Anyone who has had shoulder pain knows how incredibly painful it can be. Just trying to do everyday activities, like carrying groceries or working on the computer, can seem pretty debilitating.
People with shoulder pain are often diagnosed with “impingement syndrome” or “rotator cuff tendonitis” by their doctors. If the diagnosis is not as serious as a torn muscle/tendon, fracture, or even bursitis, exercise and anti-inflammatory medications are usually what the doctor suggests.
Therefore, you usually get a prescription for a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID, such as Naproxen or Motrin. The typical “have two of these and call me in the morning” doctor’s visit.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be medical advice. for anyone who reads it. However, as a physical therapist, many of my personal patients ask me what are the best exercises to get rid of shoulder pain. I have to tell you that there are definitely some that you really want to avoid. These are generally the “push” exercises.
Since most cases of shoulder pain are due to “impingement” problems, pushing exercises generally make these symptoms worse. The reason this happens is that when you do things like overhead or bench presses (or something like that), it can cause your shoulder tendons to get caught between your arm bone and your shoulder blade. This is the true cause of most cases of shoulder pain.
What you want to do are exercises that really open up the gap between these two bones. When the relative space between the humerus and the scapula is increased, it relieves pressure on the tissues, which leads to a decrease in inflammation. This, in turn, will lead to increased circulation to the area and allow some healing to take place.
Aside from icing the area, the 3 exercises I recommend people do are 1) shrugs, 2) lat pulldowns, and 3) triceps curls. When I make them, I’ve found that it’s best to use a minimal to moderate amount of weight. Remember, this is not strength training. All you’re trying to do is activate the target muscles enough to relieve the pain.
Let me go over the rationale for each of these exercises.
Shrugging your shoulders, either up and down or in a circular motion, will actually bring your scapula back and down. The shrug movement hits the upper and middle traps, as well as the rhomboid muscles (these are the main 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 is tilted back, the “acromion process” moves away from the upper arm bone and tendons that are being pinched.
Moving on to the latissimus dorsi pulldown exercise. The latissimus dorsi muscle inserts on the inside of the upper arm. It works to pull the upper arm behind the body. The pulling motion will also recruit other minor muscles that will work alongside the latissimus dorsi to reposition the upper arm bone into a more suitable location.
As a secondary added benefit, doing a downward lateral pull will also pull your shoulder blades back and away from your upper arm. This will provide even more pressure relief on sore spots.
A frequent offender in cases of shoulder pain is the biceps tendon. The long head of the biceps to be specific. This is because this little tendon goes up and past the front of the shoulder joint and attaches to the top of the shoulder joint. So to deal with shoulder pain, you need a good exercise to relieve some of the pressure and tension on your bicep muscles.
The tricep push down is just one such exercise. When you do the exercise correctly with your elbows locked to your sides, you isolate the working triceps muscles. This, in turn, will reduce tension and soreness in the bicep muscle and further relieve shoulder pain.
When you work the triceps, the brain has to relax the biceps. This automatic and neurological relaxation relieves muscular tension in the front of the arm and brings about a great reduction in pain in the inflamed and irritated tissues in the front of the arm and in the joint.
As you begin these 3 exercises, the important thing to remember is that you whose you have to be aggressive when doing them. Your reps should be relatively slow and deliberate. Do 10 to 15 reps and no more than 3 sets. Your weight should be minimal to moderate. Just enough for you to feel the resistance. Watch for any signs of increased pain or symptoms and stop the exercises if you feel any increase in pain.
It is good for anyone trying to get rid of shoulder pain to avoid all other types of upper body work until the shoulder pain has completely resolved for at least a week. 2-3 weeks.
Remember, consult your own physical therapist or doctor and see what they say before beginning any type of exercise program for pain.