Massage Therapy for Shoulder Pain

by Candice Reimholz | 4 Comments

Before working as a clinical massage therapist in the physical therapy field, I had no idea how many people were walking around with shoulder pain and decreased range of motion in their shoulders. Now I find myself working on just as many shoulders as I do backs and necks. This blog post will give you the basics on shoulder pain/dysfunction and how massage therapy can help.

The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint and therefore VERY mobile, and with great mobility comes the potential for great instability and dysfunction. If we sit in front of a computer all day, slouch our shoulders, and never work out our backs and the backs of our shoulders, we are asking for trouble! This is a big part of the reason so many of us have shoulder pain.
Massage Therapy for Shoulder Pain
What can go wrong with the shoulder?

  • Muscle strains
  • Postural strains/muscle imbalance
  • Muscle/tendon tears
  • Cartilage tears
  • Frozen Shoulder (aka Adhesive Capsulitis)
  • Bursitis, Tendonitis, Arthritis, and all other “itis” words!

When should I go to the doctor?
When in doubt, get it checked out! This is a good rule of thumb. If there is any doubt that you have something seriously wrong with your shoulder, you should see a doctor, physical therapist, or athletic trainer right way. Here are some signs you should not ignore:

  • Pain that persists for more than two weeks
  • Physical deformity of the joint
  • Pain accompanied by redness, swelling, numbness
  • Sudden swelling
  • Loss of function or inability to use the joint

Can massage therapy help?
Absolutely! There are a lot of conditions in which an experienced clinical massage therapist can help you with. If you are a non-surgical candidate (meaning your doctor says you don’t need surgery, or he/she wants you to try the conservative route first), massage therapy can help. To be clear, a massage will not ‘cure’ your condition (arthritis, bursitis, tear, etc), but it can help your shoulder move and function the way it was intended and therefore relieve stress and strain on the muscles and tendons and prevent future inflammation. A clinical massage therapist can help with the following:

  • Decrease pain from Trigger Points
  • Help increase range of motion by loosening shortened musculature
  • Gently stretch the joint to increase range of motion
  • Break up adhesions (scarred down muscle tissue) around the shoulder
  • Encourage proper body mechanics through muscle and trigger point work
  • Promote healing by using various techniques to increase circulation, shorten healing times

What if I had surgery?
If you have already had shoulder surgery, massage therapy can help, but you just need to be more careful. Make sure you have the okay from your doctor and physical therapist and that the massage therapist you are seeing has a solid understanding of your doctor’s protocol and any contraindications. Remember: Massage therapy is NOT a replacement for PT after surgery; it is a complement to your prescribed treatment.

If you have chronic shoulder pain, shoulder pain that more conventional treatment hasn’t fixed, or if you are trying the conservative route before surgery, call a clinical massage therapist and see if they can help.


  1. Delores Lyon

    I think it would be smart if I went ahead and tried some massage therapy for my neck. It has been feeling really stiff, and I have never dealt with anything like this. However, I will also make sure to try these tips so that I can ease the pain before the appointment. Hopefully they work!

  2. Candice Reimholz

    @Delores- It is definitely worth it to give Massage Therapy a shot! Are you in the chicagoland area? I could help refer you to a therapist that would be a good fit. Good luck!

  3. Emily Merrell

    I used to play softball a lot, and my coach always wanted to put me as pitcher. I started having a lot of pain in my shoulder, and I had to quit the team. I agree with these tips that massaging helps out so much. I didn’t end up having to get any surgery, and my shoulder is feeling fine now.

  4. Candice Reimholz

    @Emily- glad your shoulder is doing well. I played softball too and remembering spending most days with a bag of ice on my shoulder!

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