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Sports Medicine

How To Deal With Shoulder Pain

Lifting heavy can take a toll on your shoulder joint. Here are the likely causes and how to alleviate the pain and damage so you won’t miss a workout.

Shoulder ailments account for almost 18% of all injuries among elite weightlifters, so if you’re a weightlifter, your shoulders are at high risk of injury. Let’s take a look at the causes and some ways to minimize the damage.

Related: Sprain vs. Strain in the Bodybuilder

The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint, which makes it highly versatile in that it allows for range of motion in many planes. But because of its extreme mobility, the stability of the joint is often compromised. Although there are several ligaments in the shoulder that help to provide some stability, the head of the humerous fits into the glenoid fossa of the shoulder inside a cup of cartilage known as the labrum, and since this fit is rather loose, most of the shoulder stability comes from the four rotator cuff muscles: the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis. These four muscles are highly critical in not only providing mobility of the shoulder, but also stability. But it’s usually these muscles and tendons that are susceptible to strains or tendonitis.

Another important aspect of the shoulder is the shoulder girdle. The shoulder girdle consists of the junction of the clavicle and the scapula (shoulder blade). These two bones join together at the acrominoclavicular (AC) joint where the acromion process from the shoulder blade and the clavicle meet.

There are three major ligaments in the AC joint:

  1. The superior acromioclavicular ligament
  2. The inferior acromioclavicular ligament
  3. The coracoacrominal ligament

If a shoulder sprain occurs, it’s usually to one (or more) of these three ligaments.

Shoulder pain can impede you progress at the gym with just about any upper-body exercise as well as everyday activities. After sustaining an injury to the shoulder, it’s best to avoid any weight-lifting exercises that bring about increased pain to the injured area and instead focus on cardiovascular work or strength training to your lower body. After 5–21 days of active rest, it’s appropriate to begin weight training again with decreased loads as well as with the modifications mentioned. If the injury doesn’t improve after 2–3 weeks, it’s time to seek further medical attention and intervention to prevent further injury.

Movements to Avoid With Specific Shoulder Conditions

The mobility of the shoulder joint allows makes it prone to injury. Researchers at the University of Memphis determined that approximately 54% of all injuries to the shoulder were diagnosed as strains, 24% were diagnosed at tendonitis and 21% were other types of injuries such as sprains to the AC joint. Here’s how to train around specific injuries to the shoulder.

Tendonitis: Inflammation of a Tendon

  • Perform a thorough upper-body warm-up and incorporate 2–3 submaximal sets before getting into your working sets.
  • Alter your shoulder position in overhead lifts or chest presses so that the elbow is not perpendicular to your trunk but instead at about 45 degrees from your trunk.
  • Reduce your loads so the movement is pain-free, and keep your reps in the 15–20 range.
  • Decrease your range of motion so the elbows don’t go below the plane of your body at any time.
  • Avoid going to failure and allow at least one full week of rest before working the muscle group again.

Sprains: A partial or Complete Tear of a Ligament

  • Avoid overhead pressing or chest pressing movements for 5­–21 days.
  • Perform more sets in exercises that don’t directly load the AC joint such as dumbbell lateral raises, front raises or chest flyes to compensate for the pressing movements your shouldn’t be doing.
  • Avoid locking out your arms at the top of the movement.

Strains: A Partial or Complete tear of a Muscle or Tendon

  • Avoid the exercise that brought on the strain for 14–28 days.
  • Reduce the weight you lift so you remain pain-free during the exercise.
  • Avoid going to failure on any exercise.
  • Perform a static stretch to the muscle after your complete your workout.

 Please see your physician or sports medicine doctor if you experience pain or discomfort in the gym.