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Shoulder Massage: Best Massage for Shoulder Pain
Question:

I was a baseball pitcher in high school and college, but I hadn’t really played as an adult until about a month ago when my office started a rec league softball team. I pitched our first game with no problems, but after the second game my shoulder started killing me. I don’t think I injured it during the game – or if I did, I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. It didn’t really start hurting until the next morning, but since then it hasn’t stopped. A work buddy recommended I get a massage, but I’m more than a little skeptical. Can massage really help my shoulder pain? And what would be the best type of massage to ask for?

Answer:

Massage may be able to ease your shoulder pain, depending on the cause. In fact, medical research has shown that patients get better results from massage therapy than from acupuncture or traditional physical therapy exercises, when it comes to relieving shoulder pain.[1]

You mentioned that you don’t recall injuring your shoulder during the game – that may indicate that the pain is more from a generalized strain or overuse, rather than an acute injury. For an acute injury, seeing a doctor would be your best first course of action. You could ask about massage, and your doctor could tell you if they thought you’d benefit or whether massage would exacerbate your condition or cause further injury.

There’s another possibility. If you hadn’t pitched in awhile, your muscles may have had a hard time recovering, and that may be the cause for your shoulder pain. The pitching motion makes unique demands on your shoulders. If you’ve had a shoulder injury in the past, you may also have some scar tissue that’s causing inflammation and pain. If you’ve had a previous injury, it’s a good idea to have a doctor check it out – although you should still be good to go for a gentle massage.

If this is your first massage, you might want to start with a Swedish massage. Swedish massage is going to be more gentle than other types of massage, so it’s suitable for beginners. Swedish massages use a circular technique and kneading to apply pressure to the muscles. This technique is recommended by Carrington College, a massage therapy school, for relieving shoulder pain.[2] To get the best results, you’ll want to schedule weekly massage sessions for at least four to six weeks.

After a few sessions of Swedish massage, however, you may decide that you want to go deeper. Talk to your massage therapist about a deep tissue massage focusing on your shoulder. Deep tissue massage focuses on specific trigger points – muscle knots that cause that nagging shoulder pain.[3]

References:

[1] Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: “Massage Therapy for Neck and Shoulder Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3600270/.

[2] Carrington College: “How to Relieve Neck and Shoulder Pain with Stretches and Massage,” https://carrington.edu/blog/student-tips/health/how-to-relive-neck-shoulder-pain-with-stretches-massage/.

[3] Pain Science: “Massage Therapy for Shoulder Pain,” https://www.painscience.com/articles/spot-14-infraspinatus.php.

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