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Shoulder Pain From Weightlifting

author image James Roland
James Roland started writing professionally in 1987. A former reporter and editor with the "Sarasota Herald-Tribune," he currently oversees such publications as the "Cleveland Clinic Heart Advisor" and UCLA's "Healthy Years." Roland earned his Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Oregon.
Shoulder Pain From Weightlifting
Having a spotter, especially with overhead weight lifting exercises, can help prevent shoulder injuries. Photo Credit: Minerva Studio/iStock/Getty Images

If you experience should pain when lifting weights or after a workout, it could be the result of strained muscles, bursitis, tendinitis or something more serious, such as an injury to your rotator cuff or another part of the shoulder joint. Understanding the source of your pain will help determine whether you should stop weightlifting for a while and seek treatment to regain the healthy use of your shoulders.

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Tendinitis and Bursitis

Tendinitis is the inflammation of the tendons, which are the tissues that connect muscle to bone. Dr. Peter Gott, a syndicated columnist and author of “Live Longer, Live Better” notes that tendinitis is especially common with repetitive actions in the joints, such as those associated with weightlifting or tennis. Bursitis is the inflammation of a bursa, a fluid-filled sac between bones and muscles, and is often the result of overuse. Tenderness and pain, particularly when your arm is raised, should prompt a visit to the doctor for an evaluation. If the problem appears to be a “flare-up” of tendinitis or bursitis, you will likely be told to rest the shoulder and apply ice. Chronic tendinitis or bursitis may require a corticosteroid injection or even a surgical intervention.

Rotator Cuff Tears

A rotator cuff injury is a common problem facing baseball pitchers and other athletes. The rotator cuff is actually a network of muscles and tendons covering the top bones of the shoulder joint and is essential for lifting your arm. But unlike the knee ligament injuries that plague football running backs, for example, rotator cuff tears are not usually the result of a single incident. Instead, rotator cuff damage tends to occur over a long period of time and results from repetitive overhead motions with the arms. Weightlifting is a leading culprit. An MRI or physical exam can often diagnose the problem. Rest and special physical therapy and joint-strengthening exercises can help, though more serious tears might require surgery.

Recognizing Pain

When you lift weights, you will feel some pain. However, that pain is temporary and should end soon after you stop a particular set of exercises. The pain should also be confined to the muscle, not the joints. Pain in the shoulder joint feels different from shoulder muscle strains you might feel when finishing an especially tough set of lifts. Learn to recognize the difference. If you experience pain in your shoulders from lifting weights, stop and rest your shoulders a few days. If the pain doesn’t subside or returns as soon as you try to use the shoulder joint, seek medical attention.

Preventing Shoulder Injuries

To prevent some of the above-mentioned conditions, one of the most important things you can do is maintain proper form when lifting weights, particularly when you’re lifting above your shoulders. One of the keys to preserving safe form is lifting a manageable amount of weight or at least having a spotter standing by to help if you start to struggle with a heavy weight. You might want to consider using a military press machine rather than free weights, which are harder to control. Ask a trainer or an experienced weightlifter for tips on proper technique.

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