The Shoulder Impingement Epiphany

I can’t believe how LONG I have been dealing with my shoulder injury. Correction. DEALT with my shoulder injury.  It’s amazing to me how information floats around out there, nebulously drifting from place to place. What is it that causes it to finally land in your lap despite your desperate need for it months, and even years prior? Why now? Well, I guess I’ll never have that answer, but I’m so glad my lap was available when this chunk of information fell into it.

Shoulder xrayYou may recall last year when I posted about my shoulder injury and subsequent physical therapy for it. It’s been a nagging issue for as long as I’ve lifted and the physical therapy did help. For a while. The problem is that when you have a lack of symmetry and balance in your musculature, no amount of stretching and pulling or electrical impulses will render a solution.

In my last post I briefly touched on Face Pulls, an upper trap move that according to the author, Bryan Krahn, is helpful for shoulder impingement. Well, I’ve done a lot of research on shoulder issues and tried all kinds of other exercises and contortions with no success. However, since I wanted to use these with a number of my clients who have upper cross postural issues, I needed to try them on myself first.

I started with Face Pulls about 3 months ago, and I have to admit that my first trial sets didn’t feel like much. But as with many seemingly benign things I’ve tried in the past, keeping up with it made a difference. By the second week I actually FELT what I was exercising, and it was exactly the spot where I apparently have a major weakness, and had been experiencing severe pain recently.  So much so that I’d been getting corrective massage treatments because my neck was feeling like (and probably resembled) a bent wire hanger every single morning.

I began with a resistance bands like the one in this video (yes, even my favorite trainer Bret Contreras does them!) 2 sets of 12. The key is to get those elbows high. You can also do this with VERY light weight on a cable machine. I have since graduated to a thicker band (with more resistance) and have added shrugs, another trap exercise. It’s funny to think about shrugs now because I actively CUT them from my traditional workouts a very long time ago. I read somewhere that upper trapezius development was really unattractive on women. Clearly I was in my lifting infancy and sadly was influenced by such GARBAGE. Though I began this journey lifting for form, I now understand and appreciate the function behind it.

photo: Wikipedia
photo: Wikipedia

We have these muscles for a reason. They assist us with moving the shoulders and supporting the arms. Looking closely at the anatomy, I now see exactly WHY I was having such problems. You see the upper portion of the trapezius is like a high collar around the back of your neck and upper shoulders (see the yellow segment). This muscle group was so weak that I was straining it every single time I was lifting upper body. Extrapolate that out into years of resistance training and therein lies the problem.

Unfortunately as a novice lifter I had prioritized the aesthetic aspect of lifting and got badly out of balance. My rotator cuff and neck muscles have been doing a lot of compensating for my upper traps. The pathetic progress on my bench press is a dismal, yet fitting result of this compensation. Lucky for me though, these new exercises are slowly changing things. I was able to perform standard push-ups without shoulder pain or clicking last week. I have even progressed on lateral raises, which is just unheard of because I hadn’t been able to even lift 10lb on my injured right side in over 3 years. Wow.

As I always say, this journey never ends. This particular side street along my path seems to be bright, so I think I’ll stick to it. What new detours have YOU taken lately?