How to Reduce Shoulder Pain During a Dumbbell Press

Repeated overhead activities, such as a dumbbell shoulder press with poor technique, may increase your risk of injuring the shoulder joint. Strengthen the muscles that support the shoulder to decrease your risk. These muscles are collectively known as the rotator cuff, which is responsible for keeping the shoulder ball joint in its socket. It should only add a few minutes to your workout and may save you days of discomfort, especially if you are already experiencing shoulder pain with dumbbell presses.

A woman is pressing a barbell over her head. (Image: Ammentorp Photography/iStock/Getty Images)

Step 1

Stretch your shoulders daily with 10 repetitions on each shoulder of a backstroke and a front stroke, as if you were swimming. Slow, controlled movements will stretch, rather than strain, the shoulder.

Step 2

Reduce the size of weights you are lifting. Pain is not always an indication of muscle torque -- it may simply be an indication that the weights you press are too heavy. Decrease weight size by increments of 2 pounds at a time until you can comfortably complete six to eight dumbbell presses.

Step 3

Watch your stance and technique. Sit or stand straight and do not let the small of your back bow. Try to engage your core by squeezing your abdominal muscles tight, while pulling your shoulder blades together throughout the exercise.

Step 4

Do not let gravity pull the dumbbells to the downward phase of the press. This is poor technique and can cause shoulder injury. Gently lower the dumbbells to your shoulders while inhaling through your nose. Exhale as you lift.

Step 5

Turn your wrists in on the upward phase of the press. This forces your elbows to the front of the body, which can increase your shoulder comfort during the press.


Warm up with dynamic stretches like lunges or march on the spot for a few minutes before performing your exercises. Use a spotter if you are unclear on proper technique. Alternate ice and heat compresses for sore shoulders after a workout. Stretch your shoulders gently in between sets.


If an exercise is painful, stop and try a different exercise to work the same muscle group. Do not force your shoulders to pop, doing so can cause injury to the joint.

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