Shoulder Sprain 

A sprain is a stretching or tearing of the ligaments that hold a joint together. A sprain may take up to 8 weeks to fully heal, depending on how severe it is. Moderate to severe shoulder sprains are treated with a sling or shoulder immobilizer. Minor sprains can be treated without any special support.

Home care

The following guidelines will help you care for your injury at home:

  • If a sling was given to you, leave it in place for the time advised by your healthcare provider. If you aren’t sure how long to wear it, ask for advice. If the sling becomes loose, adjust it so that your forearm is parallel to the ground. Your shoulder should feel well supported.

  • Put an ice pack on the injured area for 20 minutes every 1 to 2 hours the first day. You can make your own ice pack by putting ice cubes in a plastic bag. A bag of frozen peas or something similar works well too. Wrap the bag in a thin towel. Continue with ice packs 3 to 4 times a day for the next 2 to 3 days. Then use the pack as needed to ease pain and swelling.

  • You may use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to control pain, unless another pain medicine was prescribed. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines. Also talk with your provider if you’ve had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding.

  • Shoulder joints become stiff if left in a sling for too long. You should start range of motion exercises usually about 7 to 10 days after the injury. Talk with your provider to find out what type of exercises to do and how soon to start.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

Any X-rays you had today don’t show any broken bones, breaks, or fractures. Sometimes fractures don’t show up on the first X-ray. Bruises and sprains can sometimes hurt as much as a fracture. These injuries can take time to heal completely. If your symptoms don’t improve or they get worse, talk with your provider. You may need a repeat X-ray or other treatments.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Shoulder pain or swelling in your arm that gets worse

  • Fingers become cold, blue, numb, or tingly

  • Large amount of bruising of the shoulder or upper arm

  • Fever or chills

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