Shoulder Pain During Front & Lateral Raises

Shoulder workout
A woman is doing lateral raises. (Image: Sergey Nivens/iStock/Getty Images)

Front and lateral raises are both shoulder isolation exercises, usually performed with dumbbells or on a cable machine. If you experience pain when performing either of these moves, it could be a simple case of needed to tweak your technique, or there could be a more serious underlying issue that requires medical attention and treatment.

Technique Tips

Before worrying that there's something up with your shoulder, make sure you're doing the exercises correctly. Both exercises should start with you standing up, a dumbbell in either hand and by your sides. For lateral raises have your palms facing inward and raise the dumbbells up to your sides until your arms are parallel to the floor, then slowly lower them back to the start. For front raises, turn your hands so your palms are facing back, then lift the weights up to the front, again until your arms are parallel to the floor, before lowering again. Both exercises can also be performed seated.

Impingement Issues

One of the most common reasons for shoulder pain is an impingement. Your shoulder joint is a ball and socket, with a big ball and small socket. This means it has many different ranges of motion, but also that it's not particularly stable and is susceptible to injury. To improve stability, you have a group of small muscles known as the rotator cuffs that help balance and strengthen your shoulders, but if these become impinged or inflamed, it can start to feel painful.

Tendon Troubles

Tendinitis is another potential cause of shoulder pain during raises. Tendons attach muscles to bones -- their role is to keep everything strong and moving. If a tendon becomes inflamed, usually as a result of overuse, it can become very painful during front and lateral movements of the shoulder. This is more common in athletes who throw and in bodybuilders who perform lots of pressing movements or raises as part of their training.

Relieving Shoulder Pain

When pain hits the shoulder, stop doing lateral and front raises. Rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen are usually prescribed; see your doctor of sports therapist for advice. When you return to the exercises post-injury, there are a few things you can do to ensure the pain doesn't return. Rick Kaselj of Exercises for Injuries recommends bending your elbows to 90 degrees on lateral raises to reduce the load on your rotator cuffs. Lying on your side when performing laterals will help keep your form strict and reduce the temptation to turn your hands in an awkward direction. You can do the same for front raises by lying face down on an incline bench.

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