A pinched nerve in the shoulder, also called a compressed nerve or impinged nerve, can cause pain and discomfort in the shoulder and arm. A pinched nerve occurs when surrounding tissue, such as a muscle, tendon, or bone, presses on a nerve in your shoulder, interfering with proper nerve function. Several things can cause a pinched nerve, including poor posture, injury, arthritis, and repetitive motions. Luckily, there are several ways you can help alleviate a pinched nerve at home. With some rest and targeted stretches and exercises, you can often release the pressure on the pinched nerve, reducing symptoms.
Signs of a Pinched Nerve
A pinched nerve in the shoulder causes radiating pain from the shoulder down the arm, often into the hand or fingers. You may feel a sharp, burning, or tingling pain that runs from the shoulder joint down to the elbow and forearm. There may also be numbness or weakness in the shoulder, arm, or hand muscles. Pinched nerves often cause intense pain at night that interferes with sleep. Moving the shoulder or arm certain ways tends to exacerbate the discomfort. A pinched nerve will not resolve on its own, so it’s important to take proactive measures to alleviate symptoms.
Rest the Shoulder
One of the first steps in releasing a pinched nerve in the shoulder is to stop activities that aggravate it. Take a break from any repetitive shoulder motions or vigorous exercise involving the shoulder joint. Avoid lifting heavy objects or reaching overhead, which can compress the nerves further. Rest the shoulder as much as possible for a few days to allow the surrounding inflammation to subside. Apply ice packs to the shoulder for 15 minutes several times per day to reduce pain and swelling. Limit use of the arm as you give the shoulder time to rest and heal.
Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) can help relieve pinched nerve discomfort. These medications reduce inflammation around the nerve, easing the pressure causing the pinching sensation. Oral steroids like prednisone may also temporarily alleviate inflammation from a pinched nerve. In some cases, your doctor may recommend an injection of corticosteroids around the pinched nerve to reduce localized swelling. Numbing creams containing lidocaine can also temporarily relieve nerve pain when applied to the shoulder.
Stretch the Shoulder and Neck
Specific stretches can help expand the space around a pinched nerve, releasing the pressure causing symptoms. Try standing in a corner with both arms extended at shoulder height, palms pressed to the wall. Lean your chest into the corner to stretch the chest and front of the shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds, relax, and repeat several times. Shoulder rolls can also stretch the muscles around the shoulder joint. Slowly roll both shoulders up, back, and around in large circles 10 times. Gently tilt and turn your head from side to side to stretch the neck. Avoid stretching to the point of pain.
Strengthen the Shoulder Muscles
Gentle shoulder exercises can help stabilize the joint and take pressure off the nerves. Lie on your back with your arm extended out to the side, elbow straight. Slowly raise your arm up toward the ceiling, hold for 5 seconds, then lower back down. Repeat 10 times. You can use light weights or resistance bands to add further shoulder strengthening. Rows, lateral raises, and arm circles are other good strengthening moves. Build up slowly with weights to avoid further irritating the nerve.
Consider Physical Therapy
Seeing a physical therapist can be very beneficial for releasing a stubborn shoulder pinched nerve. A physical therapist can utilize mobilization techniques to gently stretch the nerves and muscles surrounding the shoulder joint. They may use massage to loosen muscle tension putting pressure on the nerves. Your physical therapist will also prescribe specific nerve gliding and shoulder stretching exercises tailored to your situation. They can ensure you strengthen the shoulder muscles properly to prevent pinches.
See a Doctor
Schedule an appointment with your doctor if your pinched nerve pain persists for more than two weeks despite home treatment. Chronic shoulder nerve issues may require further evaluation to rule out underlying conditions like a herniated disc or cervical spine arthritis. For severe pinched nerves, doctors can provide steroid injections or recommend surgery as a last resort treatment. Getting an accurate diagnosis and customized treatment plan from your physician ensures you find relief.
Using a combination of rest, anti-inflammatory medications, stretches, exercises, and physical therapy can help safely release most mildly pinched nerves in the shoulder. Pay attention to proper posture and shoulder mechanics during activities to prevent future nerve compression issues. With time and consistency, you can reduce inflammation around the pinched nerve and regain full motion and strength in the shoulder.