Shoulder Pain: Digging For The Roots

Whether you’re a swimmer, triathlete, football player, or someone who moves daily, you are susceptible to shoulder pain. Shoulder pain is not fun, and the cause of the pain can also be a challenge to uncover. In this installment of Digging for the Root, we are going to break down how you can take control of your shoulder health and keep this joint active for years to come.

The Shoulder

When it comes to movement, the shoulder stands alone as the joint with the most movement capability. Due to its design, you can complete many different patterns and ranges of motion. Also due to its design, the shoulder can be easily affected by inefficient posture or a breakdown in communication between its parts. A simple slouching of your shoulders (think typing at your computer of looking down at your phone) puts uneven stress on the shoulder girdle and sends you on the pathway to discomfort.

The Four Areas

  1. Neck

  2. Clavicle

  3. Shoulder Blade

  4. Rib Cage

There are four key areas that play a role in whether you have shoulder pain or not. To figure out which one is leading the charge, you have to break each region down to a part and then piece them back together to see how they are interacting as part of the whole.


For example, try this test. Start by reaching your hand to the middle of your back. Then rotate your head to one side and hold (approx. five seconds). Rotate your head to the other side and hold (approx. five seconds). Do you experience any neck pain? If so, your shoulder pain might be due to an elevated first rib.

First Rib Fix

If the pain is due to an elevated first rib, one one my go-to movements for this is the barbell reach. When completing this movement, you’re using the barbell as an implement to pin the rib as you complete a reach. This helps reset the location of the rib.

This is just one example of how correcting the underlying issue (elevated first rib) can clear up the expressed effect (shoulder pain).

One thing to also be aware of is the value of MRIs and X-Rays. Don’t get me wrong, these tests provide valuable information, but I want you to think about what you’re not allowed to do during one of these tests.

You are not allowed to MOVE!

Think about it, you are trying to solve a movement issue with an immobile test. While these tests will provide information, they do not unlock all the puzzle pieces to the problem. A first rib issue is hard to view on one of these tests, so you could be expressing pain when everything comes back as “normal.”

Also, as Dora from Maximum Solutions states:

“80% of the people over the age of 50 will have some sort of positive find on an MRI.”

Think of a positive find as a tear, scar tissue, or another shoulder issue. While 80% of people will show these positives, not all 80% will express pain. While an MRI or X-Ray is a tool, it is not the only one in the toolkit. If you are receiving treatment for a shoulder injury, don’t be afraid to discuss these four regions with your medical provider to make sure that each potential issue is addressed.

Actionable Steps

Now that you understand the areas that might be causing your shoulder pain, it is time to insert some action. While the shoulder is a complex joint, a lot of improvement can be made by becoming a better mover. Shoulder pain is often part-posture and part-strength driven. By correcting both variables, your shoulders will be able to manage much more of the load they experience and give you fewer fits. Even if you’re not dealing with shoulder pain, the following movements are valuable to implement to maintain your shoulder health.

Day-to-Day Steps

  1. Sit up straight on the edge of your chair versus slouching back into the chair.

  2. Lift your phone to eye level while texting instead of holding it down by your waist.

  3. Take micro breaks from sitting if your job requires you sit for extended periods of time.

I also recommend adding in some posture and strength exercises to help bulletproof your shoulders for life and the activity you like to complete. Here are a few of my favorites!

Posture Exercises

Strength Exercises

If you’re tired of shoulder pain, take the first step in making a change. Fill out our performance questionnaire to start your training journey and improve your performance path.

Bo HickeyComment