Skip to Content

Shoulder Sprain


A shoulder sprain happens when a ligament in your shoulder is stretched or torn. Ligaments are the tough tissues that connect bones. Ligaments allow you to lift, lower, and rotate your arm.

Shoulder Anatomy


Return to the emergency department if:

  • You are short of breath.
  • Your throat feels tight, or you have trouble swallowing.
  • You feel sudden, sharp chest pain on the same side as your injury.
  • Your skin feels cold or clammy.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • The skin on your injured shoulder looks blue or pale.
  • You have new or increased swelling and pain in your shoulder.
  • You have new or increased stiffness when you move your injured shoulder.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask how to take this medicine safely.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him or her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.


  • Rest your shoulder so it can heal. Avoid moving your shoulder as your injury heals. This will help decrease the risk of more damage to your shoulder.
  • Apply ice on your shoulder for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Compress your shoulder as directed. Compression provides support and helps decrease swelling and movement so your shoulder can heal. For mild sprains, you may be given a sling to support your arm. You may need a padded brace or a plaster cast to hold your shoulder in place if the sprain is more serious.

How to wear a brace, sling, or splint:

A brace, sling, or splint may be needed to limit your movement and protect your injured shoulder.

  • Wear your brace, sling, or splint as directed. You may need to wear it all the time and take it off only to bathe or do exercises. Ask your healthcare provider how long you should wear it.
  • Keep your skin clean and dry. Padding under your armpit will help absorb sweat and prevent sores on your skin.
  • Do not hunch your shoulders. This may cause pain. Keep your shoulders relaxed.
  • Position the sling over your arm and hand so that it also covers your knuckles. This will help the sling support your wrist and hand. Position your wrist higher than your elbow. Your wrist may start to hurt or go numb if your sling is too short.

Exercise your shoulder:

After you rest your shoulder for 3 to 7 days, you will need to do light exercises to decrease shoulder stiffness. Check with your healthcare provider before you return to your normal activities or sports.

Prevent another injury:

You can hurt your shoulder again if you stop treatment too soon. The following may decrease your risk for sprains:

  • Do not exercise when you are tired or in pain. Warm up and stretch before you exercise.
  • Wear equipment to protect yourself when you play sports.
  • Wear shoes that fit well and run on flat surfaces to prevent falls.

© 2017 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.