Home treatment is often the first treatment for a rotator cuff problem. Treatment can help relieve the discomfort and keep the problem from getting worse.
Rest your injured shoulder, although gentle movement of the shoulder is recommended. Limit repetitive movement, and avoid strenuous activity and activities where your arms move above your head. Be sure to follow your doctor's advice on how long to limit movement. Most people don't rest long enough. The rest period for a rotator cuff disorder may be a couple of days to several weeks. During rest:
- Avoid putting your arm in a sling. It is important that you don't keep your shoulder completely still (immobilized), because it can cause the joint to stiffen or can even lead to frozen shoulder.
- Move your arm carefully through its full range of motion several times a day. Progress slowly to avoid injury.
- Avoid activities or positions that cause discomfort, such as playing golf or tennis or carrying heavy bags of groceries. Stop any activity that hurts your shoulder.
- Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen to relieve pain. NSAIDs come in pills and in a cream that you rub over the sore area. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
Using ice and heat
People respond to heat and ice differently. Use whichever one makes you feel better. In some cases, heat feels good for a while but may make pain and stiffness worse after 1 to 2 hours. For a sudden injury, don't use heat for the first 48 hours.
At first, ice helps relieve pain and reduce swelling. Try applying ice to your shoulder for the first 48 hours after discomfort begins:
- To avoid harming your skin, place a thin towel between the ice pack and your body, or put a pillowcase over the ice pack.
- Apply ice 2 or 3 times a day, up to 20 minutes at a time.
- Apply an ice pack after exercising your shoulder, to help prevent swelling.
After 2 to 3 days, start moving your shoulder with the aid of moist heat:
- Soak a towel in hot water, and wring it out. Fold the towel to about 8 in. (20 cm) square.
- While holding the towel on your shoulder, relax your shoulder, lean forward so your arm hangs freely, and gently swing your arm back and forth like a pendulum.
- You also can do this exercise standing under a warm shower. Heat relaxes your muscles and tendons by increasing blood flow to them. When combined with gentle motion, heat can ease inflammation.
- Repeat these steps 2 or 3 times a day to reduce the risk of permanent stiffness in the joint.
Eventually, your doctor may want you to do more to stretch and strengthen your shoulder. For exercises you can do at home (with your doctor's approval), see: