If you’ve been working out for any length of time, there is a great chance you’ve experienced shoulder pain. Almost everybody has. After all, the shoulder joint is complex and you use it pretty much every time you do any upper body exercise. To top it off, many of the exercises we do are wrong in terms of how they effect the shoulder joint, and cause considerable pain if continued. Here are some of the causes of shoulder pain and how you can get relief from it.
In addition to relief from your shoulder pain, you’ll also be happy to discover that some of the cures for shoulder pain will also increase the weight you can use on some of your lifts. Number one among lifts that can be helped by curing shoulder pain is the bench press. That is the number one bragging exercise among guys (typically) in the gym, so adding an extra 20 pounds or so to it is always a welcome development. You don’t see too many guys bragging that they just added 20 lbs to their calf raises.
One of the primary causes of shoulder pain is due to some smaller muscles that help hold the shoulder joint in place. The best known of these is probably the group of 4 muscles and tendons called the rotator cuff. These are responsible for stabilizing the shoulder joint and helping to keep it from popping out of place under the stress of doing what the shoulder does.
The 4 muscles that make up the rotator cuff are the teres minor, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and subscapularis muscles. Now you know why they are referred to by one name. All that takes too long to say.
What is a rotator cuff tear?
A rotator cuff tear happens when the tendons at the ends of one or more of these muscles is torn. This can happen from a massive injury or through repetitive motion. Although baseball players made this injury famous, it happens to many other athletes, such as tennis players, boxers, quarterbacks, volleyball players, and water polo players. Hell, even orchestra conductors and house framers can get this!
I’ve torn both of mine in skiing accidents (different times). It hurts, but the worst part is that it keeps you from training for an extended period, wasting much of the hard work you put in before the injury happened. I was pretty pissed off when I could do almost no chest or shoulder exercises for the better part of a year. It stymies progress.
What else can happen to the rotator cuff?
The other common injury that causes shoulder pain is rotator cuff impingement. Impingement is when the tendons of the rotator cuff get pinched from overhead movement. They and the lubricating membranes, called bursa sacs, become inflamed and possibly damaged.
Basically, the movement of the shoulder joint causes everything to bind up. The supraspinatus tendon goes right under the acromion bone at the top of your shoulder and sometimes there just isn’t enough room for all this to happen, so things get bound up and internal swelling occurs, causing pain.
How can I get relief from my shoulder pain?
The good news is that, if things aren’t totally torn up in there, you can often heal on your own through the use of special exercises, and carefully tailoring your exercise program to avoid certain movements. The key is to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles. They are relatively weak compared to the deltoid muscles and other surrounding muscles, so they can easily be placed in a situation where they just aren’t strong enough to carry the load imposed on them by the weights you’re lifting.
One way to help alleviate your pain is to change the exercises you do. The barbell bench press can really make your shoulders hurt. I’ve had to stop doing them at times because the pain was too intense. You can switch to other exercises that don’t put as much stress on the rotator cuff and other sensitive shoulder areas. For example one thing to try is getting away from barbells altogether and using only dumbbells.
Many experts recommend this strategy because it allows for a greater range of motion and doesn’t cause the shoulders to bind up so badly. I have consulted elite level, professional athletes on this and they agree. In addition, it is sometimes beneficial to use the smith machine, because it helps stabilize the weight and keeps it from moving out of the grove, which can cause you to employ stabilizing muscles in an attempt to regain control.
Special Exercises to Help Shoulder Pain
There are exercise that are very effective at strengthening the rotator cuff and other small, stabilizing shoulder joint muscles. If you have experienced a massive tear, you’ll have to wait until you’ve healed. It is a great idea to do some stabilizing muscle strengthening exercises as a preventative measure. As an added bonus, it will usually give you an increase in your bench press poundages.
You’ll need an elastic band, weight pulley machine, or piece of surgical tube to provide resistance for these. I am explaining it with dumbbells as resistance, but you can stand up and use elastic or pulleys just as well.
1) Grab a dumbbell.
2) Lie down with your arm on top of your body extending down toward your feet.
3) Bring your forearm up so that your arm is at a 90 degree angle.
4) Rotate your upper arm so that you raise the weight in an arc from touching your stomach to about 45 degrees elevation. You only have to use light weight for this. 5 – 15 lbs usually does the trick. Repeat for 10 – 12 reps.
You can do the same exercise, but in reverse, using the arm that is on the bottom.
Hopefully these exercise will help relieve your shoulder pain by strengthening your rotator cuff. See a physician before you start anything like this to prevent from aggravating an injury further.
You can take a non-steroidal anti-inflamatory, like ibuprofen or naproxen sodium. That often relieves the pain and reduces internal inflammation. Don’t use this as a long term therapy however. Long term use or large dosages can have harmful effects on your internal organs. It can also mask problems minor and cause you to over do it, turning them into major ones.
Another remedy for shoulder problems is to go under the knife, although in this day and age, it often means the laser.
Hopefully you’ve managed to avoid major shoulder problems. Since they are used with almost every upper body movement a shoulder injury can really throw a wrench in your plans to exercise, and lose fat or build muscle. The proper shoulder pain relief strategy can get you back on track again.