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What to Do About Muscle Spasms in the Shoulder

Muscle spasms in your shoulders are annoying. They interfere with your daily life activities and keep you from having a healthy exercise routine. The spasms are usually short-lived and benign that get better with self-treatment and stretching. If your spasms occur frequently or if they are very painful, it is best to see a doctor to figure out what is triggering them. Visit Dr. Eric Freeman at Redefine Healthcare, New Jersey’s premier pain management practice, to understand the causes behind your muscle spasms and how to treat or prevent them effectively. The specialist determines if it is just overuse of muscles, some injury, or an underlying condition causing your symptoms and recommends the most advanced pain rehabilitation treatments to help you feel better.

Muscle spasms, also known as cramps, are painful contractions and tightening of the muscles. They are common, involuntary, and unpredictable and may occur without any reason. Muscle spasms can last anywhere from a few seconds to 15 minutes. Occasional muscle spasms are nothing serious, but if you experience chronic muscle cramping, it is best to seek professional help.

Muscle Spasms in the Shoulder

Muscle spasms in the shoulder occur when there is an involuntary muscle contraction in the muscles of the middle or upper back or chest. These can include the rotator cuff muscles on the chest or back muscles such as the rhomboid muscles. A rhomboid muscle strain or spasm is usually caused by overuse of your shoulder and arm from overhead activities like serving a tennis ball or reaching out for objects on a high self and rowing.

You may experience spasms in one or both shoulders. There are certain steps you can take to prevent muscle spasms, but these methods do not always work. Muscle relaxants, stretching, and massage are the most effective means to ease them.

Read on to know what causes muscle spasms in the shoulders, how it is connected to issues with the spine, and what are the best options for addressing this condition successfully.

Muscle Spasms in the Shoulder

What Do Muscle Spasms Feel Like?

A spasm may be a twitch in the muscle or may feel tight or hard, like a knot, and appears visibly distorted. Spasms range in intensity from mild, uncomfortable twitches to considerable discomfort to severe pain. Sometimes, severe spasms can be incapacitating. After the contraction stops, the muscle can feel sore and tender.

Spasms usually last anywhere from 15 seconds to minutes or longer. Most people report that they recur multiple times before going away.

Why Do Muscle Spasms Occur?

Muscle spasms in the shoulder result from overuse of muscles in this area due to sporting activities, direct injury to the shoulder or its muscles, or poor posture for a considerable time. Any of these factors can affect the soft tissue of the back and result in spasms.

  • Muscle strain or overuse – Muscle overuse or strain occurs due to playing sports that require repetitive use of muscles in the upper back, such as throwing a tennis ball or lifting weights at the gym. When the muscles that connect to, support, and make the shoulders are affected, it can lead to spasms and pain.
  • Spinal compression – Spinal compression in the middle or upper back is another major reason for muscle spasms in this area. It causes the vertebrae in these regions to squash or push into each other, which obstructs the space that is normally reserved for other structures in this part of the body. When this happens, additional pressure is placed on the structures, such as muscles, irritating them and increasing the chances of spasms as a result.
  • Underlying cause – Recurring muscle spasms in the same location may also indicate an underlying local cause. If there is a vulnerable structure, such as the rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder, then over some time they become tight once they have been used or exercised. Activity can cause inflammation of the underlying structures, whether it is the shoulder joint itself or some of the soft tissues within the rotator cuff. The pain provokes a muscle contraction response, a primitive defense mechanism that encourages us to give rest to the shoulder and give it time to heal.


Spasms in the shoulder can lead to:

  • Pain in the shoulder, upper back, neck, upper arm, and between the shoulder blades
  • Stiffness in the back and shoulder, accompanied by a limited range of motion

If the pain is persistent and does not improve or begins to worsen despite trying several treatments and management options at home, it is essential to seek medical advice. It may be an underlying condition that needs proper diagnosis and treatment, and only a trained and experienced spine specialist can help you find relief.

Treating Muscle Spasms in the Shoulder

Muscle spasms can strike anytime while you are exercising, sitting, or even sleeping in the middle of the night. There is no magic injection or medication to make the spasms go away instantly.

You can get rid of the spasms with the following:

  • Stretching the affected area.
  • Massaging the affected area with your hands or a massage roller.
  • Applying heat or ice. Alternate between an ice pack and a heating pad, or take a warm shower.
  • Taking over-the-counter pain-relieving medications and muscle relaxers to ease muscular pain if it is disturbing your normal movements and to improve blood circulation.
  • Drinking more water as spasms often occur as a result of dehydration and drinking water and electrolytes can replenish your reduced supply.

Generally, spasms in the shoulders go away on their own once the affected or injured muscle has healed. This does not require any major intervention or treatment.

Here are a few tips to facilitate and speed up the recovery process:

  • Take a temporary break from the activity or movement that has put a strain on your shoulders to help the muscles recover and heal, and stop the spasms.
  • Perform stretches that elongate the tense muscles and reduce stiffness and pain.
  • Use a foam roller to reduce muscle pain and stiffness.
  • Go for physical therapy to reduce stiffness and pain in the shoulders and to remobilize the joints.
  • Use a spinal decompression device and engage in spinal decompression therapy to relax the upper back and prevent further spasms.

Keeping a record of when you get muscle spasms is a good idea to see if it is related to a particular activity or occurs at a given time. Changing that activity or focusing on the triggers may help you treat and prevent the spasms in a much better way.

What Is Spinal Compression Therapy?

Shoulder pain is often caused by issues resulting from the spine, specifically along the upper back. Most often these issues can be linked to spinal compression, a process where the spine becomes squashed, altering the structure of the spine and affecting surrounding structures. In this case, it is the muscles that connect to the shoulder, which may be pressing on the nerve.

Spinal compression therapy with a special orthopedic device can help to decompress your spine and ease shoulder pain through exercises. These exercises are easy to do at home and use your body weight to provide relief from various conditions relating to the spine. Reversing the effects of spinal compression can reduce the chances of shoulder muscles being irritated or strained due to improper posture and prevent episodes of spasms and pain.

You don’t have to live with muscle spasms or let them affect your life and activities. They may be unpredictable, but with the right preventive measures and remedies, you can soothe them efficiently. Visit Redefine Healthcare to learn more about muscle spasms in the shoulder and what to do with them. The experienced and board-certified specialists focus on the issues with the spine that may lead to spasms in the shoulders and recommend the best treatments to put an end to these painful cramps.

Page Updated on Dec 12, 2022 by Dr. Freeman (Pain Management Specialist) of Redefine Healthcare


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Dr. Eric D. Freeman

Dr. Eric D. Freeman is a top-rated, best-in-class pain management doctor. He is a nationally recognized pain relief specialist and is among the top pain care doctors in New Jersey and the country. He is an award-winning expert and contributor to prominent media outlets.

Dr. Eric D. Freeman has been recognized for his thoughtful, thorough, modern approach to treating chronic pain. He has been named a “top pain management doctor in New Jersey” and one of “America’s Top Physicians” for advanced sports injury treatments.

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