Anyone who has had shoulder pain knows how incredibly painful it can be. Just trying to do everyday activities like carrying groceries or working at the computer can seem pretty debilitating.
People with shoulder pain often get diagnosed with “impingement syndrome” or “rotator cuff tendinitis” by their doctors. If the diagnosis is nothing severe like a torn muscle/tendon, fracture, or even a bursitis, exercise and anti-inflammatory drugs are usually what the doctor suggests.
So, you usually get a prescription for a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or, NSAID, such as Naproxen or Motrin. The typical “take two of these and call me in the morning” type doctor visit.
Disclaimer: This article is not meant to be medical advice for anyone reading it. However, as a physical therapist, a lot of my personal patients ask me what is the best exercises to do to get rid of shoulder pain. I have to tell them that there are definitely some that they actually want to avoid. These are generally the “pushing” exercises.
Because most cases of shoulder pain are due to “impingement” problems, pushing exercises typically make these symptoms worse. The reason this happens is that when you things like overhead or bench presses (or anything like these), it can cause the tendons of the shoulder to be pinched between the arm bone and the shoulder blade. This is the real cause of most cases of shoulder pain.
What you want to do are exercises that actually open the gap between these two bones. When you increase the relative space between the humerus and the scapula, you relieve the pressure on the tissues which leads to a decrease in inflammation. This in turn will lead to an increase in circulation to the area and allow some healing to take place.
Along with icing the area, the 3 exercises that I recommend people do are 1) shrugs, 2) lat pulldowns, and 3) triceps push downs When doing them, I have found it best to use a minimal to moderate amount of weight. Remember, this isn’t strength training. All you are trying to do is sufficiently activate the target muscles so as to give yourself some pain relief.
Let me go over the rationale for each of these exercises.
Doing shrugs, whether straight up and down or in a circular motion, actually will draw the scapula back and down. The shrugging motion hits the upper and middle traps, as well as the rhomboid muscles ( these are the major muscles, but not the only muscles the exercise hits).
When the traps and rhomboids are activated, they actually work to bring the shoulder blade back and down. When the shoulder blade tips back, the “acromium process” is moved away from the upper arm bone and away from the tendons that are being pinched.
Moving on the latissimus pulldown exercise. The latissimus muscle attaches to the inside of the upper arm. It works to pull the upper arm behind the body. The pulldown motion will also recruit other minor muscles that will work along side the latissimus to reposition the arm bone is a more proper place
As a secondary added benefit, doing a lat pull down will also draw the shoulder blades back and away from the upper arm. This will provide even more relief of pressure on the sore spots.
Triceps Push Downs
A frequent offender in shoulder pain cases is the biceps tendon. The long head of the biceps to be specific. This is because this small tendon goes up and over the front of the shoulder joint and attaches to the top part of the shoulder joint itself. So, to deal with shoulder pain, you need a good exercise to relieve some of the pressure and tension on the biceps muscles.
The triceps push down is just such an exercise. When you do the exercise correctly with fixed elbows at your side, you isolate the working triceps muscles. This in turn will actually reduce the tension and pain in the biceps muscle and give even more shoulder pain relief.
When you work the triceps, the brain has to relax the biceps. This automatic and neurological relaxation relieves the muscular tension on the front side of the arm and brings a good deal of pain reduction to the inflamed and irritated tissues on the front of the arm and into the joint.
When starting out with these 3 exercises, the important thing to remember is that you don’t need to be aggressive when doing them. Your reps should be relatively slow and deliberate. Shoot for 10-15 reps and no more than 3 sets. Your weight should be minimal to moderate. Just enough for you to feel the resistance. Be aware of any signs of increase in pain or symptoms and stop the exercises if you feel any increase in pain.
It’s good for anyone trying to get rid of shoulder pain to avoid all other types of upper body work until your shoulder pain has been totally resolved for at least a week. 2-3 weeks.
Remember, consult your own physical therapist or doctor and see what they say before you jump into doing any type of exercise program for pain.