AC Joint Injuries: Weightlifting Exercises to Avoid

The bench press can place a lot of stress on an injured AC joint.
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While you might have heard of a separated shoulder and exercises to avoid, this injury doesn't actually affect the shoulder joint. It is the acromioclavicular or AC joint between your collarbone and shoulder blade. Held in place by strong ligaments, the AC joint is important for a stable shoulder.


If these ligaments become damaged, movement of your shoulder will be limited as you heal. Be aware of injured AC joint exercises to avoid to keep your injury from worsening.

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Read more: Separated Shoulder Rehab Exercises

Recognize AC Joint Injury

The AC joint can become injured in a number of ways. According to a January 2014 article published by The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, this joint is most commonly injured from trauma to the outer shoulder.


Overstraining while lifting objects overhead or pulling weights across the front of your body, falling onto your outstretched arm and fractures of the collarbone or shoulder blade can also result in damage to the ligaments of the AC joint.

The AC joint can also become injured over time, through wear and tear. According to Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine, this is common in people who regularly perform manual labor or are weight lifters.


AC Joint and Push-Ups

AC joint injury may mean that exercises with a large range of movement are painful. With injury to the AC joint, push-ups to full range should be avoided. Full-range bench presses and pullover exercises could also make symptoms worse.

To minimize the effect of exercise on the AC joint, perform these types of exercise in the outer range only. In other words, don't lower the bar to your chest when bench pressing but stop six inches or so above your chest.


When performing push-ups, only bend your arms to 90 degrees and stop well short of lowering your chest to the floor. For overhead pressing exercises, only lower your hands to level with your ears. Find your pain-free range of movement zone and stay within it.

Beware Pressing and Pulling

Reaching your arms out to the sides or out in front more than 90 degrees increases pressure in the AC joint. In fact, this movement is restricted for six weeks for people who undergo surgery to fix an injured AC joint, according to Twin Cities Orthopedics.



Exercises in which the bar is lowered or pulled to behind your neck place a lot of pressure on your AC joint as you raise your arms to the starting position. Lat pull-downs behind the neck and behind-the-neck shoulder presses are the main exercises to avoid.

Holding a barbell behind your neck while squatting may also cause discomfort as your shoulders are raised to 90 degrees.


Read more: What Exercises to Avoid With Shoulder Impingement

General Exercise Performance

When performing any weightlifting exercises, try to keep an active shoulder to minimize the stress on your AC joint. Even exercises that don't directly involve your AC joint can cause further injury if you don't keep your joint as stable as possible while you work out.


Concentrate on keeping your shoulders pulled down and back whenever you work out. Practice this position with the scapular depression exercise, demonstrated by Aurora Health Care.

Fixing your shoulder in place using your muscles minimizes the stress on your AC joint and the associated ligaments during shoulder movements.




Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.

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