Common Shoulder Injuries From Overuse or Improper Lifting

By Travis M Hendry MD

Overuse injuries to the shoulder often include bursitis, tendonitis, and strains/sprains. In order to help prevent this type of injury, it is important to understand how they are different. There are also a few tips and tricks you can follow during your workout to help prevent shoulder overuse injuries.

Shoulder Injuries HEADER

One of the most popular New Year’s resolutions each year is getting back in shape. For those who are more ambitious than others, the sudden strain that comes along with getting back to the gym may cause overuse injuries like bursitis, tendonitis, and strains/sprains. These three conditions often occur from overdoing it while trying to get that one last rep in, using too much weight, not warming up properly, and using poor lifting techniques. In order to help prevent this type of injury, it is important to understand what makes them different.

Strain/Sprain

A strain is when a muscle fiber is torn; a sprain is when a ligament is torn. Both strains and sprains have grades or degrees ranging from 1 to 3, with grade 3 being a complete rupture of the tissue. Strains and sprains happen from a rapid stretch or change in direction of the tissue usually when the body is tired. This injury can also be caused from lifting a weight that is too heavy and trying to power through it by adding a swinging motion to the exercise versus a lifting motion.

Tendinitis

The tendons are structures in the body that attach the muscle to the bone. These tendons are covered by sheaths which allow them to move smoothly. Overuse of these shoulder tendons can create friction in the sheaths, causing them to become irritated. Excessive strain or lifting weights that are too heavy can eventually lead to inflammation, altered tissue alignment and irregular movement. These issues will not allow the tendon to move smoothly, and cause pain in the affected area.

Bursitis

A bursa is a small fluid-filled sack that acts as a cushion and lubricating factor between tendons, ligaments and bone. There are several bursa around the larger joints of the body including the knee, elbow and shoulder. Bursitis is most often caused from overuse and repetitive strain from lifting and not treating existing shoulder injuries. It can also because from direct blows to the shoulder like tripping and falling or dropping a weight on it at the gym.

With all of these conditions, over use is the most common culprit. It is very important to stretch and warm up prior to working out, use the appropriate amount of weight, apply proper lifting technique, eat a balanced diet, and get enough rest for your body to recover from a workout.

A good way to prevent shoulder injuries is to properly build up the associated muscle groups. Major muscles that make up the shoulder and a few exercises for each include:

  • Rotator Cuff: (Supraspinatus, subscapularis, infraspinatus, teres minor)
    • Exercises: Internal/External rotation, Flexion, Extension, Abduction and Adduction cable pulls, 45 degree scaption.
  • Deltoid: (Anterior, middle, posterior)
    • Exercises: Front raises, Lateral raises, Rows
  • Latissimus:
    • Exercises: Front pull-downs (avoid going behind the head)
  • Pectoralis: (Major and minor)
    • Exercises: Pushups, bench press
  • Rhomboids: (Major and minor)
    • Exercises: Rows

Shoulder Exercise Tips to Help Prevent Injury:

  • Slow controlled movements
  • Low weight with higher reps for toning
  • High weight with low reps for muscle building
  • Foot stance should be shoulder width apart
  • DO NOT ALLOW the bar behind the head
  • Keep elbows forward and chest up
  • Breathe at the top
  • 1 minute rest between sets