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Why does the front of my shoulder hurt?

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You hear plenty of “experts” speak/write about how so many people in CrossFit have shoulder pain and that CrossFit causes injuries to the shoulders.

Well most of these experts don’t know what they are talking about.  Here’s the deal:

The shoulder is made up of a very shallow ball and socket joint with quite a few small muscles and ligaments attached to it.  The shoulder is an amazing joint because it allows for a huge range of motion due to this shallow socket and muscle configuration.  The drawback is stability.

The shoulder is stable if all of the muscles and ligaments stay strong and intact.  Most people know and understand this.  What many people don’t know is that depending how you are moving your arm these muscles will fire in a certain order.

Well if an athlete doesn’t use the full Range of Motion (ROM) of a particular movement for many reps over a long period of time what tends to happen is that certain muscles either shut off or get really angry and tighten up.  When this happens the stability of the shoulder is compromised and the ball doesn’t quite move correctly in the socket.  This athlete will probably not feel anything for a while then they may start to have pain in the front of their shoulder.

At this point they begin massaging the area that hurts, rolling the area out, maybe even trying to dig a lacrosse ball in it.  All to no avail.  They can’t figure out why their shoulder hurts, the pain gets worse then they believe they have a full blown injury.  They go to the doctor and get imaging and nothing is wrong.

The challenge is that pain in the front of the shoulder is a non-descriptive symptom.  It’s a by product of the mild instability that has formed due to a muscle getting angry, but pain in the front of the shoulder doesn’t point directly to a certain muscle.

If the athlete hunts around and systematically checks a series of muscles for tightness and/or tenderness they will usually find the culprit.  With some stretching, massage and some other modalities the athletes shoulder pain will go away.

Then their coach needs to really take a close look at their shoulder mechanics to see where they can improve.  Many times it is a subtle adjustment that needs to be rep’d out over time.

I find that the most common fault is not finishing the overhead press.  What I mean is an athlete locks their elbows out overhead but doesn’t quite get the shoulder blades back to the finished position.  Over time this can shorten the subscapularis muscle and make it angry so it gets very tight and subsequently causes that afore mentioned pain in the front of the shoulder.

This is not always the case and over the years I have run into similar symptoms due to tightness in other muscles as well.  All of them just took a little time to determine which muscle or muscles were angry and then go through the proper stretches to make it happy again.

If you are in pain or can’t move your shoulder at all please go see your doctor to make sure you do not have an injury that may need medical intervention.  However, if you are dealing with minor pain or on and off ROM issues talk to your coach or find someone who is knowledgeable about these things and ask them to give you the once over.  You may find it’s just a muscular issue and you can make the symptoms go away with some stretching and mobility exercises.

Everyone should be able to do regular maintenance of their bodies…it just takes a little practice.

As always thanks for reading.

Coach Carlo