The shoulder is the most mobile joint of the body. For that reason alone, it’s at a greater risk for injury. Numerous muscles and nerves are involved around the shoulder. These nerves root from the cervical spine into the surrounding muscles and branch into the shoulders. These nerves being “pinched” can cause a snowball affect to pain in the shoulder as well as proper muscle fire and function.
To avoid injury as much as you can, a proper warm up is always recommended. Whether you’re about to bench, deadlift, or do an hour of arms, ensuring your shoulders are warm is important.
A Proper Warm Up
Before you even claim a bench or squat rack, be sure to sufficiently warm up your shoulders. Doing so will loosen up the deeper muscles (rotator cuff) as well as the more prominent superficial (deltoids, biceps, lats). Several methods are available to do so.
Just as it sounds, move your arm in its proper range of motion. Go the full 360 around to increase mobility. You may hear a few cracks or pops, which is perfectly normal.
ALWAYS control the motion. Don’t let momentum take over. Doing so could stretch already tight areas, causing more discomfort.
Tip: Grab a 5-pound plate or dumbbell for added resistance. Go through the same motion but NEVER lose control of the weight or the motion.
Some gyms have these, some don’t. If not you can improvise. A broomstick can help get some controlled movement in similar to arm circles. Stretch out while holding onto an end in each hand. Take it every which way you can (over head, behind the back, alternate arms overhead).
Arm Rotations at 90
Using a bench or preacher curl, rest your triceps on the top of it so your humerus (bone between biceps/triceps) is parallel to the floor. Bend your arm so your elbow is at a 90-degree angle. Slowly lower your hand until you feel a slight pull in your shoulder then return to upright.
Tip: Start with just your arm for resistance. As your rotator cuff becomes stronger, add a plate or a dumbbell extra resistance.
While a proper warm up is crucial, it is still possible you leave the gym with some tenderness in the area too uncomfortable to be considered soreness. You might shrug it off and think you’ll get over it, but wear and tear will only exacerbate the pain, limit your range of motion, and lead to injury. That’s why it’s very important to take immediate action when symptoms present themselves.
Throw a heating pad on your shoulder. This brings blood flow to the area as well as helps loosen up the deeper and superficial muscles.
Tip: Heat works best if used at the beginning for 15 minutes maximum.
There are a variety of different stretches you can do alleviate shoulder pain with respect to the painful area. Stretching the shoulder from all sides is a good way to stay proactive and prevent future injury, too.
Lean Back Stretch
Utilizing a vertical pole, grasp it at shoulder height and maintain a good grip. Keeping your feet shoulder width apart and planted firmly, lean back, relaxing everything except your hand grip. This will stretch the muscles of your back as well as your arm.
The Lat Stretch
Similar to the lean back, this puts more strain on the latissimus dorsi. It also hits rhomboids, trapezius, teres minor, tere major and a bit of triceps.
Using the same approach as the lean back, instead of holding on with both hands, hold on with one instead. Lean back in the same manner, but when you get close to the end, turn your body so your head is under the raised arm.
Beginning position, use only one hand
Tip: As your flexibility continues, stagger your feet to maintain balance. You’ll also find your feet position to emphasize the stretch more.
Cross Over Stretch
This original gym class stretch works great with stretching your rear delt, lat, teres minor and major. Simply bring your arm across your body. Use your other arm to hold and pull back if needed for a better stretch.
The classic gym class stretch
This emphasizes loosening up your chest and anterior deltoid. Both muscles insert (attach to) the humerus. If these muscles become tight, you’ll see a postural defect called anterior shoulder roll. This stretch works to take that defect away.
Place one hand on each side of doorframe and perform a make shift push up. Place your feet a few inches behind the opening of the doorframe so your body weight becomes the resistance for the stretch as you lean forward.
Notice the pectoralis major and deltoid insert onto the humerus
Tip: Keep your body rigid as if you were performing a regular push up. Proper posture is important. You can also change hand positions higher or lower on the doorframe to accommodate pain location.
This stretch utilizes both head of the biceps. Both heads of the biceps attach to deeper areas of the shoulder (under the deltoids).
Using a vertical pole, grasp it with the injured side, palm facing forward. Lean away from the pole and turn slightly. You should feel slight pressure as your biceps tighten.
Beginning: palm facing forward
Ending: Elbow extended and body turned slightly away
Tip: Be careful not to overdue this. This puts a good amount of pressure on your biceps, turning away too fast could end up backfiring on you
Stretches will help best when performed for 5 repetitions and held from 10-15 seconds. Never hurry into a stretch, cautiously and slowly work your way in until you feel tension and hold. As time goes, you’ll begin to see you can stretch further than before without pain.
Massaging the area helps to increase vascularity and consequently replenishing blood flow to the area. If shoulder pain is persistent in the rear or lateral deltoid, begin by massaging at the neck and work your way out. Doing so will trigger the nerves innervating the muscle fibers from their base. Apply pressure as you see necessary, if you can tolerate deep tissue, have someone dig his or her elbow into your trapezius or rear delt. Whichever works best!
The classic method of icing a body part has been used to decades and for one sole reason: it works! This works best to reduce inflamed areas as well as reduce swelling. Use this after the gym or after performing the stretches above if you see necessary. If you like using heat both before and after, opt for that. You know your body, use what works best for you. If pain is persistent, take a few weeks off and focus on healing. Throw some of the ideas listed above and see how they work for you. Worse comes to worse, head to your doctor. You may get a few weeks of physical therapy but it could always be worse. You could have this happen to you.