Shoulder pain – Is there a cure? Part 1

Back of the 5.2 Ninja

My name is Kadeem, I’m an Australian Ninja Warrior semi-finalist and an Exercise Scientist/Strength & Conditioning Coach.  I work with athletes, junior athletes mainly. Currently working with a few junior football players with aspirations of getting drafted into the AFL, as well as a few ninja warrior and Spartan athletes. Enough about me, let’s get into it!

So are you getting pain in your shoulder during training? It’s a really annoying thing to get as it can really affect your progress. Before we go into how to fix, let’s try to dissect what our shoulder is.

The shoulder is what we call a ball & socket joint. The top of your arm fits inside a capsule in your shoulder blade. If you make a fist with one hand and put it inside your other hand, that is essentially a ball & socket joint. Our shoulder moves up, down, out to the side, across the body and rotates inwards and outwards.

The shoulder is complex because there are number of muscles that attach around the shoulder, which means you have tendons, ligaments, nerves, bursas (fluid sac which sits between tendons & bone) cartilage (lining the end of long bones) That all have to work in harmony when the shoulder joint goes through movement. That’s a lot to think about. So if your shoulder is hurting what’s going on? The truth is there is no easy answer or way of knowing without a proper diagnosis from an allied health professional.

Table 1 Causes of shoulder pain
Common Less Common Not to be missed
Rotator cuff: Rotator cuff: Tumors (bone tumours in the young)
·        Strain ·        Tear Referred pain:
·        Tendinopathy ·        Calcific tendinopathy ·        Diaphragm
Glenohumeral dislocation Adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder) ·        Gallbladder
Glenohumeral instability Bicep tendinopathy ·        Perforated duodenal ulcer
Glenoid labral tears Nerve entrapment: ·        Heart
Referred pain: ·        Subscapular ·        Spleen
·        Cervical spine ·        Long thoracic ·        Apex of lungs
·        Thoracic spine Fracture Thoracic outlet syndrome
·        Myofascial structures ·        Scapula Axillary vein thrombosis
Fracture of clavicle ·        Neck of the humerus
AC joint sprain ·        Stress fracture of the coracoid process
Other muscle tears: Levator scapulae syndrome
·        Pectoralis major Glenohumeral joint arthritis
·        Long head of biceps Brachial plexus
Neuropraxia (“burner”)
“Causes of shoulder pain” (Brukner, P, 2012, pp. 345).  

That’s a lot of information right? The table above is just too highlight the complexity of the shoulder and all the problems that can go with it. Shoulder pain isn’t always simple and you shouldn’t diagnose it yourself.

During ninja training we find ourselves being overhead a lot and of course our arms & forearms are our assets.  A common issue I’ve personally experienced is referred pain from my shoulder down my arm. Why is this happening? Honestly, I can’t say for sure but I believe it’s a simple reason. I sit at a computer for a few hours daily. Pretty common right? What muscles do you use the most when sitting at a desk? What happens to your posture? If one side of your body is very active and the other is not what will happen?

Strong, dominant pectorals and other muscles, start to become shorter as there are regularly shorten due to sitting down or constantly working at a desk. Our back muscles become inactive and begin to lengthen. The fascia around muscles (glad wrap to the muscle) becomes knotted which can reduce blood flow and increase the muscle stiffness. The pain most likely could be from a compression of nerves in the region.

No easy way to know for sure what the problem is, but in order to fix the problem long-term, here are two things to consider:

1) Your inactive muscles need to be switched on.

2) short tissue will not be fixed by activation alone. They need to be lengthened (stretching)

How can you fix this problem really quickly you ask? Well, you can’t do it quickly, but I ask you, what is one session of stretching a day going to do vs the 8 hours you sit in poor posture? You need to consistently lengthen and activate tissue throughout the day in order to speed things up. Every 30 mins to 1 hour, do these two exercises which can be done at your desk.

1) Desk chair pec stretch 3 x 30-60s:

Begin by reaching the sides of each chair. From there lift your chest and squeeze your shoulder blades.

2) Shoulder external rotations 3 x 15:

Lift elbow up until parallel to shoulder. From there rotate arm up so fingers point the ceiling or your individual maximal range. Squeeze shoulder blades together with each rep and make a conscious effort to increase squeeze rep.

These should help with improving posture and reduce pain. Feel free to jump on my Instagram @5.2ninja where I have posts particularly on shoulder health. Stay tuned for part 2 where we go into more exercises!

Follow Kadeem on Instagram HERE



About Kadeem Aarons

Kadeem was a competitor on Australian Ninja Warrior season 1 and is a strength & conditioning coach, with experience in junior elite Australian Rules Football, semi-professional Rugby Union & Netball. Kadeem as recently began working more specifically with Ninja Warrior & Spartan Race athletes to help improve their performance and reduce injuries.

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