A Site for Sore Shoulders

Microscopic muscle tears and strains are a normal response to heavy exercise. These minor ‘injuries’ don’t usually present any problems since the trainer is rarely aware of them, acknowledging only a passing soreness a few days after a workout.

When the body is allowed sufficient time to deal with these strains, they present no problems. However, when recovery isn’t allowed to happen then these minor injuries may snowball into more acute training injuries.

A typical site for this accumulative or ‘stacked’ type of injury is the shoulder. Bodybuilders often complain of pain in the frontal region of the shoulder, with pain radiating across the chest and down into the upper arm.

These findings commonly point to a Bicipital Tendinitis type injury which has progressed steadily, often over a period of months, from a minor and occasional niggle to a dehabilitating injury which warrants a rest from training for any serious bodybuilder. These enforced breaks can be a major handicap to progress.

The biceps muscle consists of two heads. The long head passes from the shoulder blade down into the upper arm to attach just below the elbow. Thus it acts to flex the elbow joint.

On its way to the elbow, the long head of the biceps passes through a groove in the frontal surface of the upper arm bone, or humerus. This narrow and shallow groove is most often the site of injury. The tendon of the latissimus dorsi (lats) is attached to the base of this groove. On the outer lip of the groove, the pectoralis major (pecs) is attached and on the inner lip of the groove, the teres major.

We can see then that, within a space of a few inches, a large number of powerful muscles combine and act. Because of the congestion here, the area is prone to injuiry. The mechanism of injury usually begins with a minor episode of discomfort following a brief period of raised training intensity. The soreness in the outer pec and shoulder, from these workouts, never quite wears off. This is a sign that more serious damage has occurred.

One of the muscles attaching close to or running through the Bicipital groove may then become inflamed.

The inflammation is a fluid exuded from the blood when tissues become damaged. Its function is to speed up tissue repair.

However, if it’s allowed to remain at the site of injury and not washed away then this ‘second hand’ inflammation actually inhibits tissue repair. The soreness in the area will then persist because the damaged tissue is not being dealt with and repaired.

The trainer may now complain of more obvious soreness in the frontal area of the shoulder. The pain may radiate across the chest along the attachment of the pec muscle or down the upper arm following the course of the biceps.

The average bodybuilder will often attempt to train through this discomfort and what happens next is that he/she will continue to add to the original damage. The pain and discomfort will slowly increase in severity, usually over a period of months, until they are forced to stop training completely.

The trick really is to avoid injuring this area in the first place and, when it is sore, to train around it and do something else for the body part.

There are a number of exercises which are prone to causing injury in the frontal shoulder/bicipital groove area. They are; parallel bar dips, close grip bench press, incline dumbbell curls, chins and flat bench flying (particularly when going too low).

Intense training on some other exercises including; bench press, shoulder press to front, and chest pullover across bench, may produce or aggravate symptoms in this area. If the trainer does notice the area becoming persistently and unduly sore, then he/she should avoid exercises, particularly where the bodyweight is used as resistance i.e. chins and dips.

It is better to resort to much lighter training on the exercises outlined above increasing the repetitions to around 15 or so. The lighter style of training will flush blood through the area promoting recovery and at the same time enable the trainer to hold on to the hard-gained muscle.

Applying ice packs to the area regularly and especially after training will also help to reduce some of the swelling and inflammation in the area. Finally, if the problem persists then treatment should be sought.