CLINIC: Shoulder Pain During Military Presses

Mon, 5 Dec. 2011 - 11:13 p.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association


QUESTION:
I am a 46-year-old male who has been lifting weights since about the age of 13. As I have gotten older I have had to reduce the amount of weight I lift, as well as the number of sets, due to pain in my shoulders while lifting. The pain is usually only present when I do military presses. If I am unable to lift due to work or other scheduling conflicts, I notice I can lift pain free for a while when I return. I have had one of my shoulders arthroscoped twice due to a torn rotator cuff from playing softball 15 years ago. I take glucosamine/chondroitin daily to help my joints. I realize the easy answer is to cease doing this particular lift. I wonder, is there anything I can do to correct this problem, or barring that, another lift that will strengthen the same muscle group without stressing this area?
 
Mark Weiman
Freeport, NY
 
ANSWER:
This sounds like shoulder impingement syndrome. People who raise their arms over their heads, as with the military press, often irritate their rotator cuff muscles and tendons. The two previous surgeries have complicated your situation. Even successful surgeries will leave scar tissue in the shoulder joint. There are several things which should help your condition:
 
1. Pay strict attention to your posture. Try to keep your shoulders from drooping forward throughout the day.
2. If you haven’t been doing so already, start performing scapular retraction exercises. Examples include seated rows and reverse flies.
3. Eliminate movements that aggravate your shoulders.
4. For the time being replace the bench press with incline bench or DB incline bench.
5. Do front, lateral, and posterior raises instead of the military press, at least for the time being.
6. Perform shoulder and chest stretches on a daily basis—but only stretch to a point that does not aggravate your symptoms.
 
If these measures doe not help over the next six to eight weeks, I suggest scheduling a visit with a sports medicine specialist. You may need more intensive therapeutic treatment.
 
Doug Lentz, CSCS
Chambersburg, PA

ANSWER:
The rotator cuff muscles provide the stability your shoulder needs to perform the movements created by the prime movers of the joint. As you engage in a strengthening program that includes shoulder presses, your larger shoulder muscles become stronger and create a greater imbalance of strength between them and the rotator cuff muscles. To continue with shoulder presses, you could try altering your range of motion, the angle at which you press, and your hand position, any one of which may take the burden off the shoulder that had the surgeries. You can accomplish this using dumbbells instead of a machine, which has a fixed path of movement. As noted above, a regimen of rotator cuff strengthening exercises should be added to your program. A visit to an orthopedist would help you both receive a proper diagnosis and get more details on which exercises to add.
 
Greg Tymon, MEd, CSCS
East Stroudsburg, PA
 
(RUNNING & FITNEWS®  September / October 2007 • Volume 25, Number 5)
 
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The American Running Association (ARA) and its Clinic Advisory Board disclaims responsibility and shall have no liability for any consequences suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained in this site. ARA does not endorse specifically any test, treatment, or procedure mentioned on this site.
 


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