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What causes shoulder pain when lifting weights and how to fix it?
It's that time of the year where those of us who live in the southern hemisphere are getting ready to show off those summer bodies we’ve been working on all winter.
Weight training has become one of the most popular forms of exercise in recent years - and for good reason as it helps with:
Building muscle, strength and endurance.
Burning fat (by increasing your metabolism).
Maintaining healthy bone density.
Mental health and confidence.
As good as weight training can be for your health and fitness, we see many patients who experience shoulder pain while weight lifting. Before we get into the various causes of the pain, we first need to understand the shoulder itself, namely the structures and how they work.
The shoulder consists of your humerus/upper arm bone, scapula and clavicle/collar bone and has 4 joints:
Glenohumeral joint ( between the humerus and scapula).
Acromioclavicular joint (between the acromion and clavicle).
Sternoclavicular joint (between the sternum and clavicle).
Scapulothoracic joint (between the scapula and thoracic rib cage).
The head of the humerus fits into the glenoid fossa, which is a section of the scapula bone that forms a “socket” for the humerus. The part of the glenoid fossa that forms the “socket” is quite flat.
This is both a good and a bad thing - it allows for more movement than any other joint in the body, but it also has less stability. That's where all the other structures come in - to give that extra bit of stability that the joint itself lacks.
There are many ligaments that help to add stability and prevent an excessive amount of movement that would be harmful to the joint.
The joint capsule is a fibrous covering which encloses the joint. Then there’s a synovial membrane which lines the inner park of the capsule and produces synovial fluid which helps to reduce friction during movement. There are also many synovial bursae (sacs filled with synovial fluid) which form cushions between the structures (tendons etc.) and help smooth movement.
Then there are the muscles, specifically the rotator cuff muscles which add stability and strength during movement of the shoulder.
Shoulder pain when lifting weights:
Weight lifting puts quite a bit of stress and strain on your muscles, tendons and ligaments. As discussed above, it’s a very beneficial form of exercise, but it is vital that it is done in a proper and safe way.
Some things you could be doing that is causing your pain and lead to injury includes:
Lifting too heavy.
Lifting too often.
Improper technique can lead to overcompensation of other parts of your body, leading to injury. Lifting too heavy can result in injury if your muscles are unable to and haven't adjusted to lifting heavy loads yet. Resting days and even resting between sets is vital in the recovery process which aids in building muscle, and without this, injury is definitely waiting around the corner.
What could be causing your pain?
Rotator cuff tear:
This occurs when the tendon of one or more of your rotator cuff muscles is torn. The tear can be partial or full thickness and can be acute (lifting something too heavy) or degenerative (stress due to repetition of the same shoulder movements).
Pain at night /at rest.
Pain when moving the arm.
Weakness of the affected arm.
Rotator cuff tendinopathy:
This is an injury that is caused by overuse of the shoulder and results in inflammation (tendinitis) and degeneration.
Pain in the shoulder and outside of the upper arm.
Pain with overhead activities.
Difficulty lifting your shoulder forwards or to the sides.
The most common type of impingement that occurs in the shoulder due to lifting weights is subacromial impingement, which happens in the subacromial space.
Pain in the shoulder.
Pain when moving the shoulder (especially behind your back or lifting it above your head).
Pain when lying on the shoulder.
Weakness in the affected arm.
A condition where the tendon of your biceps muscle becomes inflamed. This is also caused by overuse, repetitive movements or loads that are too much for the muscle to handle.
Shoulder pain and tenderness.
Signs of local inflammation.
A feeling of weakness.
Bursitis occurs when one of the many bursa sacs becomes irritated and inflamed. The cause of this is also overuse or overloading the joint too much.
Shoulder pain with most activities.
Signs of local inflammation.
SLAP tear or lesion:
This happens when there is a tear or lesion to the glenoid labrum and the name stands for - superior labrum anterior and posterior. The most common cause in weight lifters is lifting too heavy.
Painful clicking and popping of the shoulder.
Painful overhead movements.
Difficulty turning your shoulder inwards (or pressing your stomach).
How to fix your shoulder pain?
As you have probably noticed from a few of the conditions above, many of them present with very similar symptoms, which will make it extremely difficult for you to be able to identify exactly what has happened. The above mentioned diagnoses are also just a few of the more common ones - there are more.
This is why it is so important to make an appointment with your physiotherapist, as we know special tests and examination techniques which can differentiate the conditions.
Taking a break or decreasing your load of lifting weights is an important step in your recovery process.
We have seen many patients whose shoulder pain has been successfully treated by rest and proper rehab which we can help you with. This rehab includes:
Range of motion exercises and stretches.
Exercises to strengthen your shoulder and scapular muscles.
Assessing your technique while lifting weights and making adjustments to ensure correct technique.
A tailored home exercise program designed specifically for your injury and lifestyle.
If need be, we can also refer you to appropriate medical professionals if there’s something more serious causing your pain or if you would possibly need surgery.
How can we help you?
At Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy our goal is to get you moving pain free as soon as possible.
But, we also want you to actually move better and live a healthier, more active and fulfilling life!
If your sports, fitness training or work has been wearing your body down, book in with one of our expert massage therapists so we can help you reduce your pain or stiffness.
If you are showing some signs of this condition or simply want help prevent this from happening in the future then book in with one of our highly experienced Remedial Massage Therapists today!