How to Fix Shoulder Pain Caused by Lifting Weights

Weight training is becoming increasingly popular in the fitness world as there are just so many benefits. Not only does strength training build muscle, strength and endurance, it increases metabolism to burn fat and helps maintain healthy bone density. And it is well known that all forms of exercise assist with mental health and confidence.

So, while it is an excellent idea to incorporate weight training into your regular exercise routine, it is important to be aware of the potential risks, particularly with shoulder pain. To help understand the impact on the shoulder area, let’s look at what the shoulder consists of.

The shoulder is made up of the humerus/upper arm bone, the scapula/shoulder blade and the clavicle/collar bone. There are four joints in the shoulder:

  1. Glenohumeral joint: This sits at the top of the arm, between the humerus and scapula. It is considered to be the main joint in the shoulder.
  2. Acromioclavicular joint: This is located where the clavicle glides along the acromion, which is at the top of the shoulder blade.
  3. Sternoclavicular joint: This joint is between the sternum and clavicle, near the base of the throat.
  4. Scapulothoracic joint: Sitting where the scapula glides against the rib cage at the back of the body, known as the thoracic rib cage.

The glenohumeral and acromioclavicular joints are more likely to be injured than the other two shoulder joints. Because the shoulder drives arm movement, it is critical to everyday activities, moving up and down, forward and backward, and up and down.

The head of the humerus fits into a socket on the scapula and this socket is quite flat and shallow. The shape of this socket is helpful as it allows for a great range of movement, but the downside is that it has less stability than other joints in the body. The other structures in the shoulder, such as several ligaments, help give this area the extra support it needs.

Joints are surrounded by a fibrous covering that enclose the joint, called a joint capsule. A synovial membrane lines the inner part of the capsule, and also produces synovial fluid to help reduce friction when the joint is moving. There are several synovial bursae, or sacs that are filled with synovial fluid – they form cushions between the tendons and other structures and provide smooth movement. The muscles also add strength and stability during shoulder movements, specifically the rotator cuff.

Shoulder Pain From Lifting Weights

Using weights puts significant strain on your muscles, ligaments and tendons so it is vital that exercises are performed using good technique, appropriately sized weights are lifted, and the body is allowed to rest between training sessions.

Injuries are common when improper technique is used, and other parts of the body have to compensate. If you lift weights that are too heavy for your fitness level, injury can easily occur until the body has adapted. Finally, always ensure you rest between sets and training days to allow the body to recover, or you will be prone to injury by putting too much stress on the muscles and joints.

Common Causes of Shoulder Pain

Rotator Cuff Tear

A common shoulder injury is tearing the rotator cuff tendon or muscle. A degenerative tear can occur when there is stress due to repetitive movements. An acute tear is likely if you lift something too heavy. Symptoms include weakness or pain when moving the arm, shoulder stiffness and pain when at rest.

Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy

This is caused by overuse of the shoulder, causing inflammation (tendonitis) and degeneration. Pain will be felt in the shoulder and on the outside of the upper arm, especially with overhead activities or lifting your shoulder to the front or side. There may be local swelling and weakness in the area.

Shoulder Impingement

Most commonly, impingement occurs when the top outer edge of your scapula (the acromion) rubs against, or impinges on, the rotator cuff beneath it. It causes pain and weakness, both when moving the shoulder or lying on it.

Bicep Tendonitis

The tendon of the bicep muscle can become inflamed from overuse, loads that are too heavy or repetitive movements. Pain and inflammation can be felt in the shoulder, along with weakness.


When a bursa sac becomes irritated by overuse or overloading the joint, it will become inflamed and shoulder pain and stiffness will occur.

SLAP Lesion or Tear

A tear or lesion to the glenoid labrum is most often caused by overloading with weights that are too heavy. Painful clicking and popping can be felt, and trouble turning your shoulder inwards.

Physiotherapy for Shoulder Pain

A sports physio experienced in shoulder pain will be able to provide treatment for pain associated with weight training. The various injuries mentioned have similar symptoms so it can be difficult to identify what exactly has occurred without the help of a professional. With special tests and examination techniques, a physio can find the cause of your ailment.

Treatment can include a range of motion exercises and stretches, specific exercises to strengthen your shoulder, taping, mobilisation techniques or electrotherapy. They can assess your weights technique and make adjustments to ensure you are lifting correctly. If there is anything more serious causing your pain, a physio will refer you to appropriate medical professionals.

If you are experiencing shoulder pain, call to make an appointment or book online with the amazing team at Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy for a thorough assessment and tailored treatment plan. They aim to have you moving pain free as soon as possible and are specialised in a wide range of treatments such as physiotherapy for back pain, soft tissue therapy, and post operative physiotherapy.


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