How to Treat a Shoulder Muscle Strain

A muscle strain is a stretching or tearing of a muscle or tendon. Strains can occur in joints and muscles across the body, but the shoulders in particular are very susceptible to strains. Treatment options for shoulder strains vary depending on the severity of the strain, but generally follow the RICE treatment principle of rest, ice, compression and elevation. An untreated shoulder muscle strain can cause long-term effects, so consult a physician or physical therapist for a detailed personalized treatment program.

Things You'll Need

  • Shoulder sling

  • Ice pack

  • Compression sleeve or ACE bandage

Step 1

Diagnose the severity of the shoulder muscle strain. Grade I strains consist of mild discomfort with no disability; Grade II strains have moderate discomfort with moderate swelling and bruising; Grade III strains, however, have significant pain, swelling and bruising.

Step 2

Apply protection to the shoulder and surrounding muscles with a shoulder brace, harness or sling. The protection allows the shoulder muscles to rest while preventing further damage. Avoid using the shoulder or arm for normal activities for a few days until the pain and swelling decreases.

Step 3

Apply ice packs or bags of frozen vegetables. Leave the ice on the shoulder for 15 to 20 minutes at least three times daily. Icing reduces swelling and inflammation while preventing further injury.

Step 4

Wrap the shoulder in a compression sleeve or ACE bandage to reduce swelling. The compression from the sleeve or bandage restricts muscle movement, allowing the muscle to heal.

Step 5

Elevate the shoulder to reduce blood flow and swelling. Reducing swelling promotes the healing process.

Step 6

Strengthen and stretch the shoulder muscles to increase blood flow and regain range of motion. Stronger muscles, along with proper posture, can prevent future strains.


A doctor or physical therapist can prescribe specific personalized exercises and treatment options for the shoulder muscle strain. Take over-the-counter pain medication to relieve pain and reduce inflammation.


If treatments are ineffective at reducing swelling or relieving pain after three days, seek medical attention by visiting a physician or physical therapist.

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