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Medical Therapies for Shoulder Sprains & Strains

NYU Langone physicians may recommend a combination of rest, ice, pain relief medication, and corticosteroid injections to ease the discomfort of shoulder sprains and strains, while soft tissues heal. These treatments are often used in conjunction with physical or occupational therapy. While mild shoulder sprains and strains may respond to these approaches, more severe sprains and strains may require surgery.

Rest, Immobilization, and Ice

After you receive a diagnosis of shoulder strain or sprain, your NYU Langone doctor may recommend a combination of rest and immobilization to reduce pain and swelling.

Your doctor may advise you to modify your daily activities to avoid putting stress on the shoulder. This may include not raising your hands over your head, using a sling to immobilize and support the shoulder joint, and not carrying anything on the affected side of the body.

Your doctor determines how long you’ll need to use rest and immobilization, based on the severity of the injury. As symptoms improve and the shoulder heals, you gradually return to your usual activities.

Applying ice to your shoulder can reduce swelling of injured tissues. Your doctor may recommend using ice on the affected shoulder 3 times a day for 15 minutes at a time, for several weeks.

Pain Relief Medication

A shoulder sprain or strain may cause pain, especially when you lift and use your arm. Inflammation in the soft tissues surrounding the injury causes some of this discomfort.

Doctors may recommend a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, to reduce inflammation and pain.

If severe shoulder pain prevents you from going to work or participating in daily activities, doctors may offer other prescription pain relievers for one or two weeks to help you manage pain. These are strong medications that mask pain to help you function. Doctors at NYU Langone do not recommend using them long term.

Corticosteroid Injection

NYU Langone has a dedicated team of specialists who offer corticosteroid injections to relieve the pain of a shoulder sprain or strain. Typically, doctors recommend an injection only after other medications have failed to provide relief.

Steroids have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and can be injected directly into the shoulder. Your doctor may use a local anesthetic to numb the area before injecting the corticosteroid and ultrasound to guide injections.

Often the corticosteroid is mixed with an anesthetic that provides pain relief for a few hours after the procedure. It is common for shoulder pain to return several hours after the injection. The corticosteroid usually begins to work within two or three days.
Our doctors recommend no more than two or three injections over the course of one year. Side effects may include tenderness and bruising at the injection site.

Our Research and Education in Shoulder Sprains and Strains

Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.