By Vanessa Hampton
As a trainer, one of the most common issues I see people deal with is some sort of shoulder pain.
It’s frustrating, I know.
You raise your arm. It hurts. You lift a bag of groceries. It hurts. You wake up. It hurts.
There are many different causes for shoulder pain and it can include actual issues with a joint or a muscle tear, but more often, the cause is simply our habits… which means we can do something about it!
The first thing that I address when helping someone with shoulder pain is posture.
Everything we do in life is in front of us. This means that most of us have shoulders that roll forward. This can be caused from too much time on the computer, a weak core (this is what keeps our whole midline stable), or simply a lifetime of not paying attention and slumping. The effect of this is a shortening of all the tissue in the front of the shoulders and pectoral muscles (chest), and a weakening of the back muscles because they are allowed to be lazy. This in turn can lead to low back pain because the
abdominal muscles are not having to work. This means the low back has no support from the front.
Everything on the front side of your body supports the back and vice versa!
Test it for yourself. Sit up straight. Feel the back muscles between your shoulder blades engage to hold you up. Notice that your ribs have to lift, which means that your abs are engaging. Now let it go. Feel your ribs fall? Feel the mid part of your spine lengthen and curve forward? Feel your shoulders roll forward? That’s the problem. Rest assured, too much of this leads to poor posture when standing and walking as well. That in turn can lead to hip, knee, and even ankle pain down the road because your trunk is not supported by your upper body in all of the steps you take every day. It’s all connected and it’s a vicious cycle if we don’t address it.
So, the first step in affecting a change with shoulder pain is to sit up straight! Then, stand up straight.
Simple awareness can go a LONG way in correcting posture and posture is extremely important because that determines what muscles have to do what in your everyday life and in your workouts.
Think about it. If your shoulders are constantly rolled forward, then they will take the brunt of any movement that you do overhead in workouts or even in just reaching up to a high cabinet. The back muscles don’t get a chance to help out and, therefore, get weak. This imbalance leads to problems and, eventually, pain.
So, we talked about the tissue in the front part of the shoulders getting shorter and pulling our shoulders forward. You can do something about this by rolling a lacrosse ball or tennis ball in the chest region as well as the back part of the shoulders. You can find out how to do this in this mobility video by Kelly Starrett: (Kelly Starrett is a mobility genius!)
You can also consider a sports or deep tissue massage, which is effectively doing the same thing. You just get the advantage of the skills of the qualified therapist.
Now let’s talk about a couple of other habits that may be the source of your shoulder pain.
If you are a female, which side do you carry your purse on? Does your purse tend to be heavy? Consider changing shoulders to even it out. Years of extra weight on one shoulder will definitely impact how those shoulders feel. It can even alter how you walk!
Another HUGE factor in shoulder pain, for both males and females is sleeping position. I have had it happen too many times. A client will be very frustrated with the shoulder pain they keep feeling and it seems like the things we are doing should be helping, but they are not as effective as I hope. Then one day, the client tells me that they sleep on their belly with their arm extended under their head.
Well no wonder!
When you put your joints in a poor position for multiple hours every night, it’s going to continue to be a problem. STOP SLEEPING LIKE THAT. (I say this with love). If you sleep on your back and put your arms behind your head, stop doing that, too.
Side sleepers can also have problems with their shoulders because we spend multiple hours putting pressure on them or letting the top one roll forward for too long as we sleep. If this is you, it’s a good idea to try sleeping with a pillow under your highest arm. The goal is to take the pressure off the shoulder that may be rolling forward. It’s also a good idea to make sure that the pillow under your head is high enough to keep your neck straight while you sleep on your side. This will relieve the shoulders of any extra pressure from the head sagging.
It’s a challenge to change your sleeping position, but it’s very necessary for the health of your shoulders if this is something you are experiencing.
It also takes work to change your posture and be intentional about foam rolling or massage. I get it and I am guilty of putting these things on the back burner myself. However, the inconvenience and discomfort of change is worth the savings in doctor’s visits, medicines, and surgeries. After all, these will only prove to be band aids for your shoulder pain if you don’t address the things you do in your everyday life.
You are not powerless. You can do something about that shoulder pain!