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3 Best Ways to Modify Exercise for Shoulder Pain

Nothing is more frustrating than trying to exercise but constantly being limited by a nagging shoulder pain that prevents you from doing half the stuff you want to do!

Maybe it started with a little ache here and there, but now it's progressed to the point where it feels worse after every time you workout, and it even wakes you up at night.  It might also hurt whenever you try to reach overhead, lift anything in front of you, and reach behind you.  It this sounds familiar-then you want to keep reading, because this is a problem I have helped many New Albany Ohio locals with.

The uncertainty of what is actually going on can be a lot to deal with, and you're probably wondering if you should just take some time off from the gym, or just avoid anything that bothers it.

I am here to tell you that you DO NOT need to rest your shoulder, and there is a smart way to continue to exercise without fear of injury.  Here are 3 of my best tips to modify exercise if you're having shoulder pain:

1. Reduce the range of motion.

The shoulder is a very mobile joint, and when you have pain you probably are not able to move through your full motion, at least not without MORE pain.  What I usually have patients start with is reducing the range of motion with certain exercises.  But due to the variety of shoulder motions, this can look a few different ways.  

One of my favorite modifications is a landmine press.  The landmine offers a fixed position to reduce instability, but also places it at an angle to reduce the required range of motion at the shoulder.  A landmine press can still be loaded up heavy-so unless your pain is moderate to severe during or after exercise-this is a movement I will still load up pretty heavy with patients.  While we are reducing the range of motion temporarily, we want to continue loading the muscles around the shoulder, especially if you plan to continue working out. Check out this video of a landmine press and how to set it up.

Landmine Shoulder Press


2. Slow Down your Movements (and reduce the weight)!

When the shoulder is painful, your body will prefer not to use that area as much, which can mean some altered mechanics and movement patterns.  But even when dealing with pain or an injury, we want to still be using proper form with our exercises so we don't teach our body any bad habits that continue after the pain is gone.  

Slowing down movements (and thereby reducing the weight) is a great place to start to make sure your shoulder and all the muscles around it are still performing as they need to.  The lighter weight obviously reduces the load on the shoulder, but the fact that you are slowing down the exercise emphasizes more "time under tension", or another way to say how long the muscle is being used for. This makes the muscle spend more time learning how to stabilize the movements and you still get a good workout. You can easily combine the first part of reducing the range of motion with this principle to further modify an exercise if pain continues!

Side note-It is good to keep in mind that everything I talk about is on a spectrum here.  Someone might have minimal pain and modify the range of motion and be fine. Someone else might have more significant pain, but modifying the range of motion and reduce the weight and speed of the movement still does not fix the issue.  Other people will be in between and all over the place. That is the unfortunate thing about having pain or and injury-no 2 people will be the same, which is why I included a very important 4th tip to deal with your shoulder pain. So keep reading on!


3. Implement accessory work for ALL the shoulder muscles

If you find your only shoulder exercises are different variations of pressing overhead, then some additions to your program should work wonders for your painful shoulder. I know what you're thinking, why add exercise if it's painful?? Well that is the best part, even though your exercise makes it hurt more, it's the specific type of exercise you're doing (or not doing) that is probably a factor here.  Since the shoulder relies so much on the control of various muscle groups, we want to provide a balance that makes everything happy.

Some of these muscles that we want to help balance are called the rotator cuff.  The rotator cuff probably floats around in your vocabulary, especially if you've done some online research-but you might not know exactly what that means.  The rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles that surround the shoulder joint and help to produce coordinated and pain free movement of the shoulder.  Sometimes when there is dysfunction or pain present- these muscles can be to blame.  If you want to get a bunch of great ideas for ways to work the rotator cuff, I suggest you check out my previous blog article "Rotator Cuff Pain-How Do You Fix It?"


BONUS tip: See a Physical Therapist

I think this is going to be the fastest way to have less pain and move with less restrictions.  When you schedule a session with us, you get a full hour of uninterrupted 1-on-1 time so we can better understand you, your current injury, and your goals to formulate a plan that will get you out of pain and back in the gym. 

This is something I have helped hundreds of New Albany Ohio locals with, and something I will always be passionate about!  If I can keep people moving and exercising, and give them the tools to stay injury free for the long term, then I consider my day a success.  

If you have been dealing with a nagging shoulder pain or injury, or maybe you just can't move or exercise the way you want to because of an old injury, schedule a Free 15 minute discovery call and take the first step towards feeling and moving great!


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