It is pretty often that I see people rub their shoulder while they are at the gym working out. They appear healthy and most often have no mechanism of injury, meaning that nothing traumatic has happened to the shoulder to create the pain. It is what us physical therapists call, insidious onset. Well, guess what? Your gym routine is probably the cause of the pain. How? Most gym routines focus on the big movers, the muscle groups that are the largest and are the so called, "show muscles" (pecs, lats, deltoids). These large muscle groups are big internal rotators of the shoulders and therefore, turn the shoulders inward or round out your posture. This is a problem for the shoulder because it causes impingement symptoms, which is the pinching sensation you get when you lift your arm. It is your body's way of telling you that the muscles that do the opposite motion, external rotation, are not doing their job. They be can strengthened easily through exercise and I will provide a sample of exercises.
Another problem that seems to have emerged is the repetitive use of kettle bells when lifting overhead. The unnatural movement of the wrist forces the shoulder to impinge on the soft tissue in the shoulder, most commonly in those who have not developed the proper rotator cuff strength. The muscles of the posterior (back) shoulder are very important in shoulder health and often neglected in workouts. They help to open the space between the bone on the top of the shoulder, the acromium, and the head of the humerus, the ball and socket joint. In therapy, we often stretch the large muscle groups and combine that with scapular strengthening (muscles of the upper back). The muscles of the rotator cuff are small and delicate, requiring low resistance and high repetitions to strengthen. You don't want to train these muscles like the pecs and lats because they can tear. Also note that during any lat exercise, try and squeeze with the shoulder blades to encourage the upper back to engage.
I often include the door stretch for periods of longer than 30 seconds, multiple times. This is effective in stretching the pecs which may become dominant from too much bench press.
I also like to include external rotation exercises like the one here. It doesn't have to be this exercise because there are several that you can benefit from, but these therabands seem to be in most gyms. High repetitions, low resistance. Make sure you keep the shoulder from lifting up during the exercise. Keep both shoulder level at all times and make the shoulder blade move the arm instead of the arm moving without the shoulder blade.
These are just two exercises to get you started. Please share so everyone can BeneFIT! Any questions, please ask in the comment section or email me at email@example.com.
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Dr. Mark Giovanini
Scott Rusin is the Director of Physical Therapy at the Sandestin Executive Health & Wellness Center in Sandestin Resort, Miramar Beach, FL. He has a degree in Physical Therapy, is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and Nike Golf NG360 Performance Specialist Powered by the Gray Institute.