How to fix shoulder impingement from weight training

As I write this, I’m currently treating three lovely ladies who strength train regularly and all are suffering with shoulder impingement syndrome. I know they’re not alone. Shoulder impingement syndrome from weight training, particularly amongst women in their late 30s and 40s, is a very common problem. Why? It’s almost certainly a combination of the mechanics of lifting weights, general posture and changes that occur to the musculoskeletal system as we start to get older…yes, you guessed it, those hormones play a strong part!

So what is shoulder impingement?

The shoulder is a complex joint with lots of muscles and tendons. The joint also allows a huge amount of movement, which makes is vulnerable to problems like impingement syndrome. Shoulder impingement is a common cause of shoulder pain. It occurs when one of the rotator cuff tendons catches on bone and tissues within the shoulder joint as you lift your arm. Naturally, as you raise your arm to shoulder height, the space within the shoulder joint narrows. Within this space, there are tendons and a fluid filled sac, called a bursa. Impingement occurs when the space has narrowed more than it should, causing one of the tendons or bursa to get caught underneath the shoulder bone, leading to pain.

What causes shoulder impingement?

The catching of the tendon on the bone can occur for a number of reasons.

  • If the tendon because swollen and thickened, it will catch as you move the shoulder. This can occur in over-use injuries such as over the shoulder weight lifting exercises.
  • The bursa can also get inflamed (bursitis) from repeated movements.
  • Bony growths on the acromion can narrow the space within the shoulder. This occurs naturally as we get older.

I have also found that many women in their 40s and 50s get this shoulder problem. It is possible that, during the perimenopause and menopause, changes to hormones affect your shoulder tendons and can make you more prone to problems like this. Loss of muscle strength from hormone changes will also lead to less stability in the shoulder, making these injuries more common. You can read more about the effects of the menopause on your body here.

What are the symptoms of shoulder impingement?

The NHS website on shoulder impingement lists the following symptoms of shoulder impingement:

  • pain in the top and outer side of the shoulder
  • pain that’s worse when you lift your arm, especially when you lift above your head
  • pain or aching at night
  • weakness in the arm
  • Your shoulder is not usually stiff

Why do I get shoulder impingement from weight training?

People who weight train can often experience shoulder impingement because the repeated action of lifting weights above the head can cause the rotator cuff tendons to catch on the bone. Poor technique or lifting too heavy can also aggravate the problem. Biomechanical issues can also lead to an impingement. These can include stiffness through the mid back, which affects the ability to move the shoulder. Poor scapula (shoulder blade) movement can also affect your shoulder stability.

What can I do to get rid of shoulder impingement from weight training?

  1. Rehab exercises– Specific shoulder strength exercises can help by stabilising the shoulder joint and improving your movement patterns.

2. Thoracic flexibility– Improving the flexibility in the upper back can help to improve your shoulder mobility.

3. Avoiding certain activities– Adapting your weight training programme to avoid above the head exercises also helps as it stops the tendon from getting aggravated.

What exercises are good to fix shoulder impingement from weight training?

  1. Push up plus
  2. Row exercises
  3. rotator cuff external rotation
  4. shoulder pendular mobilisations
  5. thoracic foam roll

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