What to Do About Shoulder Pain When Lifting Weights

Today you most likely are realizing how essential shoulders are – healthy, fully functional shoulders. Shoulder injuries can make simple acts seem insurmountable. If you’ve hurt your shoulder muscle while lifting weights, chances are it’s nothing serious, but if the pain doesn’t subdue in the first 48 hours, we recommend you see a doctor. Shoulder injuries come in many forms, and this post will explore some of the most common and what to do in the event of an incident.

Symptoms of a Shoulder Injury

shoulder pain

Before you pick up that phone and call your doctor, Ask yourself the following questions to determine if you’ve experienced a shoulder injury:

  • Is your shoulder too stiff and painful to move naturally?
  • Do you feel like your shoulder has popped out of the socket?
  • Do you find it hard to do things you usually do?

The good news is that you can treat some minor shoulder injuries at home with a few day’s rest and lots of ice. You can dress it to hold it in place if needed and keep it elevated above the heart. But more serious injuries need able hands. Here are some signs that you need to consult a doctor right away:

  • Limited shoulder movement
  • Your shoulder joint looks deformed.
  • The pain is severe.
  • Swelling is not subsiding.
  • Your arm or hand is numb or weak.

Shoulder Injury Causes and Risk Factors

shoulder injury

Common Shoulder Injuries

  • Dislocation: If your shoulder is dragged back too hard or turned too far, your arm might pop out of the shoulder socket. When that happens, patients feel intense pain and weakness in the shoulder. Swelling, numbness, and bruising may occur.
  • Separation: This shoulder injury hits the joint (acromioclavicular -AC) where your shoulder blade meets the collarbone. A hard blow to the shoulder tears the ligaments supporting your shoulders. If your collarbone has popped out of place, you’ll have swelling on top of your shoulder.
  • Fracture. Bones break if you fall or take a hard hit. The most common shoulder breaks are the clavicle (collarbone) and the humerus (arm bone closest to your shoulder). This type of injury causes a lot of pain, and it may bruise
  • Cartilage Tear. A shoulder injury can involve damaged cartilage, the rubbery padding that wraps around the frame of your shoulder joint. This type of injury often happens after doing the same movement over and over. With this type of injury, you might feel pain when you reach over your head, and your shoulder will be weak. 
  • Rotator Cuff Tear. Your rotator cuff is a muscle group and tendons in your shoulder that support your arm in place and let you lift your arms. You can damage these muscles and tendons through uncompromising weight lifting or in a fall. Your shoulder may feel quite the pain at night or when you try to lift things.


  • Frozen Shoulder. This injury limits your joint range of motion. Stiff groups of tissue (adhesions) swell up in the joint and hinder your shoulder from moving as smoothly as it normally does. Your shoulder might “freeze” because the pain or surgery may have stopped you from using it, allowing the adhesions to develop.


  • Impingement. This injury occurs when the tendons of the rotator cuff get cramped in the bones of the shoulder. It can cause severe pain as well as swelling. Setting it off might occur if you lift your arms over your head a lot.


  • Bursitis. The bursa can become swollen and irritated if you repeat the same movements over and over or if you’ve experienced a fall. If you have bursitis, you may not notice the pain when your shoulder is motionless.

Shoulder Pain Relief – Simple Shoulder Stretches

While you may be tempted to stop using your shoulder altogether when experiencing pain from an injury, doing so can worsen the issue by enabling the muscles to shorten and stiffen, ultimately making it hard for you to move the way you want to. Including easy stretches into your routine can help keep your muscles active and flexible while you recover.

Seated Shoulder Stretch

Works the shoulder.

Reps: 2–4

Hold: 15–30 seconds

Initial position: 

Sit up straight on a bench. Place your left hand on your right shoulder. Reach your left elbow with your right hand.

Movement: Move your shoulders down and back, then slowly pull your left elbow over your chest while you extend your left arm. Hold. Feel the stretch in your left shoulder. Return to the original position, then repeat on the other side.

Seated Triceps Stretch

Primarily works the back of the upper arm.

Reps: 2–4

Hold: 15–30 seconds

Starting position: 

Sit up on a chair. Put your right hand on your right shoulder. Grab your right elbow with the left hand.

Movement: Raise your right elbow toward the ceiling keeping your shoulders down and back. Hold. Feel the tightness in the back of your shoulder and upper right arm. Return to the original position. Repeat on the opposing side.

Seated Chest Stretch

Primarily works the chest and shoulders.

Reps: 2–4

Hold: 15–30 seconds

Starting position:

Sit up straight in a chair without arms, facing sideways.

Movement: Move your shoulders down and back. Grip your hands behind you, interlocking your fingers, so your palms face you. Slowly raise your hands to the point of tightness. Hold to feel the stretch across your chest and your shoulders. Slowly return to the original position.


Pain in your shoulder can be many things. From minor tears to more severe bone fractures, the spectrum is vast. If you’re experiencing shoulder pain due to lifting weights – give yourself a few days to recover. Try adjusting your exercises, taking anti-inflammatory drugs, and performing gentle stretches to see if the pain subsides on its own. However, if the pain doesn’t go away after a couple of weeks, you should talk to your doctor.

Further Reading:

How to Relieve Sore Muscles

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