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Swollen Shoulder Joint

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 2, 2022.

What do I need to know about a swollen shoulder joint?

A swollen shoulder joint may be caused by conditions such as arthritis or bursitis, or by an injury. You may have other symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and trouble moving your arm.

How is a swollen shoulder joint diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and any medical conditions you have. Tell your provider if you have had any recent injuries. Your provider will examine your shoulder and check how well your arm moves in different directions. Blood tests or x-rays may be used to find the cause of the swelling. Your provider may also remove fluid from your shoulder joint and send it to a lab for tests.

How is a swollen shoulder joint treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of your swollen shoulder joint. Your healthcare provider may recommend any of the following:

  • Rest your shoulder as directed. Avoid activities that make the swelling or pain worse. You may need to wear a sling for a period of time to help rest your shoulder. Slowly start to do more each day. Return to your daily activities as directed.
  • 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.
  • Apply heat on your shoulder for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed. Heat helps decrease pain.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Physical therapy may be recommended. A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You cannot move your arm at all.
  • You have severe pain that does not get better with medicine.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have redness or warmth over your shoulder.
  • The swelling in your shoulder joint does not decrease with treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.