How to Relieve a Trapped Nerve in Your Shoulder

Updated on February 7, 2020
Nell Rose profile image

Nell is a trained psychologist who writes about personal health problems. She is also fascinated by strange medical anomalies.

Trapped Nerve in shoulder. Relief, medication and exercise
Trapped Nerve in shoulder. Relief, medication and exercise

Shoulder and Arm Pain Caused by a Trapped Nerve

A trapped nerve in your shoulder and arm is possibly one of the most painful and annoying pains you can experience.

At first, it just feels like a dull ache. Then a stabbing pain hits you smack in your forearm. It rather feels like someone stabbing you with an electric needle. But the pain doesn't stop there.

As the nerve becomes more inflamed or trapped the sensation can become excruciating. Electric needles can hit you in the top of your arm, neck and forearm over and over again.

And it won't stop until you do something about it.

I am sure most of us have experienced Sciatica, the nerve pain from your thigh down your leg to your foot. The pain you suffer with a trapped nerve is very similar. The only difference is that every single time you move your head your shoulder and arm feels on fire.

So what to do?

Things to Consider If You Have a Pinched Nerve

  1. Painkillers
  2. Physiotherapy
  3. X-Ray or other scan
  4. Exercise
  5. Change of clothing
  6. Sleep
  7. Posture
  8. Bedding
  9. Strapping or stretchy bandage and heat/cold packs
  10. Painkilling creams

Let's look at that in more detail.

Example Treatment Regimen

(click column header to sort results)
To Do  
How Often  
Twice Daily
Rub-on Painkillers
1-2 Daily*
*Never use at the same time as painkiller tablets
3 times
Every hour
Apply Heat Packs
For 20 minutes
Twice daily
Until healed
*If you use painkilling gel and tablets at the same time, you may be overdosing on the limits. Double-check to see if they are the same ingredients.

Ask for a Scan

Let's talk about my arm. I think the first word that comes to mind is, ouch! This very first pain was such a shock as it hits you like a train!

I am not exaggerating. It actually feels like someone stabbing you. This first happened to me about four years ago. It would hit me in the shoulder and arm and for a few days it was really painful, but then it would go on its own and I would forget about it.

The next time was much worse and went on for a few weeks. In the end, after taking loads of painkillers, I gave up and went to the doctors. He sent me to have a scan.

The trouble is with nerve pain is that it doesn't show up on an X-Ray or Scan. So at least I knew it wasn't anything serious.

But that really didn't help.

Luckily that time it died down again on its own.

Painkillers and Physio

These last few weeks have been hell with the nerve pain in my arm and shoulder. So I went back to the doctors and they recommended codeine and *Iboprufen. But was told to make an appointment with a physio. This I did, and off I went to be healed.

But of course, it wasn't that easy.

In fact, it was really painful! He pulled and pummeled pressed and twisted. Then he gave me exercises to do and was told to do them at least twice every hour.

Obviously, I won't mention the exercises here as each person is totally different and it may cause injury. But yes they did work for a while. But after any physical work, or even typing for a while it came back with a vengeance.

So, what now?

*Iboprufen has been linked to heart problems. It's not a good idea to take it for more than a week. Even if you don't have any heart problems it can lead to palpitations in some people. Best to keep off it and just take codeine and paracetamol.

(For translation of tablet names from UK to American, just look it up in Google if you are not sure)

Physical Therapy Methods to Overcome Pinched Nerves

Rest and Relaxation

One of the main things you should do to heal your trapped nerve is to rest. The trouble is once you go to bed your usual position won't work. If you lay on your side and its the bad side, you will be kept awake all night. And the same goes for the other side too.

For some reason wherever you place your arm and shoulder it's going to still be painful. But don't panic, there is a way to get some sleep.

The best position is to lay on your back, propped up with a few more pillows than usual. And, strangely enough, place a pillow under your knees too. this will relieve pressure on your back, therefore relaxing your shoulder. Then add a small pillow beneath your bad arm. This really does work.

I did this for a whole week and felt so much more relaxed and less tired.

And don't forget to take a painkiller just before bedtime. This will take the edge of the pain.

Straps for neck and shoulder trapped nerve and pain
Straps for neck and shoulder trapped nerve and pain

Strapping Bandage or Stretchy

I found that by applying a stretchy pull-on bandage around your lower arm does help to compress the nerve to help it heal. A physiotherapist may suggest a sling to help it heal by keeping it still as you go about your day.

Sometimes the stretchy bandage was better placed on my bicep area all depending on where the stabbing pain was attacking at the time.

I also found that rubbing in the painkilling gel was good too.

Physio Fact:

My physio told me to use heat packs more than the cold packs on my shoulder. When I asked why he said that cold was good, but it would automatically make you tense up around the injury. Whereas heat packs instead of irritating it, would actually make the area relax more and the heat would attract the healing blood cells and speed up the healing.

Underwear That's Too Tight Will Cause Pain

Tight-fitting clothes can worsen the pain symptoms due to trapped nerves.
Tight-fitting clothes can worsen the pain symptoms due to trapped nerves.

Tight Clothing

I know this may sound blatantly obvious. But hear me out. Sometimes the obvious can be staring you straight in the face, but pain makes your mind dull.

There are so many nerve endings in your body that by removing one item of clothing may help your pain a little, but not necessarily kick it out completely.

For example, even if your pain is in your neck or arm, just by wearing a tight belt can restrict the blood flow and cause all sorts of nerve problems.

Being a woman its obvious that a certain type of clothing is going to make a big impact on shoulder pain.

I am of course talking about Bras.

Whatever the size or shape of the person, if a bra is too tight on the straps it's going to irritate the nerves in your neck.

What most people don't realise is that if its also tight under the cups and around your high waist it can cause as much damage as the straps.

I changed my bra at least five times. Big ones, small ones, tight around the back, front opener etc. And nothing made a darn bit of difference.

By this time I was getting desperate. I realised that I should buy a cropped top bra, but my town didn't have any and I needed it now, not tomorrow so to speak.

But seeing as my motto is 'If you can't go through it, go round it' I sat down and had a think.

Then the light dawned.

Scrabbling around in my undies draw I couldn't find a darn thing, then I suddenly came across a stretchy tight T-Shirt.

It was too small for me to wear as a T, as I had put on weight, but for a bra top...?

Oh, the relief!

It was amazing! The top was tight enough for supporting my shape, but by stretching it over a bigger area, i.e. sides, back and lower back, it balanced the weight better.

And the relief from the restrictions, strap and under the bra, was so good.

Just this on its own took away a lot of the pain.

So my point is, you don't need to go out and buy a sport/support bra, just check your wardrobe!

Facts About Tight Bras According to Experts

Wearing a tight bra may make you feel good, but it's doing a whole lot of bad.

  1. It can restrict blood flow.
  2. And impair lymph tissues. Lymph tissues usually wash out waste materials from your breast area, but too tight bras will stop it from working. If this is the case it can cause the waste to build up and cause cancer.
  3. It can cause neck, shoulder and arm pain.
  4. In fact not wearing one keeps your shape better than squeezing it into a small area or restriction! (who knew?)
  5. And last but not least. If you do insist on wearing a bra, go and get it fitted correctly! Over 80% per cent of women are wearing the wrong size!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 Nell Rose


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    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      14 months ago from England

      Thanks Chitrangada, yes its a little better.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      14 months ago from New Delhi, India

      A very useful, well explained and informative article!

      I am sorry, you had to suffer from this. Hope you are fine by now.

      Thanks for sharing this information with others. I am sure, many will be benefitted.

      Have a good day Nell!

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      14 months ago from England

      Thanks Genna, yes sciatica is so painful. its a similar thing, only in my arm. thanks so much.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      14 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I've never had the shoulder pain, but Sciatica is something I've lived with for many years. It comes and goes -- often out of nowhere, it seems -- and can be dormant for many months at a time. I can't imagine having this fire-like pain shoot from my shoulder downward, so I empathize with those who suffer from it. This article is so helpful, Nell, to those who suffer from this malady, and others.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      15 months ago from England

      Thanks Dora, its so painful it drives me insane lol!

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      15 months ago from England

      lol! I am sure you are right there Jackie! yes I am getting an Xray next week thanks.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      15 months ago from The Caribbean

      Nell, thanks for sharing this experience. You mentioned tips that can help us prevent or ease pain in this or similar situations. I think the bra thing is extremely important. Hoping that you continue to find comfort and even find a permanent solution.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      15 months ago from the beautiful south

      They x-ray you over here if you sneeze. Yes you should have it checked out good to know what it is.

      Hey, just about baby time huh? She is so big, could it be twins? What we are hearing Meg will be giving the Queen a hard time on how it will be raised?

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      15 months ago from England

      Thanks Jackie, I don't usually moan about aches and pains after all the stuff (thyroid etc) over the years, its just that giving me physio without an Xray seems so stupid to me! always good to see you.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      15 months ago from England

      Thanks as always Clive.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      15 months ago from England

      On no Doris! I haven't stopped it yet but the cold pack seems to be helping, but that must be awful for you! sorry to hear that, take care.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      15 months ago from England

      lol! Ruby, I know they are horrible aren't they? thanks as always

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      15 months ago from the beautiful south

      I would think massage would be good. I can't say if it is pinched nerve or what I sometimes get in my lower neck/upper back, but it does feel like it and my husband can massage it away every time.

      I would have thought heat too, I can't bear ice, but it it was all that would help I would sure try!

    • clivewilliams profile image

      Clive Williams 

      15 months ago from Jamaica

      fully informative. Will bookmark for more in depth read

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James MizBejabbers 

      15 months ago from Beautiful South

      Oh you poor thing. I'm glad you've figured out how to treat it successfully. I certainly haven't. Between a whiplash and a rotator cuff injury, I've put up with it for more than 40 years. I've gone to specialists like physiatrists, neurosurgeons and even chiropractors. I've been prescribed exercises and physical therapy. And both heat and cold. My next step is to have rotator cuff surgery to hold that darned shoulder in place. Both my husband and my niece have had successful surgery for injuries to the shoulder. I don't expect miracles, but I've reached the point I can't sleep. But I don't know what else to do for a pinched nerve in my shoulder and one in my neck. I agree with whomever said that the frame of the human body is poorly designed.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      15 months ago from Southern Illinois

      Lots of really good info here Nell. I haven't had this, but a tight bra drives me crazy. Who ever invented bras must have hated women. lol

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      15 months ago from England

      Hi Shauna, thank you! I would rather take notice of you than the stupid GP. it did seem odd that he said hot! I will let you know.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      15 months ago from England

      Wow Eric, thank goodness for our trapped nerve then! I am so glad you are okay now. Thanks as always.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      15 months ago from Central Florida

      Nell, I've had a pinched nerve in my neck for decades. I went to a chiropractor who tried heat therapy, traction, you name it. None of it worked. Then he recommended I see an acupuncturist, which I did. He did his poking and prodding, mainly to see how extensive the damage was. My nerve affects the left arm when it kicks in. As such, I have extensive muscle damage in my left arm. Sometimes I can actually put my finger between the muscles on the topside of my upper arm and touch bone. It's really pretty freaky.

      Anyway, I learned the hard way how to treat it. First you need to catch it when you first start feeling that tell-tale feeling. The only thing that works is ice. I don't know why your physio guy told you heat works best. It only makes it worse. Think about it. A pinched nerve is pinched or trapped between bone when it becomes inflamed. Heat makes things expand. Putting heat on the source of the pinched nerve only makes it swell more. Ice, on the other hand, reduces swelling, thus allowing relief. Swollen nerve goes back to its normal state and is no longer being pinched by bone.

      So, here's what I do: Ice pack on the back of my neck positioned so it also reaches my left shoulder blade for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes put it back in the freezer for 30 minutes, then repeat. Do this all day. I mean literally for 6 - 8 hours. I've sometimes had to take a day off work to treat my pinched nerve. But the ice pack works.

      Try it and let me know how it works for you.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      15 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Fantastic. Mine was so bad my GP sent me for a CT Scan. Just muscle stuff my headaches were just from muscles messed up. But the CT showed cancer in my gut. Maybe saved my life.

      I now use a cane and stretching/yoga. The cane is the best.

      Thanks for letting people know that it is not just in their "head" ;-)

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      15 months ago from England

      Thanks, Flourish, yes it's so painful, isn't it? thanks as always.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      15 months ago from USA

      I'm sorry you experienced this. I've had it and it really hurts. Having the wrong pillow makes matters worse. I'm glad you included information about wearing tight bras. Lots of women don't take the time to get one professionally fitted.

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      15 months ago from England

      Thanks Lorna, yes its a great idea, I am getting there but its hurting more with the exercises than without, lol!

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      15 months ago from England

      Thanks Pamela, yes its a bit ouch at the moment! no more laptop on my lap for a while, lol!

    • Lorna Lamon profile image

      Lorna Lamon 

      15 months ago

      Interesting article Nell - I find a heat pack is great for this type of strain - I suffer with neck pain so your tips are really useful.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      15 months ago from Sunny Florida

      Nell, I am sorry you are suffering with any kind of nerve pain, as I know this is awful. I have found that ice hlpes nerve pain, and heat seemed to increase the general inflammation. But, as you said, everyone is different and you have to find your own path to relief.

      Hope it is better for you very soon!

    • Nell Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Nell Rose 

      15 months ago from England

      Thanks Tim yes its horrible! I do need to take more pain killers as I keep forgetting, but its now doing my head in, lol!

    • Tim Truzy info4u profile image

      Tim Truzy 

      15 months ago from U.S.A.

      Nell, your description is dead on. Such pain can hit you like a train. I've experienced it for a while, but eventually it went away when I tried acupuncture. My first line of defense was those pain killers. I'm glad it passed, but I am more happy you wrote such an informative article on the topic

      Always well written. Always interesting.

      To my talented writing colleague,

      May your day be peaceful.



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