Shoulder pain when lifting overhead is a common problem. The location of pain may be at the front of the shoulder, at the joint, or in the muscles across the upper back and neck. It could even radiate down the arm. Common diagnoses associated with shoulder pain include rotator cuff tears/tendonitis, biceps tendonitis, impingement syndrome, labral tears, frozen shoulder, and shoulder arthritis.
To obtain an accurate diagnosis, an examination would be needed. Although there are differences in how you should treat each of these conditions, there are common principles that will help you overcome shoulder pain when lifting overhead.
If you have shoulder pain when lifting overhead, you may have weakness of your shoulder stabilizer muscles (e.g. rotator cuff, lower trap, and serratus anterior). In addition, you may have stiffness in your lat muscles or upper back that limits your overhead mobility. You may also have difficulty coordinating your muscles and have poor overhead lifting mechanics. If you have any of these limitations, repeated overhead lifting can place stress on your shoulder and result in pain.
The best way to know what is contributing to your shoulder pain when lifting overhead is to have a movement assessment performed.
If you have weakness, learning how to activate muscles that are not firing well is key. Some of our "go-to" exercises include the side-lying shoulder rotation for rotator cuff activation and supine pullover for lat activation.
Once your muscles engage better, the next step is restoring movement. The shoulder is a ball and socket joint and should move in 3-planes of movement. Exercises that can help restore movement are scapular wall slides, half-kneeling band pulldowns, and tall kneeling t-spine rotations.
Once you have learned restored movement, developing strength will enable you to maintain your ability to lift overhead without pain. The best strength-building exercises are compound movements. These are exercises that use several muscle groups simultaneously. They include pushing and pulling variations like pull-ups (or weighted pull-downs), rows, military presses, push-ups. To ensure the smaller stabilizing muscles engaging, exercises like the kettlebell armbar and Turkish Get-up may be appropriate. If you can generate tension and maintain solid technique, all these movements can be performed safely and will enable you to have a healthy and functional shoulder.
Most of the aforementioned exercises can be found in our video library.
When addressed with a specialized physical therapy program, lifting overhead without pain is possible. However, ignoring pain and engaging in repetitive activity can result in a further decline of your shoulder health. If you're worried about shoulder pain, the physical therapists at Movement Solutions would be glad to help you.
We invite you to request a shoulder consultation with one of our specialists. This is an opportunity to ask questions, obtain clarity about your shoulder pain, and foster confidence that we can help you. If you’re certain that we’re a good fit to work together, you can decide on the next step.
If you’re in pain but unsure about what you should do, call us at (864) 558-7346 and ask how we can help.