If you’re an avid gym rat, chances are with all the repetitive movements overhead and press, you will run into shoulder pain at some point. Some just live with a mild pain and others try to push through the hurt and actually injure themselves – what we definitely don’t want to do!
Knowing the difference between muscle soreness and actual technical problems with the shoulder is a make or break decision if you want to perform in the gym for years on end. Below are some steps to take to get your shoulder back to performing pain-free movements and to keep the pain away.
These fixes don’t work if only one or two are taken care of. To really get your shoulders back to being as healthy as possible, getting the muscle relaxed, stretching the muscle and then having the strength to keep things where they should be should all be addressed.
Shoulder Pain Fix #1: Massage/Soft Tissue Work
The first step in relieving shoulder pain is to address the point at which the pain lives. For example, we’ll use impingement as the pain experienced by the lifter. Impingement syndrome occurs when there is not sufficient space for the tendons and bursa of the shoulder to move freely. We first need to address what is causing that lack of space – it could be a number of things such as tight anterior delt, tight pec minor or a mixture of those and lack of rotator cuff strength. Whatever the shoulder pain issue, we need to relax the muscle around the shoulder to restore it to the correct position and functionality.
Tennis/Lacrosse Ball Rolling
- Grab either a tennis or lacrosse ball and place on tight areas (chest/shoulder/trap)
- Slowly roll on the ball moving in small 1-2 inch circles
- Once you find “knots” slowly roll these out until pain subsides
Top Tip: The more it hurts, the more relaxing of the muscle you are doing! Be cautious of staying on the muscle and not slipping onto nerve endings.
Foam Rolling Lats/Chest
- Grab a foam roller and place yourself face down
- Place under armpit/chest area to start with and roll side to side to roll out pec major and minor
- To hit the lats flip on to your side and have roller perpendicular to upper body
- Keeping on the lats, roll up and down finding tight spots that need relieved
Top Tip: Foam rolling releases knots within the area you’re working. Freeing up this tissue provides space in the lats and the chest for the shoulder to move freely back and forth.
Shoulder Pain Fix #2: Stretching
It seems like such an obvious point, but many that go to the gym will skip the 5 minutes it takes to stretch and will pay for it eventually. Stretching the shoulder can provide more stability throughout overhead or pressing movements (Shoulder Press, Bench Press, Incline Press…). Stretching also makes the muscle more elastic and increases the range of motion. As we know, the greater the range of motion within a movement the greater the opportunity for muscle growth. Stretching is not just for the yoga class or the senior citizen center; it’s for everyone who wants a balanced, strong physique.
Chest Doorway Stretch
Shoulder pain can occur from a tight pec and a rolling forward of the shoulders. Combat this with keeping the chest loose and the shoulders back.
- Find a doorway just anywhere at your house or at the gym
- Place hands about shoulder level and keep elbows up
- Lean body forward and feel the stretch through your chest and into anterior delt
Broomstick Active Stretch
Part of keeping the shoulders loose is actually getting them loose. The broomstick active stretch gets the shoulders loosened up as well as increasing mobility.
- Grab a broomstick or a light exercise band of some sort
- Place hands very wide to start with and keep them in same position throughout the movement
- Rotate hands overhead and back behind torso as far as possible
- Using the scapula and shoulder muscles, return to starting position
Top Tip: This stretch is great for freeing up the shoulder joint but can be hard to do at first. Using the stretch band allows for a wider plane of shoulder motion to start with. As you become more flexible, move hands closer together on band or on broomstick. Using the scapula and shoulder muscles is key – arm involvement should not occur.
Shoulder Pain Fix #3: Strengthening the Shoulder
Usually the source of shoulder pain is not due to shoulder itself not being strong, but the supporting areas around it. The muscles of the serratus and the middle/lower trap both keep the scapula right up against the ribcage. When these muscles become dormant and our neuromuscular connection can’t keep things moving correctly, this is where shoulder pain can occur when other muscle overcompensate. So, we have to retrain how to keep shoulders back using the correct muscles.
Y, T, Ws
This movement will be done with a baby weight but will make you cry like one too when done correctly! Keep it light and keep it tight and get those shoulders healthy again!
- Grab a 1 or 2 lb dumbbell and sit on the end of a flat bench
- Start by holding weight with thumbs up and moving weight out in front of you
- Movement should end with arms parallel with floor, emulating a “Y”
- Bend around 45 degrees at the hips. Repeat the above movement with arms straight out to side creating a “T”
- Finally, stay bent at the hips, then bend at elbows and raise arms, making the “W”
Top Tip: On all these movements, the key is really focusing on keeping the shoulders down and pulled back. Only use the muscles of the lower/mid trap to activate this motion.
Although this is not medically cleared diagnosis for all shoulder pain, these are great places to start if you start to feel niggles, or that something just is a little weak and unstable. Anything else, seeing a chiropractor or doctor is recommended to check on nerves and muscle to make sure nothing is torn or pinched.
Next time you head to the gym or have 10 minutes at home, get to rolling, stretching and strengthening those shoulders!