Weight lifting Without Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain is one of the most common problems we see in our clients who enjoy weight lifting.  The location of shoulder pain is often in the front part of the shoulder or deep inside the joint.  There are many muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bursa that pass through the shoulder joint.  The source of the pain can vary from person to person.

Common diagnoses associated with this type of shoulder pain include rotator cuff tears/tendinitis, bicipital tendinitis, impingement syndrome, labral tears, and shoulder arthritis.

Although there are differences in how each of these conditions should be treated, there are common limitations that exist when it comes to weight lifting and shoulder pain.

Some factors that contribute to shoulder pain with weight lifting include a muscular imbalance that results in an "anteriorly tilted" shoulder blade.

This may result in pinching and irritation in the front of the shoulder during a bench press.  These same symptoms may be felt when lifting weight overhead.  If there is a labral problem, a sensation of catching may also be felt.

In many cases, shoulder pain when weight lifting is also associated with poor mobility of the lats and the t-spine.  This can be combined with the weakness of the lats, rhomboids, serratus anterior, rotator cuff, and lower and middle trapezius muscles.  In addition, if there are imbalances at the core and buttock muscles, bracing and tensioning can be affected which may lead to faulty shoulder mechanics. 

The best way to know what is contributing to shoulder pain when weight lifting is to go through a movement assessment.

Once you know what your specific limitations are, the general recommendation is to take a short break from exercises that are irritating the shoulder.  This usually includes bench and overhead pressing.  This will allow the inflammation to subside and healing to occur.  Once the pain has been alleviated, you can now go to work on the root causes of your shoulder pain.

If pain persists, hands-on therapy to the lats, upper traps, and rotator cuff muscles can break a stubborn pain cycle.  This can also be performed independently with a foam roll or lacrosse ball.  Advanced techniques include dry needling with electrical stimulation.

If there is weakness, learning activation exercises to engage muscles that are not firing well is important.  Some muscles that are often weak in the presence of shoulder pain include the lower trapezius, infraspinatus, lats, and serratus anterior.  Some beginner exercises include the wall-slide, supine pullover, and side-lying shoulder rotation.  These can be found in our video library.

Once pain is controlled and muscles engage better, your next step is to develop proper technique with weighted pushing and pulling movements.  Basic principals include generating tension at the lat muscles to protect the shoulder during weight lifting exercises.

When addressed with a specialized physical therapy program, weight lifting without shoulder pain is possible. However, ignoring pain and using the poor technique may result in a more serious shoulder problem that requires invasive treatment.  If you want to overcome shoulder pain and get back to lifting weights without medications, injections, or surgeries, we 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 you're considering physical therapy, we offer a limited number of free Discovery Visits at our office.  This 30-minute appointment an opportunity to have your questions answered, obtain clarity about your shoulder problem, and foster 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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