When to See an Orthopedic Doctor for Shoulder & Elbow

Sometimes you may experience mild pain or tweak your shoulder or elbow while working out, playing sports, or doing chores around the house. These circumstances mean you can treat your shoulder or elbow at home before going to see a doctor. The best home remedies for elbow and shoulder pain are

Anti-inflammatory Medication

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) can reduce swelling and inflammation in the shoulder and elbow. They are available over-the-counter without a prescription. The most common are ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen. You can take these medications over the course of several days as long as you follow dosing instructions on the package. If the pain does not resolve after taking these for a few days, contact a doctor.

Ice

After an initial injury, an ice pack or cold compress can reduce swelling and pain. Wrap the ice pack in a towel and apply it to the affected area for 15 minutes at a time, up to four times a day. If you don’t have an ice pack, you can make your own by putting ice in a sealed plastic bag or using a bag of frozen vegetables. 

Immobilization

If your shoulder or elbow hurts when you move it, immobilize it by putting your arm in a sling or wrapping your arm close to your body with an ACE bandage. Immobilizing your arm for too long could put you at risk for other conditions, such as frozen shoulder.  If the pain doesn’t get better within a day or two, schedule an appointment to see a doctor or go to the nearest urgent care. 

Compression

You can also wrap your shoulder or elbow to reduce swelling and pain. Use an ACE bandage or other elastic medical bandage and wrap it snugly around the injured area. Be careful not to wrap it too tight (you should not feel numbness or tingling in your arm or hand).

Modifying Your Activities

If your shoulder pain or elbow pain gets worse with certain activities, stop doing the things that are causing you pain.

Stretching and Strengthening Exercises

A physical therapist can provide exercises that will stretch and strengthen the muscles and tendons inside your shoulder and elbow.

If these home remedies do not reduce or eliminate your shoulder or elbow pain, schedule an appointment to see an orthopedic doctor.