Why does my shoulder hurt?
Why does my shoulder hurt?
(and what can I do about it?)
Shoulder pain is a common complaint for numerous athletes, ‘weekend warriors’, and gym users, and it’s often left either poorly treated (rest, painkillers, and/or cortisone shots) or only partially treated through incorrect exercises or an inadequate variety of exercises. If you’re currently experiencing shoulder pain (or you want to prevent it in the future) then it’s time to figure out what’s wrong and get some treatment.
The shoulder complex is made up of the glenohumeral, scapulothoracic, acromioclavicular, and sternoclavicular joints, and is one of the most vulnerable areas in the body due to the extensive range of motion it has available. During full body movements, forces produced in the lower extremities, hips, and trunk are transmitted through the shoulder complex to the the arms and hands. If the shoulder complex is unstable, immobile, or otherwise dysfunctional it will be unable to cope with the load placed upon it, exposing you to injury.
The main region for most shoulder injuries is below the acromion process, and generally involves tendons of the rotator cuff muscles and biceps being impinged/’squished’ between bony structures. This is known as subacromial impingement syndrome.
Having healthy shoulders (without subacromial impingement) depends on a number of factors, including rotator cuff strength, appropriate ratio of pushing to pulling exercises, adequate warm ups, good exercise technique, and (perhaps most importantly) good posture. Ensuring good posture (consisting of optimal shoulder and thoracic spine [upper back] position) gives the scapula (shoulder blade) a stable base and enhances its ability to move freely on the rib cage, allowing full mobility.
During movement of the upper extremity, the scapula and humerus (upper arm bone) move in tandem to allow full motion (known as scapulohumeral rhythm). As previously mentioned, if either the scapula or humerus (and associated joints) are unstable or immobile then injury can, and probably will, eventually occur.
- Thoracic extensions over the foam roller
- SMR Lats
- Lat Stretch
- SMR (LAX ball) Pecs
- Pec Stretch
Another possible cause is a weakness of the serratus anterior – this is the muscle that holds your scapula/shoulder blade to your rib cage. If it is weak then ‘scapula winging’ can occur, which obviously puts the scapula into a suboptimal position.
- Scap Push Ups
- Cable bear hug
Ensuring your rotator cuff muscles are strong and healthy is also essential, as these act as dynamic stabilizers of the shoulder (holding the humerus in the correct place during motion).
- External rotations (never perform these to failure)
- Bottoms up kettlebell presses
Having an appropriate ratio of pushing to pulling exercises will also balance out the musculature on the front and back of your shoulders – excessive mirror muscle exercises (bench presses, curls, shoulder presses) will cause shortness and imbalances in anterior (front) muscles (a syndrome known as upper crossed).
- Try and have a 2:1 ratio of pulling to pushing exercises, so more rows and vertical pulling!
Warming up adequately will prevent injury by increasing the temperature (and therefore extensibility) of your muscles, and will increase mobility at the joints required for exercise.
- A 10 minute jog on the treadmill is not an appropriate warm up prior to lifting. Performing a well thought out warm up routine that includes mobility and activation drills for all the joints and muscles associated with the workout is the best option. Raise (heart rate and temperature) – Activate (muscles) – Mobilize (joints).
Finally, good exercise technique is imperative. Find a qualified strength and conditioning coach to go through correct exercise technique with you, particularly for barbell, kettlebell, and dumbbell exercises (such as the bench press).
*Remember to always consult a physician (or a physical therapist) if you’re experiencing pain, and prior to beginning a new exercise/treatment regime. Your shoulder pain may not be due to the reasons mentioned in this post, so get it checked out first!*