health articles

Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain is common, and it will normally go away by itself within a fortnight. However, if your shoulder pain lasts longer than this, it may be caused by something more serious, which it is worth consulting with a GP or Physiotherapist about.


Causes of shoulder pain

If your shoulder is painful or stiff for a long period of time (months or years) this may be a sign of Frozen Shoulder  or Arthritis. If you’re experiencing pain which gets more painful when you use your shoulder, this might indicate tendonitis.

If you experience a sudden, very bad pain in your shoulder, and/or you’re unable to move your arm, you should attend A&E or call 111. These might be caused by a dislocation of the shoulder, or a rupture or tear of one of your shoulder tendons or ligaments.

But even if you think you might have any of these, it’s not a good idea to try and diagnose your condition by yourself. If your shoulder is hurting and you’re in any doubt about what’s causing it, it’s a good idea to book a telephone or video consultation with one of our Virtually GPs.

How do I resolve shoulder pain?

There are quite a lot of steps which we can take to resolve shoulder pain. With any of these, though, it’s worth being patient. Even after taking these steps, it can take a couple of weeks for shoulder pain to go away. And if your problem has been more serious, it may take much longer than this.

  • Keep on exercising the shoulder (gently!) – if you stop using the shoulder, it can get worse, not better
  • Try some physiotherapy exercises (more on this below)
  • Make sure you’re standing up straight with your shoulders gently back
  • Consult with a pharmacist (more on this below)
  • Use heat and cold packs on the shoulder. For these, you can use a hot water bottle or a frozen pack of peas wrapped in a tea towel. Try applying these to the shoulder for several minutes, a few times a day.

Physiotherapy for shoulder pain

One of the best ways to resolve shoulder pain is to practise physiotherapy exercises for a few weeks. On Virtually, we have physiotherapists who are able to consult with our patients either over telephone or by video. Our physios can give you exercises to practise in order to resolve your shoulder pain. They will also be able to advise you if it is worth consulting with a GP about your shoulder pain, in serious instances. If needed, our Physios can also advise you about applying for Community-based physiotherapy services.

One great benefit of consulting with our Virtually Physios is that there is no limit on follow-up appointments – meaning that they will be able to support you for as long as your problems persist.

Should I speak to a Virtually Clinical Pharmacist about my shoulder pain?

Sometimes shoulder pain can be very uncomfortable, and it can be a good idea to try to manage the pain with painkillers, or other over-the-counter medication like gels or creams. In these instances, you might want to consider consulting with one of our partner Pharmacists. They will be able to advice you on how best to manage your pain, or indicate to you if your problem is more serious, and should be discussed with a GP.

You should speak to the Virtually Clinical pharmacist in the first instance. They will recommend what to purchase over-the-counter from your local community pharmacy.

Seeing a GP & Serious Issues

When should I speak to a GP about my shoulder pain?

If your shoulder has been hurting for two weeks or more, you should book a consultation with a Virtually GP. If your shoulder has been hurting for less than a fortnight, but you are finding it very painful, or if you’re finding it at all difficult to move, you should also speak to one of our GPs.

In order to diagnose your shoulder pain, our GPs might send you for a scan or X-Ray on the  shoulder. In serious cases, they may forward your case on to a specialist. But if needed, our GPs are also able to prescribe stronger pain-relief than is available over-the-counter, or medication to reduce the swelling.

How serious is my shoulder pain?

While most of the time shoulder pain is fairly innocuous (though uncomfortable), there are some circumstances where a painful shoulder indicates something serious. If you have any of the following since your shoulder began to hurt, you should try to speak to a GP as soon as you can. If you are suffering any of the following very seriously, it may be worth calling 111, who will be able to advise you to contact your GP, or attend A&E, as appropriate:

  • Injury to your shoulder.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • History of cancer prior to onset of pain.
  • Fever or night sweats.
  • Unremitting night pain.
  • Unsteadiness on your feet.

Types of consultations we offer

We offer written, telephone and video consultations with a range of male and female clinicians from GPs, nurse practitioners, and primary care specialists such as physiotherapy.