Shoulder Pain: When Should I Go To The Doctor?

March 29, 2021


The easy answer to any question about pain, discomfort, or suspected disease in the shoulder is “go see your doctor.” But, it’s not always as easy as simply waltzing into your family doctor’s office whenever you might have a question or concern about this joint. The trouble and expense of a doctor’s visit can be prohibitive, and it can be hard to know what is an extremely minor concern that will go away on its own, and what might require immediate medical attention (beyond obvious injuries). If you have any doubts about whether or not what you’re experiencing needs a doctor’s professional attention, here are some guidelines that will help you decide when it is necessary to schedule an appointment.

Severity of Pain

We all get stiff and sore once in a while, whether we push ourselves too hard at the gym or decide to be heroes and help a friend with a move. Generally speaking, an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug, like ibuprofen, should reduce the pain to a manageable level. Any pain should also improve steadily and go away entirely within a few days. Experiencing pain that lingers for several days, doesn’t respond to a normal dose of painkillers, or is unusually severe, means you should contact your doctor.

Visible Warning Signs

There are several visual cues that might indicate that something more serious may be wrong with your shoulder and a doctor’s advice should be sought out.

  • Lots of visible swelling around the joint.
  • Redness, especially when accompanied by a joint that is hot to the touch.
  • Sudden, visible swelling.
  • A joint that looks visibly deformed or out of place.

If you see any of these signs, it is definitely in your best interests to seek out medical advice.

Other Sensations

While we usually talk primarily about pain when it comes to joint trouble, there are several other physical sensations besides pain that might indicate it’s time to consult with a doctor.

  • A sudden loss of range of motion or extreme stiffness.
  • Weakness, a feeling of instability, or an inability to move the joint.
  • Numbness or tingling around the joint or even in the extremities closest to it. This is especially important because it might indicate injury to a nerve by swelling or pinching, which should be promptly treated to avoid permanent damage.

It can be expensive, and a hassle, to visit the doctor, and so it may be many people’s inclinations to wait and see if a problem with the shoulder will go away on its own. For little aches and pains, this might not be bad advice, as lots of minor strains or pains will heal quickly on their own. There are several warning signs that indicate that you should definitely ask your doctor to take a careful look at your shoulder, and hopefully, these tips will help you make the right decision if you are ever wondering when it’s time to get some medical advice.


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