How to Treat a Pulled Muscle in the Shoulder and Neck

Pulled muscles in the shoulder and neck can happen during overhead movements or heavy lifting. Even simple actions can cause neck or shoulder strain in muscles that have been stressed from overuse or poor posture.

Ice can help relieve pain from a muscle strain. (Image: PhotoAlto/Frederic Cirou/PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections/GettyImages)

While muscle injuries should resolve on their own, severe shoulder and neck accidents can involve more than just the muscles in and around the rotator cuff. Bursitis, tendinitis and other afflictions of the shoulder or cervical spine can contribute to musculoskeletal pain and disability and require more comprehensive treatment.

Pulled Shoulder Muscle?

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, signs and symptoms of strains can include difficulty moving the injured body part, swelling, bruising and pain. Strains can occur after an immediate event, such as lifting something wrong or a fall, or can develop over time from overuse of shoulder or neck muscles.

Patients should see a doctor for an accurate, timely diagnosis if neck or shoulder pain lasts more than a few days, if the pain is severe or if there is associated numbness or tingling in the arm, according to Mayo Clinic. Some neck or shoulder injuries require surgical intervention and time is of the essence.

Understanding Muscle Strains

Underlying conditions will need treatment beyond muscle rehabilitation. An inability to move the arm after a shoulder strain may indicate the need for X-rays or other tests to diagnose additional problems, such as bone fractures or dislocations. Muscle or tendon tears are often diagnosed using MRI.

Patients who experience shooting neck pain that radiates into the arm may need treatment for nerve compression or damage. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reports that pain arising in the shoulder and neck muscles without a traumatic incident may be related to spinal conditions.

Shoulder and neck pain from a pulled muscle is caused by twisting or tearing the muscle itself or the tendon that attaches the muscle to bone. Treatment should be geared toward helping the body renew and strengthen pulled muscle tissue. Immediately after injury, this includes freeing cellular energy for healing by resting and by suppressing shoulder and neck pain and inflammation.

Home Remedies and Stretches

Patients should limit activity and support the affected area until the initial pain and swelling diminish. Patients can also apply ice packs within the first 24 to 48 hours after injury and heat after that time frame to help speed the healing process. They can take ibuprofen or aspirin for pain and inflammation relief, if approved by a physician.

As the discomfort passes, treatment should include a program of stretching and strengthening exercises. Exercises will vary based on the underlying injury. A physical therapist can prescribe exercise to help restore function after a muscle strain.

Prevention of Reinjury

To prevent future pulled muscles in the neck, patients may need to make posture adjustments, such as using ergonomic lifting techniques or not cradling a telephone between the neck and shoulder.

The American Physical Therapy Association reminds patients to position themselves at the desk with the neck in a neutral position, ideally with the arms supported. This will align the rest of the body and prevent the patient from leaning over, which can cause shoulder strain.

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