Lifting Overhead Without Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain when lifting overhead is one of the most common problems that we see at our physical therapy office.  The location of pain may be at the front of the shoulder, at the joint, or in the muscles across the upper back.  It could even radiate down the arm.  There are many muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bursa that pass through the shoulder joint and the exact tissue that is the source of pain varies from person to person.

Common diagnoses associated with shoulder pain include rotator cuff tears/tendinitis, biceps tendinitis, impingement syndrome, labral tears, frozen shoulder, and shoulder arthritis.

To obtain an accurate diagnose, an examination would be needed.  Although there are differences in how we treat each of these conditions, we’ve found that common limitations exist when it comes to lifting and shoulder pain.

Some factors that contribute to shoulder pain with lifting overhead include poor mechanics.  Many athletes and active adults don’t understand how “pack” their shoulders and load their lat muscles versus upper trapezius muscles.

In many cases, pain with lifting overhead is associated with poor mobility of the lats and the t-spine.  This can be combined with weakness of the lats, rhomboids, rotator cuff, and lower and middle trapezius muscles.  In addition, if there are imbalances at the core and buttock muscles, the way an active person moves can be affected which may lead to faulty shoulder mechanics. 

However, the only way to know what is contributing to shoulder pain when lifting overhead is to perform a movement assessment.

Once we know what the specific limitations are, our first recommendation that we usually make is to take a short break from the aggravating activity. This allows for an environment for irritation to settle down and healing to take place. While taking a break usually helps with pain, we know for our patients to get back to the activities that they enjoy, we have to address the root of the issue.

When pain and stiffness is found via our assessment, our approach includes manual mobilization to alleviate pain and improve mobility. Pain improvements can be made very quickly with soft tissue mobilization and/or dry needling of the lat, upper trap, and rotator cuff muscles.

If weakness is found, we teach activation exercises to help our clients better engage muscles that are not firing well. Once pain is controlled and muscles engage better, our next step is teaching our patients proper lifting technique with and without resistance.

When addressed with a thorough physical therapy assessment and plan of care, lifting overhead without shoulder pain is possible. However, any sort of repetitive activity with poor mechanics can develop into a more serious shoulder condition.  If you have shoulder pain when lifting overhead, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to be a resource for you. 

We have a free guide on relieving shoulder pain that can give you further insight into shoulder problems and help kickstart your recovery.  We are available for a free 15-minute phone consultation to talk about how your pain is affecting you and discuss your treatment options.

If your concerns warrant an in-person consultation, we offer a limited number of free Discovery Visit’s at our office.  This type of appointment of for those who are interested in working with us.  It is an opportunity to ask questions, obtain clarity about your condition, and develop confidence that we can help you.  If you’re in pain and unsure about what your next steps should be, call us at (864) 558-7346 and ask how we can help.

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