Craig* came into the gym the other morning saying his shoulder was ‘killing him’. So, I asked Craig “how did you hurt it?”
I was expecting him to either say:
This is typically how pain goes. In Craig’s case, he’d woken up and his shoulder was excruciatingly sore when he lifted his arm up. He thought he’d just slept on it funny. This kind of sudden and severe pain is usually referred to as acute.
Craig’s pain was being caused by his body using inflammation to repair damaged tissues in his shoulder. Swelling of an area happens because your body increases the flow of fluid and white blood cells to an area of inflammation to aid healing. Both the pain and the swelling are designed to prevent you using the affected area, and to protect it from further injury.
As Craig was already in the gym, we amended his program to avoid putting any undue stress through his shoulder – to rest it. It’s important in the first stages of injury to not keep doing whatever causes the pain – even to demonstrate to someone what makes it hurt!
My advice to Craig was to rest his shoulder (but keep his arm moving without loading it) and to ice it to reduce the swelling. Now, based on what I said about swelling protecting you, you may wonder why you’d ice an area to reduce swelling – well to reduce pain so you can keep moving is the simple answer. Using ice to reduce swelling and pain doesn’t interfere with the healing process whereas taking anti-inflammatory drugs, like Ibuprofen, can.
I say minor (non-traumatic) because if you’ve hurt yourself and there was an impact or fall involved, you should see your GP/visit A&E as soon as possible to make sure you don’t have a break, tear or fracture.
So, back to icing:
1) Grab a bag of peas from your freezer and wrap it in a tea towel
2) Apply it to the affected area (never lie or sit on an ice pack)
3) Leave on for 15-20 minutes – allow your skin to return to normal temperature before icing again
This is best done repeatedly for the first 2-3 days after the pain starts but when you have long-term pain (chronic) and the area is red or feels hot, then icing can also be useful.
If the pain isn’t improving within 3 days – it’s maybe time to visit your GP, chiropractor or physio to get it checked over.
Once your pain begins to subside, you can likely go back to doing things as before – but take it easy. Even a minor injury can take weeks, or months, to fully repair (depending on it’s severity) so take things slowly to begin with. If for example you play tennis, test your shoulder out. Arrange to have a ten minute knock-about with a willing friend, rather than a competitive five-set match as your first step.
Any thoughts or questions, please do comment – I look forward to hearing from you 🙂
P.S. If you (or someone you know) have long-term pain and are struggling to exercise, so piling on the pounds and generally feeling ‘bleurgh’ …I can help.
If you’d like a free-of-charge consultation to chat about how we can get you back to feeling like you, call me on 0779 381 3605 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
N.B. If you’re on prescribed pain medication or taking any under the advice of a healthcare professional, then you should consult them before making any changes to your pain management plan.
*I’ve changed my client’s name to protect their identity – the story is based on a real conversation.