Summer Sixteen. Time to Fix Yourself-Part 2

The shoulder.

The shoulder is even more complex than the hip. Instead of trying to cover every possible thing that could cause shoulder pain, I’m going to elaborate on just a couple of the big issues that I come across in the gym.

First things first, it is impossible to look at each joint in the body as entirely separate from the others. For those experiencing shoulder pain, you would be benefitted from going back and reading Part 1 of this series that deals with the hips and low back. Poor hip function and mechanics are closely related, and often lead to, poor shoulder mechanics. The body is a complex machine and if the hips aren’t doing their job, the shoulder will work overtime to compensate. No bueno.

Now it’s time to check if your shoulder is working properly. Below are some tests to see if you have full range of motion at your shoulder joints. All this means is that your shoulder has no trouble operating the way it was intended to.

If you are lacking in any of those ranges, that would be the first thing to address.

From here on out, we’ll assume that range of motion at the shoulder is good.

Chest and bicep

We’ll look at the front side of the shoulder first and things that connect to the front side. The most common culprits that could contribute to shoulder pain are…

  • pectoralis major and pectoralis minor (i.e. your chest)-tightness here can pull posterior (back side) shoulder anatomy forward, lengthening it and causing constant tension. Dysfunction due to repetitive use or poor posture can lead to nagging shoulder pain.
  • bicep tendon-starts at bicep muscle and runs up and attaches into the shoulder, can cause pain in the front of the shoulder, pain is often a result of poor shoulder mechanics and can indicate a lack of range of motion in the shoulder

Here is an easy stretch that can be done anywhere to improve the front-side mechanics of your shoulder…

Rotator Cuff

The other most common culprits are on the back side and on top of the shoulder blade. The rotator cuff is made of four main muscles:

  • subscapularis-internal rotator
  • supraspinatus-responsible for abduction
  • infraspinatus-external rotator with the arm in neutral
  • teres minor-external rotator with external rotation with the arm in abduction

All of those science-y words to say that four tiny muscles are responsible for moving a huge joint through many different ranges. I frequently see weakness in those muscles lead to pain in the shoulder.

If you’ve never worked specifically on strengthening these muscles, below are some easy drills to implement.

Why Do These Things Hurt?

It is my opinion that 90% of shoulder pain due to any of the things mentioned above is caused by:

  1. Overuse
  2. Strength Imbalance

Overuse is the easier one to address. This one I see more often in inexperienced athletes or new people walking in the gym. They can do 1 pull-up, so they want to do 100 pull-ups. The barbell feels light, so why shouldn’t they press it over their heads 50+ times as fast as they can? The shoulder takes time to strengthen. Trust your coaches, scale appropriately, and give it the time it needs. Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD do something. More on that at a later date…:)

Strength imbalance is a little bit more complex. To understand it, we need to look at the ways we use our shoulders most often in CrossFit. Most movements involving our shoulders can be broken down into four groups…vertical pulling (strict pull-ups), vertical pressing (push press, wall balls), horizontal pulling (ring rows, Pendlay rows), horizontal pressing (bench press, pushups).

What I’ve found in my time coaching is that most people have a bias towards one or two of those things and neglect the others. Things we’re good at are fun, so we do more of them. Things we aren’t good at our hard, so we avoid them. This creates different parts of our shoulder to be strong and others to be weak. Eventually those weaknesses will turn into pain. The greatest deficiences I’ve seen in most athletes (myself included) are in vertical and horizontal pulling. Adding in some simple exercises that incorporate those two types of movements can greatly improve the health of your shoulders. A few sets of 10reps/side of each movement performed a couple of times each week will have those shoulders feeling better:

Stay tuned for Part 3…