Friday, January 29, 2016

Shoulder Joint Pain From Weight Training (and What To Do About It)

SA Spotters looks at the causes of joint pain and how to solve it.

When I first experienced shoulder joint pain, I decided to ease off the exercises that aggravated the pain and allow my shoulders to recover before it became worse. The problem is that SO MANY exercises include the shoulders. I stopped my back, chest, bicep, triceps and shoulder exercises, meaning that almost my entire routine was affected and I basically stopped all upper body training. That was a huge setback. Shoulder joint pain can lead to serious injury if left unchecked and can significantly decrease your performance.

Here are a list of reasons why you might be experiencing shoulder joint pain and what you can do about it:

1) Bad Form

Make sure that your form is right for every exercise that you do. Pull ups, bench presses, dips, bicep curls and dead lifts (among others) are all exercises that could lead to shoulder pain and injury if performed with incorrect form.

2) Overuse

The shoulder joint is one of the most susceptible joints to damage from overuse. Using the shoulder too much can damage the joint and continuing with overuse when the shoulder is already in pain can cause permanent damage that might require surgery to correct.

The cure: Use it less

This sounds simple because it is. Decrease the amount of strain the shoulder takes when it feels sore and give it time to recover and adapt before resuming your usual exercise regime. For example, when my shoulder starts to hurt one of the first things I do is decrease the intensity of my shoulder workout. Remember, your shoulders are used during your chest, back, bicep, triceps AND shoulder days, so they often don't get enough rest.

3) Imbalance

Most people focus on the body parts they can see in the mirror and less on the ones they can't. This means often, that more emphasis is placed on the front of the body like the chest, abs, and biceps with less attention being paid to the areas at the back of the body like the lower back and triceps. Therefore, muscular imbalances often occur. Many shoulder injuries occur because people focus more on pushing exercises and less on pulling exercises. This leads the front part of the shoulder to become over developed and the back part of the shoulder to become underdeveloped. This can lead to joint pain in the shoulders. For example, when you do a bench press the front part of your shoulder is involved in moving the bar, but the back part of your shoulder is needed to stabilize the shoulder during the movement. 

The cure: Keep the balance

Make sure that the amount of pulling exercises performed is greater to or equal to the amount of pushing exercises that you do. Pulling exercises like pull ups and rows develop the back part of the shoulder muscles, which will help to support pushing exercises like the bench press. 

4) High Weights, Low Reps

As great as low reps are for muscle growth, they can have a cumulative strain on the muscles. The reason for this is because muscle grows and adapts faster than joints, which adapt faster than bone. For example, your chest, triceps and shoulder muscles might already be adapted to move a bench press of 120 KG, so you increase the weight. However, your joints haven't gotten used to it yet and therefore need to catch up. Bone density increases at a slower rate than joint strength, which is why in extreme cases lifters who increase in muscle mass and performance too quickly cause fractures in the bones as they move on to higher and higher weights without giving their bones a chance to increase in density, which takes more time. 

The cure: Alternate between high and low reps

Your shoulder joint might not be used to the weight that your muscles have already grown accustomed to. Instead of keeping on the same weight and rep count while the joint adapts, which will slow down muscle growth, change to a lower weight, higher rep routine while your shoulder joint adapts to the higher weight. This way, you are still growing muscle while you give your joints a chance to recover, since higher reps can also stimulate muscle growth. Scientists have found that higher reps help joints recover from low-rep, high-intensity workloads.

5) Not Warming Up the Shoulder

By warming up the shoulders before placing them under heavy weight, they are less prone to injury and are more 'ready' for the workload that follows. This is done by many as a 'prehab' instead of a rehab, as it is better used to prevent injury. An example of warming up the shoulder joints would be doing light shoulder work with an extremely light weight (like a 5 kg dumbbell) like lateral and front raises. Do about 20 reps each (no need to count, just do them until you feel a light burn). This increases blood flow to the area and activates the muscle fibers. Another way to warm up the shoulders is to do perform a warm-up set. Do the exact same exercise you would do with only half the weight before doing it properly.

How you can Speed up Shoulder Joint Recovery

1) Go easy on the shoulder for a while

Take as much pressure on it as you can so that it can heal without needing to perform. You can buy a shoulder brace from sports shops or chemists if the joint pain is serious and if it hurts with ordinary movement. Wear this until it is no longer painful to move around normally and then start training it on lower weights until it becomes strong enough to take on heavier loads. Make sure to increase the load you put on it slowly, because an injured joint is much more likely to become injured again and recurring injuries are very hard to correct.

2) Massage, Hot and Cold Treatment

See a physiotherapist in order to speed up recovery. They might also pick up a deeper injury which needs correcting. Cold temperature (ice) will decrease inflammation to the area and hot temperatures will increase blood flow. A common practice is to mix hot and cold therapies (ice, then a hot bath, then ice) to bring blood to and from the area to speed up recovery. This works for muscle recovery as well.

Nutrition for Joint Health

Many supplement companies sell joint supplements that can help protect and aid joint recovery. Other things that can also help are:

1) Fish Oil

Fish oil will lubricate the joints which help speed up recovery and prevent injury. I personally take fish oil (1000 mg) each day especially for joint protection.

2) Gelatin

Gelatin is what makes jelly firm and comes from cow hooves and animal joints. The best source of gelatin is bone broth. By increasing your gelatin intake, you give your body the component it needs to rebuild joints, ligaments, nails, hair etc. as this is what they are made of. 

Be wise and don't let joint pain turn into a life-long struggle. Stay Strong!