Training around your rotator cuff related shoulder pain

Time and time again, I can see the stress caused when asking patients about how their sore shoulder has effected their lifestyle. They usually respond with something along the lines of:

“I have stopped going to the gym and rested for the last few months”
“ I can’t do certain exercises / have stopped sport”
“Picking up the kids has become increasingly difficult”

What’s a rotator cuff?

The rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles which go from your shoulder blade (scapula) and connect to your upper arm (humerus). The purpose of these muscles can really be summarised into 2 things:
– Provide dynamic stability at the shoulder joint
– Allow for rotation at the shoulder joint

A common complaint with shoulder pain is the uncomfortable ‘pinch’ throughout movements like the shoulder press or bench press. There tends to not be a particular instant where people remember when it started, however a gradual increase in discomfort.

This is usually where an overloaded rotator cuff related concern will begin to display symptoms. Short to follow, some people may experience discomfort when:

  • Taking off their shirt
  • Laying on their shoulder while asleep
  • Discomfort throughout a range of reaching overhead

Now, if you rested your shoulder and stopped training, sure; the discomfort may settle. However, the second you are back in the gym, or need to reach overhead, or pick up the kids, what-ever it may be – will likely cause you pain again as you have not addressed the concern in the first place.

The answer?

I would like to be clear, that complete rest, is not the answer. What is vital not just for shoulder concerns, but for almost all injuries that we deal with in the clinic, is the concept of activity modification.

As a Physiotherapist, one of the more common concerns I help people with is that of which is described above. Physiotherapy will help you find out where your shoulder situation is currently at, in terms of tolerated capacity, mobility, strength and pain, and help guide you into resuming a normal exercise routine / help with everyday life.

Rotator cuff related pain responds really well to reduced load and specifically tailored exercises to increase the strength and stability about the shoulder. Before you think of stopping exercise all together, try:

  • Slowing down your movements
  • Reduce the range of movement you perform the exercise in
  • Lift a lighter weight
  • Reduce how may sets you perform
  • Perform the shoulder press or bench press in a more neutral grip position as opposed to your traditional wider grip

These are all factors to which you should try as opposed to throwing in the towel and not exercising all together. This will only lead to further de-conditioning which can make things worse, not to mention the stress side of things related to no longer exercising.

If you feel you have tried all of these variables, then there may be some concerns with your technique or something deeper going on – to which you should seek assessment.

What I am trying to say, is that completely resting your injury is not the solution. See a Physiotherapist who can help tailor a specific rehab program and modify your current exercise routine to help get you performing at your best, as quickly as possible.

If you are currently experiencing shoulder pain or need advice on how to train around your injury, please feel free to contact Isaac. He can be contacted at Health Space Clinics Kingsford on 9663 2151 or Potts Point on 8354 1534.

Author: Isaac Serhan

Isaac Serhan is a Physiotherapist at our Potts Point and Kingsford clinics. He has a main interest in the treatment of sporting and chronic injuries. He can be contacted on 8354 1534.

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