxing, a great thing for anyone, especially a person suffering from chronic pain.
Turmeric for Shoulder Pain
Nowadays, it sounds like turmeric is the modern marvel that can alleviate so many ailments. And it is for a good reason. Turmeric contains a powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant called curcumin, which is the main active ingredient in turmeric.
Curcumin combats oxidative stress, the cause of a lot of inflammatory responses including joint degenerative diseases, that often are the cause of chronic shoulder pain.
A 2008 study published in Biochemical Pharmacology, shows how curcumin works to modulate and prevent inflammation. If you are into reading heavy-duty biosynthesis processes, do check that out.
The main thing is that there is scientific evidence that curcumin in turmeric works by downregulating inflammation. For this reason, curcumin can help relieve inflammation that may be the cause of some chronic shoulder pain.
You can read more here about the role of inflammation in many chronic illnesses, and what you can do to beat inflammation.
Turmeric comes in many forms including capsules, powder, or the root itself. It is important to note that in order for it to be bioavailable, black pepper needs to be added in any preparation.
A substance called piperine in black pepper helps turmeric absorption. So add a dash of black pepper when you make turmeric drinks such as golden tea or golden milk.
Just to show you the power of turmeric, this story told by a doctor reinforces turmerics’ healing ability.
The doctor was simply amazed by his patient’s quick recovery after knee surgery related to arthritis.
The patient who was supplementing with turmeric before surgery was able to recover much faster than the doctor had expected. So if there is no medical condition or medication that would interact with turmeric, start using turmeric and you too may feel the healing power of this golden root.
So very many studies have documented the healing power of curcumin.
A 2009 study conducted by The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that turmeric was as effective as the NSAID ibuprofen for the treatment of osteoarthritis.
So, is your chronic shoulder pain related to joint degeneration such as osteoarthritis? Then turmeric may offer relief to this type of pain.
But for every alternative remedy you want to use, always remember, even natural products can interact with other medications you may be on.
As always check with your Dr, first.
I hope these natural remedies will offer some relief if you are suffering from chronic shoulder pain. With both medical management and doctor-approved home remedies, you may be able to minimize or relieve the debilitating effects of living with chronic shoulder pain.
Let me know in the comments if you have ever tried any of these remedies? What works for you? Remember to keep things in balance, and rest, and exercise as recommended by a certified practitioner, try some simple soothing remedies.
EB Sunday, thank you!
WOW! What an amazing and comprehensive guide to managing chronic shoulder pain. Thank you so much for sharing this. With spending all day at a computer, I definitely struggle with this especially because after work I come home to work on my blog which includes MORE hunched over work. Definitely saving this. Incredible how meditation and mindfulness help too. Thanks for a great post, Jane!
Chloe! You are so welcome! Thank you so much for reading! So appreciate.