Should You Massage a Sprained Shoulder?

Should You Massage a Sprained Shoulder?

Of all injury-related healthcare visits in the US, 77% are for musculoskeletal injuries. Of these, 7.1 million are for sprains and strains, including those that affect the shoulders. If you have such an injury yourself, you may be wondering, "should you massage a sprained shoulder?"

Yes, you should, provided that your doctor prescribed massage therapy for your condition. On that note, some doctors recommend massage and physical therapy for shoulder sprains. Patients themselves report reduced shoulder pain and increased mobility after a massage.

Why Should You Massage a Sprained Shoulder?

A massage may help by providing short-term pain relief from a shoulder sprain. It may also help boost circulation, promoting better blood flow to the injured area. This, in turn, can help contribute to the speedier recovery of the torn shoulder ligament.

When Should You Massage a Sprained Shoulder?

You may have to wait for about 24 to 72 hours before you can massage a shoulder sprain.

That’s because cold treatment is often the first-aid treatment for shoulder injuries. Icing can help reduce the pain and swelling that occurs after trauma to the tissues. Doctors also typically recommend using this method for the first 24 to 72 hours.

As such, it's best not to massage a sprained shoulder right after you sustain the injury. The goal is to minimize as much of the swelling as you can before massaging your injured shoulder. Applying this kind of mechanical pressure right after trauma may do more harm than good.

Also, keep in mind that a massage can warm up your body. Warming up, in turn, spikes up your blood flow. If this occurs right after an injury, it may result in increased inflammation.

What you should do instead is to visit your doctor as soon as you can following the injury. This way, your physician can conduct essential tests to confirm how severe the damage is.

During your checkup, your doctor will classify your sprain based on its severity. From here, the health expert can determine if and when you should use a massage. This is usually after cold therapy, which can be two to three days after the injury.

You will also discuss your massage options and how long each session should be. Be sure to follow your healthcare provider's prescriptions to ensure a faster recovery.

How Exactly Can a Massage Benefit a Sprained Shoulder?

If you've sprained your shoulder, it means that you tore one or more of the ligaments in it. The ligaments, in turn, are super tough and durable bands of tissues that link bones together.

Since a shoulder sprain leads to torn ligaments, you can expect it to feel swollen and tender. Such injuries also often cause pain and discomfort whenever the shoulder moves. The affected area may also become weak enough that it can no longer bear any extra weight.

In such cases, your doctor may prescribe massage together with physical therapy. As mentioned above, a massage may be best about two days after the injury. In such cases, it may help by providing the following potential benefits.

Provide Acute Pain Relief

Massage therapy may help limit acute pain arising from your torn shoulder ligament. It may also help by treating painful muscles that have tightened as a response to your injury. By "untightening" taut muscles, more blood can also flow to the injured ligament.

Researchers also found that people who undergo massage therapy report more positive benefits. This is in comparison with the studies' control groups or those that didn't obtain therapy. According to the patients, they felt less pain and were able to move their shoulders more.

Improve Circulation

Previous research found that massage therapy does help boost circulation. It helps improve general blood flow, which can then lead to reduced muscle soreness. This appears to be especially beneficial to those with aching muscles after exercise.

This ability to enhance circulation may also benefit those who have shoulder sprains. More blood flow, after all, means more oxygen and nutrients can reach the damaged ligament. This, in turn, can help the injured fibrous tissues heal faster.

Increase Range of Movement

When you sprain your shoulder, you can expect some level of reduced mobility in it. You may have a hard time moving or rotating it, and you may also feel pain when you place weight on it.

A massage, so long as your doctor permits it, may help by relaxing the affected tissues. This can then loosen the restricted tissues that limit your range of movement. It can also reduce tensed tissues, helping you get some mobility back to your shoulder.

Minimize Tissue Scarring

Scarring is one way that the body heals damaged tissues, such as a torn ligament. It does so by sending collagen fibers toward the direction of the injured body part. However, scarring itself can be quite painful and restrictive.

This is another reason that shoulder sprains can cause highly-unpleasant sensations.

A massage may help by minimizing tissue scarring following a shoulder sprain. Proper massaging techniques may help loosen, break down, or align collagen fibers. By reducing scar tissue, massage therapy may then help boost normal tissue function.

Can Massage Alone Help With a Sprained Shoulder?

Unfortunately, no. Massage, in fact, is only a complementary step in the treatment of shoulder sprains. Again, you should avoid massaging an injured shoulder right after you sprain it.

What Should You Do Before Massaging a Sprained Shoulder?

After seeing your doctor, your first step to recovery is to rest the injured shoulder for at least 48 hours. Your physician may also recommend not to bear any weight on the affected shoulder. You may also need to wear medical shoulder support to keep the injured ligament aligned.

In between rests, keep icing your injured shoulder, but make sure you do so for only 10 minutes at a time. Your doctor may also advise you to limit the use of cold therapy to just the first day or two after the injury.

To prevent your shoulder from moving, use a shoulder brace to compress the area. As with icing, compression helps minimize the risks of inflammation. By reducing swelling, your injured shoulder may feel better and recover faster.

Who Should Massage Your Shoulder Sprain?

If your doctor recommends massage, they're likely to refer you to a physical therapist (PT). PTs are specialists when it comes to musculoskeletal disorders and their treatments. Aside from massage, they may also have you undergo rehabilitative exercises.

Your PT may also teach you gentle exercises to safely keep your shoulder moving. While resting a sprained shoulder is vital, you still need to move it a bit to ensure it doesn't go weak. Also, exercising your injured shoulder may help it recover faster.

Your PT may teach you a few at-home self-massage techniques. Follow their instructions carefully, as self-massaging errors may cause further injuries.

Are Massages Only Good for Shoulder Sprains?

No. A massage may also help alleviate the symptoms of other types of shoulder injuries. However, it's best to get approval from your doctor's first if you want to get a massage for these conditions.


The acromion, or the top of the shoulder blade, can place a lot of pressure on the rotator cuff tendons and bursa. If this happens, the pressure can "impinge" the shoulder's function and movement. Massage may help by releasing the muscles that cause the impingement.


Arthritis, which 23% of US adults have, causes pain, inflammation, and stiffness in the joint. It can affect the shoulders, too, in the form of shoulder osteoarthritis. OA results from the degradation caused by “wear and tear.”

Massages don't help with swelling, so you shouldn't use it for an OA flare-up. However, they may help ease tense muscles near the affected joints. Be careful and make sure to limit the massage only to the tense muscles.


The tendons are fibrous tissues that attach and connect muscles to the bones. They can become inflamed, however, if you overuse the joint or muscle that they connect to. If this happens, acute tendonitis can occur.

There's also chronic tendonitis, which often occurs due to degenerative diseases. These include arthritis and repetitive stress or use injuries.

Massage can help in these cases as they can elongate the tendons and muscle tissues. The lengthened tissues can then disperse pressure off of the tendons.


The shoulder houses six bursae, making it the part of the body with the most number of these sacs. Bursae are sacs filled with fluid that help cushion the bones of the joint and minimize friction.

Overuse of the shoulder can cause the bursae to become inflamed. Bursitis is the term used to refer to this inflammatory condition.

Again, massage therapy won't help reduce the inflammation in the bursae. However, it can help release the muscles and tendons placing pressure on the bursae. By relaxing these tissues, the pressure dissipates, and the swelling may improve.

Rotator Cuff Injuries

The rotator cuff refers to a group of muscles and tendons surrounding the shoulder joint. They keep the head of the upper arm bone secure within the shoulder's shallow socket. As with most musculoskeletal injuries, many rotator cuff issues are due to overuse.

Massage may help by gently stretching and elongating the affected rotator cuff muscles. In this way, they may become flexible again and also have an improved range of motion. Massage may also minimize pain and stiffness that affects the shoulder region.

When Should You Not Massage a Shoulder Injury?

Don't massage a shoulder if you have a fracture. Keep in mind that a fracture means you have a broken bone, so a massage can do more harm than good.

For starters, the ends of fractured bones are very sharp, so the last thing you want is to put more force on it. Doing so can make the sharp edges pierce more tissue and skin.

Also, some types of fractures may cause pieces of bones to break away. If you put pressure on the injury, the broken-off bones may damage the surrounding tissues.

Are Shoulder Sprains Preventable?

Yes, many types of shoulder sprains are preventable. For instance, if you play high-impact sports, you should wear protective padding. This can serve as an added layer of protection against sprains and other injuries.

You can also prevent more shoulder sprains with the use of shoulder supports as you recover. These devices immobilize your injured shoulder, securing it in place. The less movement an injured ligament makes, the lower its risk of further damage.

If you haven't seen a PT yet, you might want to ask your primary doctor to refer you to one. A PT can create a custom program for you to help lower your risks of shoulder injuries. Their massage and exercise treatments may also help strengthen your shoulders.

You should also pay close attention to what your body is telling you whenever you do something. For example, you should take note of any shoulder soreness you feel during exercise. Once the soreness turns into discomfort, stop the activity, as this may already lead to a sprain.

Don't Let Shoulder Sprains Keep You From Doing What You Love

We hope this guide has given you all the answers to the question, "should you massage a sprained shoulder?" Now that you know, you can make the right decision to help hasten your recovery. Don't forget to pay your doctor a visit to ensure that you have a sprain and not a broken shoulder bone.

Also, just remember that massage may be helpful for most shoulder injuries. The two primary exceptions, however, are fresh injuries and fractures.

Would you like to learn more about shoulder supports and braces? If so, then our team here at PowerRebound is ready to give you the guidance you need. Send us a message now, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

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