The shoulder joint consists of different muscles that are for moving, protection, and provide a wide range of motion. When one or more of these muscles is pulled or strained it can affect the smallest movements. A pulled shoulder muscle can make simple activities difficult, painful, and impossible. Minor shoulder injuries can heal on their own with home remedies. A serious shoulder muscle injury should be addressed by a medical professional. The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint. Pulling a muscle in the shoulder can be caused by:
- General wear and tear
Pulled Shoulder Muscle Causes
Pulling a shoulder muscle can happen quickly like falling on the shoulder or from a car accident. It can also develop from months or years of working a job where individuals perform repetitive motions with the shoulders and overuse the muscles to the point of strain. No matter the cause, rehabilitation, and recovery depend on the type and severity of the injury.
Common Shoulder Muscle Injuries
The shoulder joint is surrounded by several muscles and tendons and because the shoulder can move so freely, it is a common area for a pull or strain. Different shoulder muscle injuries fall under being pulled or strained.
- Rotator Cuff Tear
- Shoulder Tear
- Shoulder Sprain
- Shoulder Strain
- Pulled Muscle in the shoulder blade
A Pulled Muscle or Something Else
Unless an individual is a medical professional or has experienced this type of pain before, it can be hard to tell exactly what the cause is. Shoulder pain can have other or combined causes like inflammation of the tendons and joints, or the joint itself could be causing the injury. Here are a few ways to investigate what is causing shoulder pain.
Pulled Shoulder Muscle Symptoms
- Pain in the shoulder blade area is characterized by dull, sore, or aching pain.
- Sometimes shooting pain in the area between the shoulder blades will present, causing pain in the front or back of the shoulder.
- Shoulder instability of the muscles or tendons.
- The shoulder feels fragile
- Movement causes pain
- A bump can develop at the top of the shoulder near the end of the collarbone
- General symptoms include:
- Pain when the shoulder is at rest
- Pain when the specific muscle is used
- Possible swelling of the area
- Inability to use the muscle at all
The Seriousness of a Pulled Shoulder Muscle
The majority of the time a pulled shoulder muscle is not serious. If the pain is not severe and it is not the result of an accident, it is okay to utilize home remedies to reduce pain and help the shoulder heal. However, there are symptoms that could indicate a serious injury or medical problem. If you experience shoulder pain and any of the following, seek immediate medical attention.
- Severe and intense pain
- Severe, abrupt pain that has no obvious cause
- Shortness of breath
- Chest numbness or pain
- Seeing clearly
- Difficulty speaking
- Sudden swelling, pain, or redness
For individuals that experience shoulder pain that does not get better over time, seek professional help, even if the pain is mild. A professional will develop the right treatment plan, reduce pain, and generate a healthy recovery, getting the individual back to normal and optimal health.
Treatment and Recovery Options
Treatment and recovery plans are different for everyone. This is because it depends on the severity of the pull and the individual’s overall health. Many find that the pain is reduced with home remedies in two or three weeks. Chiropractic treatment for a pulled shoulder muscle can provide relief within one or two weeks.
Home Remedies for Pulled Shoulder Muscles
Depending on the severity and how much pain is presenting taking NSAIDs like Ibuprofen can help reduce pain and swelling. Individuals can also incorporate the following:
The shoulder should rest for 2 or 3 days. This gets the healing process started and prevents further injuring the area.
Wrap or Sling
During the days of rest, keeping the shoulder from moving can be difficult. To avoid this, wrap the shoulder or utilize a sling to support the arm. Remember that these should not be used for more than 2 or 3 days.
Ice for Swelling
If there is swelling, applying ice to the area can help reduce the inflammation. Apply for 20 minutes every hour. The swelling should begin reducing in a day or two.
Working out the muscles after the 2 or 3 days of rest is important. Stretches will help the muscle group strengthen and heal. Not stretching the muscles and not using them for an extended time could worsen the injury and increase the risk of further injury.
Stretching the Shoulder
As aforementioned not moving/stretching can cause more problems in the long run. Not using the muscle can cause it to atrophy, which means that it will take longer to heal with the surrounding muscles weakening. Gentle stretches for a pulled shoulder muscle include:
Cross-Body Shoulder Stretch
- Bring the affected arm across the body at an angle
- Cup the elbow of the affected arm with the other hand
- Use that hand to gently pull the arm toward the body
- Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds
- Repeat 3 to 5 times
- Bend slightly forward, support the body by placing the non-injured arm on a table or chair
- Allow the injured arm to hang straight down
- Start swinging the arm in small circles clockwise that gradually grow wider
- Do for 1 minute, then switch counterclockwise for another minute
- Repeat 4 to 8 times throughout the day
If home remedies are not enough, then chiropractic can help. Chiropractors use a variety of treatment modalities for pulled shoulder muscles. These include:
- Chiropractic adjustments
- Electrical stimulation
- Manual stretching
- Cold laser therapy to reduce pain and swelling
- Health coaching
- Posture exercises
- Physical rehabilitative therapy
If the pain is persistent, it could indicate more than a pulled muscle is causing the pain. This could be a pinched nerve or a joint issue. A doctor of chiropractic can develop the best recovery option to get to the root cause.
Women and muscle distribution
Research reveals that women could have a higher distribution of type 1 muscle fibers and lower distribution of type 2 muscle fibers which are more prevalent in men. Type 1 muscle fibers are slow-twitch muscles and are extremely useful in long-endurance activities like long-distance running. Type 1 muscle fibers are also the first ones that activate during any type of exercise. Type 2 are the fast-twitch muscle fibers and get activated when performing powerful or explosive bursts of movements like sprinting.
Because of these muscle-fiber differences, men are likely to excel in training that involves explosive, powerful routines. However, a study found that women can gain more muscle mass using a total body strength training program compared to men. For optimal results mix up the workout with a variety of resistance and strength training routines. This will allow for greater muscle mass growth.
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The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, and sensitive health issues and/or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions. We use functional health & wellness protocols to treat and support care for injuries or disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Our posts, topics, subjects, and insights cover clinical matters, issues, and topics that relate and support directly or indirectly our clinical scope of practice.*
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Kim, Jun-Hee et al. “Comparison of the Shoulder External Rotator Strength and Asymmetry Ratio Between Workers With and Without Shoulder Impingement Syndrome.” Journal of strength and conditioning research, 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003343. 17 Sep. 2019, doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000003343
Verniba, Dmitry, and William H Gage. “Stepping threshold with platform-translation and shoulder-pull postural perturbation methods.” Journal of biomechanics vol. 94 (2019): 224-229. doi:10.1016/j.jbiomech.2019.07.027
Dealing with Painful Trigger Points. Berkeley Wellness. http://www.berkeleywellness.com/self-care/preventive-care/article/dealing-painful-trigger-points. Published September 1, 2011. Accessed June 14, 2018.