Living life and being involved in physical activities of any kind put you at an inherent risk of injuring yourself.
In the best case scenarios, they’ll just be minor issues. The worst case scenarios you’ll need surgery. For our focus now, let’s talk about musculoskeletal pain that doesn’t require surgery.
If you are experiencing pain, you have a problem moving. As an example, if it hurts the front of your shoulder to hold your selfie stick for a sweet looking pic, then your problem is likely with shoulder flexion.
To determine where your problem is, it helps to know the anatomical terms of motion, but for clarity, we’ll stay with the shoulder. As a side note, I have every client I come across get a little bit of familiarity with those terms to make communication easier. If you run into a pain problem, it can make using the following steps much easier.
So if you have a movement problem—in our case, shoulder flexion—there are four things you can do to help you train around it and after some time, resolve it.
Four Steps to Deal with your Pain Problem
1. Doing what you can
Your shoulder might hurt, but you have three other limbs you can train that are not specific to that shoulder, right? This would be an example of nonspecific training as it isn’t related to working on the pained area itself. So with that in mind, here are a few examples of what you might do:
Squats–Keep in mind the variation you choose. If holding a barbell on your back, or a kettlebell in front for a goblet squat both hurt your shoulder, opt for body weight. Or load up a dip belt with a few pounds of weights and use that.
Lunges–Kind of like the squat, but this time you have a few more loading options. You can hold the weights at your side or in one hand. You can do them laterally. You can also do them in reverse
Those are two examples but you are likely capable of many more. The point is that this particular step is not specific to the injury. Since your body is a closed kinetic chain, this will have some impact on the pain site. (In some cases you’ll feel better in the site, but not always). But the main point: do what you can.
2. Your opposition
This is pretty common in fitness. You always hear people telling you to do twice as much pulling as pushing, right? This is also called “contra-specificity.”
In the case of your shoulder flexion being a problem, this will be useful. Since you read the anatomical terms of motions above, you know that the opposite of shoulder flexion is shoulder extension. When you’re walking and your arms do the back swing, that is shoulder extension. Easy enough, right? So here are some exercises that load your shoulder and train the extensors:
Dumbbell/Barbell Rows–Depending on the tool you can make this feel even better. If you are using dumbbells you can add a twist to the motion at any point you like. You can do them with a bench, or standing as well. If you’re using the barbell, you get less options, but play it safe and according to your pain levels.
Pull-ups/Lat Pull-downs–These might be a bit much depending on how and where your shoulder feels the pain. Obviously, if it hurts to put your hands over your head, leave these out and go for the rows. Remember, pain-free is what we want.
3. Partial movements
We just spoke of contra-specific movements, now we move onto the components of the movement. Your shoulder is capable of a large range of motion. So if your shoulder hurts when your arm is above your head, can you hold it out in front of you? Can you move it upward even just a little bit?
Having said that, here are some exercises that don’t move your shoulder as much:
Pushups–the old standard. It doesn’t move your shoulder through a huge range of motion, but it does to a fair degree. And if you can train the part of the whole, then you are well on the way to the whole being “whole” again.
Partial Shoulder Press–If you can handle it, you can do something similar to your normal shoulder press. Just don’t lock out your arms. To stop before the pain starts, limit your range of motion to that alone. It might seem counter-productive now, but you’ll be better off in the long run. And we want “better” in the long run.
4. Specific Movement
This is perhaps the shortest section and is dependent on where you the pain is. But in our example, we’re using the shoulder. When you can do the type of shoulder flexion that you couldn’t do, you are good to go. If it’s pain-free, that’s a good sign. So while the exercises are dependent on you personally, some examples have already been mentioned. Full range of motion Shoulder Presses, Pull-ups and similar. If you can do them pain-free, then go for it.
Think the first three steps as the bridge to step four. It’s important to note that the length of time you have been dealing with the pain will determine how long you spend on each step. If your shoulder has been hurting the past five years, you will want to spend a lot of time on step one. If it happened last week, you can get by with spending less time on step one. But ultimately, listen to your body, it will guide you best of all.