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  • Writer's pictureDr. Brandon

Got Shoulder Pain? Avoid these 3 Machines

Are you getting back to the gym this January while suffering from shoulder pain? Are you concerned that you might be making your shoulder worse by lifting or using machines? Are you confused whether to strengthen or stretch it? In this post, we’ll cover 3 machines specifically to avoid and give you some helpful tips to be able to train through this often painful condition.

First, what is going on when your shoulder hurts. Is it your rotator cuff? Frozen shoulder? Bone spurs? Is it even coming from the shoulder? The shoulder can be painful for a bunch of different reasons. And while a rotator cuff tear or a frozen shoulder may be a reason for shoulder pain, at our clinic in Tallahassee, we often find that if the pain comes and goes, that it is more likely a shoulder stiffness problem that creates a movement problem in the shoulder. This then can cause the head of the arm bone(humerus) to not track right in the socket. If you can pinpoint a spot on the front or the back of the shoulder that hurts, this is often one of the causes. This stiffness and poor tracking then pinches several areas of the shoulder as you raise your arms, reach behind you, or do incline or overhead presses at the gym. The second main reason that your shoulder can hurt when lifting(especially on machines) is your posture. While we all know that poor posture can hurt the low back and lead to sciatica, what we’ve found in our clinic is that it is an often an overlooked cause of shoulder pain, neck pain, and headaches. Why? Because when our spine is rounded(think of how a teenager looks when she’s staring at her cell phone or how we look at the end of a long day at the office) our mid and upper back stiffens up. This stiffness then doesn’t let our upper back open up fully which then keeps us from being able to lift overhead(see picture below).

How posture affects shoulder pain

Lastly, if our neck is in the wrong position, it can then create tight tender areas of muscle called trigger points through our upper back and top of the shoulder and especially between the shoulder blades. This can also cause the shoulder to not work as it should. Any one of these three causes can lead to shoulder pain in the gym or at home lifting things into a high cabinet.

So, why should you avoid the machines below if you have shoulder pain?

The first reason is that each of these machines takes your shoulder into a position called impingement. Now, in a shoulder that isn’t dealing with stiffness or poor tracking, we can handle these positions with little to no issue. But, once we have stiffness or pain, this impingement position becomes problematic in that we get repeated pinching of the tendons of our rotator cuff, specifically the tendons of our supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and teres minor(3 of the 4 muscles of the rotator cuff). They attach to a bump of bone on the top of our arm bone(humerus) and it’s this bump of bone as it rotates under the shelf of bone(hard part of shoulder) called your acromion that this pinching happens. If it happens often enough, it can become sore and inflamed, and eventually can lead to fraying of the tendon, a tear, or bone spurs.

The second reason to avoid these machines is that while they help develop the larger muscles of the shoulder, your stabilizers are not being used which can lead to problems down the road when we try to lift heavier(especially free weights or picking up heavy things around the house) in that our stabilizers have not kept up with our deltoids or pecs.

Avoid: Lat or Lateral Raise: Machine, Free weight, or Cable

Of the 3 exercises, this one can impinge the shoulder the most, especially if you are rotating your thumbs down. The move finishes with your shoulder in an impinged position and one of the most coached versions on YouTube is one where you rotate your arms down in order to get the rear delt. This thumbs down position is one of the positions used to test if you have impingement because it places you in a painful position to begin with.

Man using overhead press machine

Overhead Press

If you are missing neck, shoulder, or upper back mobility, your shoulder literally can’t get into the right position to do this lift correctly(though it will sure try). As a result, many often arch their backs or limit their range of motion on the machine(limiting its effectiveness). In addition, many will have pain in the first third of the motion, just as the shoulder is passing through the area of peak impingement forcing you to lighten the load or set the starting point above that zone.

Incline Press

While the incline press does not take us into that impingement position, when you are at the bottom of your lift, you are putting stress on the insertion point for 3 of the 4 rotator cuff muscles in addition to increasing pressure on the bursa of the shoulder(and if your shoulder pain is from bursitis-this can irritate that). Also, pain during the incline press can also be coming from trigger points(tight tender areas) in the pecs, usually just under the collar bone.

Are you dealing with shoulder pain now and want to know your options? Schedule a time to speak with a Shoulder Pain Specialist by clicking here. Or take advantage of our Gym Readiness Assessment. Whether you are dealing with pain, we’ll help to get to the root cause of your shoulder issue so you can focus on dealing with the cause of the pain and not just taking care of the symptoms. Or, you are just concerned that an old injury will flare when you get back to the gym, our Gym Readiness Assessment will give you the confidence you need to hit your fitness goals.

During one of our free consultations, the Gym Readiness Assessment and Total Body Diagnostic, we offer expert advice about the worry and frustration of life-changing aches and pains – for FREE, in under 30 minutes. Click here to book your Gym Readiness Assessment and Total Body Diagnostic

If this article describes your story and you are looking for some help with sciatica pain or low back pain, we offer FREE consultations, which give you the opportunity to come in and meet us and see for yourself how we can help you.

Here are just a few of the things you will learn in one of our free consultation:

  • What is the underlying cause of your pain? (hopefully nothing too serious!)

  • Roughly, how long will it take to fix the problem?

  • What to do to help – which doesn’t include painkillers, resting or surgery etc.

  • What other, natural, drug free methods are there to speed up recovery alongside treatment?

About the author

Brandon Alkire, DPT, CSCS, FMS, Cert. DN

Doctor of Physical Therapy and Strength Coach

Dr. Brandon is the owner and a Physio at Body Mechanix Physiotherapy and Fitness. Four of his favorite people call him daddy while he's been married to his other favorite person for 20 years. He enjoys teaching martial arts and is a Mestrando in Capoeira while in the mornings, he can be found working out with the guys in F3 around town.

He's the author of 4 pain relief guides for sciatica, low back, shoulder, and knees and the lead contributor to the Active Tallahassee Blog.

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