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Your Bench Press and Shoulder Pain

Posted 8/30/2016 by UHBlog

Who doesn't love bench presses to work out your upper arms, chest and shoulder muscles? We can help to reduce your risks of injury.

Your Bench Press and Shoulder Pain

Bench pressing not only works to build your upper body strength, but it can also help to improve your cardiovascular health. Unfortunately, bench pressing accidents can result in severe shoulder injuries, too, says sports medicine specialist Michael Salata, MD.

Shoulder injuries during bench pressing typically result from using improper techniques or from fatigue while lifting, Dr. Salata says. The common shoulder injuries are:

  • Pec tears. A tear of the pectoralis tendon is usually a severe injury that requires a surgical repair. The tendon attaches the pectoralis major – the chest muscle – to the humerus bone of the upper arm.
    “Injuries to the pectoralis tendon often result when lifters are trying to max out their weight while bench pressing, or doing negatives, which is loading on weight when the arms are extended, then bringing it down,” Dr. Salata says. “What happens in those situations is that the tendon is trying to shorten to do its job, but excessive weight forces it to lengthen instead. This is an injury that almost always results from a bench press, but other pec exercises can cause it as well.”
    A pec tear is usually signaled by a painful ripping sensation near the front of the armpit. Bruising and asymmetry in the appearance of the chest musculature also might occur.
    “Surgery is usually needed to restore the full strength of the muscle, and this is an injury you don’t want to wait on,” he says. “You should have it repaired within two weeks, but no more than four weeks, after the injury happens.”
    After surgery for a pec tear, full recovery usually takes four to six months.
  • Proximal biceps tendon ruptures. The biceps muscle has two proximal tendons originating around the shoulder area and one distal common tendon inserting near the elbow. The tendon of the long head of the biceps near the shoulder end is particularly susceptible to tearing, Dr. Salata says.
    “Full and partial thickness tears are common with weightlifters,” he says. “Partial thickness tears often can be treated without surgeries with rest, ice, injections, anti-inflammatory medications and/or physical therapy. If it's a complete rupture – and you are young and active – you may want to have it fixed. We can pull the tendon back to length and attach it to the humerus with an anchor or a screw. But if you wait more than a couple weeks to repair it, it may not be possible to stretch it back to where it belongs.”
    A full tear may cause a bulge in the upper arm, which is known as a “Popeye muscle.”
  • SLAP tear. The labrum is a layer of tissue that helps to stabilize the shoulder socket. Tears to the top part of the labrum – called SLAP tears – typically cause pain or a weak “dead arm” sensation in the back of the shoulder. They are typically encountered when an outstretched arm is thrust backward, and are sometimes suffered by linemen in football.
    “SLAP tears usually get progressively worse over time,” Dr. Salata says. “You might be able to function through the pain for a while, but the worse it gets, the more it can limit your activity.”
    Non-surgical treatments like physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications and activity modification are usually suggested, but arthroscopic surgery can be done if necessary.
  • Distal clavicle osteolysis. “Another thing we see in weightlifters is osteolysis, a deterioration of bone that causes pain and irritation at the joint of the shoulder and the collarbone,” Dr. Salata says. “Normal treatment includes rest, ice, anti-inflammatories and injections. If necessary, surgery can be done on the collarbone.”

According to Dr. Salata, you can reduce your risk of injuries during bench pressing by taking these steps:

  • Don’t lift weights when you are fatigued.
  • Warm up before lifting, and start with lower weights before jumping into heavy lifts.
  • Use proper lifting techniques. Shoulders are more vulnerable when elbows are further away from your body.
  • Always have a spotter present to assist you in case of trouble.

“I once treated a guy who tore his pectoral tendon while lifting, and while trying to stop the bar from coming down on him, he ripped the triceps tendon on his other arm,” Dr. Salata says. “Sustaining a shoulder injury while lifting could result in dropping a bar on your neck or chest.”

Michael Salata, MD is an orthopaedic surgeon, director of the Joint Preservation and Cartilage Restoration Center at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center and the associate orthopedist team physician for the Cleveland Browns. You can request an appointment with Dr. Salata or any doctor online.

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