Help for a Pulled Muscle in the Shoulder

Updated April 17, 2017

Adults and teens who are involved in sports or weightlifting as well as physically-demanding jobs can be susceptible to a pulled shoulder muscle. This injury can occur in one of three heads that make up the shoulder muscle or deltoids (anterior, lateral and posterior) or higher up near the rotator cuff (tendons in shoulder joint). Treatment for a pulled muscle in the shoulder usually includes rest, ice, heat, massage and exercise.

Rest, Ice and Heat

If you a pulled a muscle in your shoulder it is best that you take time off from physical activity. This rest period will prevent further aggravation of your pulled shoulder muscle. It will also allow you to get the inflammation and pain under control with ice. Ice reduces inflammation and pain by creating vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels) in the shoulder muscle, limiting the flow of blood and lymph to the area. Ice is most effective if you use it at 20-minute intervals throughout the day. You should compress the ice directly against your shoulder using an ice pack or something you can tie onto your shoulder. Once the initial swelling has subsided, heat (i.e. heating pads) can be used for promoting blood (with its healing properties) flow to the affected area.


Anti-inflammatory medications such as naproxen and ibuprofen can help relieve pain and swelling form a pulled shoulder muscle. These medications are Cox-2 inhibitors which minimise the effects of Cox-2 enzymes on the production of prostaglandins (chemicals), the body's natural inflammatory response to injuries. Topical creams or ointments such as Bengay may also be effective in treating your pulled shoulder muscle. Moreover, for more severe pain, you doctor may prescribe steroids or muscle relaxants to relieve your symptoms.


According to the staff at, experts in fitness, massage can also be highly effective in stimulating blood flow into certain muscles such as the shoulder. Massage also minimises scar tissue in the muscle. You can massage your own shoulder or have have someone do it for you. It is best to place your elbow on a table and get in a position where the shoulder muscle is completely relaxed (not flexed).


Performing various stretching and resistance exercises can help relieve pain from a pulled shoulder muscle. Depending on the location of your injury, stretching your arm in different positions can help alleviate pain. For example, if you have pulled your posterior deltoid muscle (in back of shoulder), grabbing your elbows and pulling them toward your chest can help assuage the pain. Hold the position for 10-20 seconds and repeat with the other arm.

For all pulled shoulder muscles, try bending forward and moving your arm around in a small circle. Relax your arm and perform this movement up to 5 minutes. Light dumbbell training can also enhance your recovery for shoulder pain from a pulled muscle.

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