I like to lift weight and that’s usually what you can find me doing five days a week. Sometimes even more. My favorite lifts all take place overhead: the kettlebell snatch, the military press with a barbell or an axle, the clean and jerk, etc. And for years I dealt with shoulder pain that would come and go. Every time I would go to the doctor they would say one of two things: “You’ve got a pinched shoulder nerve” or “This is a rotator cuff injury.”
Sometimes their advice helped, sometimes it didn’t. Most of the time it didn’t, in fact. I would leave each appointment with a prescription for muscle relaxers and a pamphlet that showed me how many external band rotations I should be doing.
In the last year I have been experimenting with range of motion muscle testing, and my shoulder pain has disappeared. I’m not a doctor and this is not medical advice–I’m just going to tell you what I’ve been experimenting with and why I no longer have pinched nerves in my shoulder, if I ever did to begin with.
Range of Motion Biofeedback testing
I need to tell you a couple of assumptions I work off of. Feel free to ignore them or disagree violently, but for me to discuss how I deal with shoulder pain, my processes need to be clear.
I associate an increase of range of motion with a movement that is good, or beneficial, for the body. If I perform a movement that results in decreased range of motion, I associate that with not-goodness (scientific term!)
I believe that since movements are what put us into pain, movements are the best way to get us out of pain. I associate pain either too much or too little tissue elasticity, a condition which I can treat with movements that test well.
Here is how I perform a ROM test
I lean forward from the hips with my fingers reaching for my toes. I’m not stretching. In fact, I am going to stop at the point where going farther would require me to start stretching. I’m just looking for tightness or tension–when it appears anywhere in my body, I stop the toe touch and tap my legs at that point. That’s my baseline test. It is not the only test, but I find that it is the easiest for me to be consistent with.
There are six large movement patterns that I test. These big six and their variations comprise just about all of the gross motor movements a body can perform. They are:
One legs, two legs, loaded or bodyweight only. The pattern is simply the act of squatting down.
The hips reach back and form an acute hinge, as in the kettlebell swing, deadlift, snatch, etc
Military press, one and two arms. Turkish get ups. Walking with weight supported overhead.
Bench press, pushups, floor press, etc.
Pullups and chinups
I test all six movements and choose the three that result in the greatest range of motion increase. If I am having shoulder pain, I am particularly interested in finding a press variation that is pain-free and tests well. I have been finding that if I can find a variation of the pattern that tests well, it fixes the shoulder pain while also allowing me to continue to strengthen the vertical press pattern.
I do not consider this a reinforcement of improper technique, because for me I believe proper form is what tests best. And that for me, what tests best is often what fixes my pain.
If it does not make sense to you that a large motor movement like a squat or deadlift could help with shoulder pain, I understand. It doesn’t always make sense to me either, but it makes sense in my body. When I am in pain, anecdotal evidence is good enough for me.
If you have shoulder pain, even if you have already seen a doctor, I would suggest that you play around with these movement patterns and the ROM tests. If it doesn’t give you any relief, you’ve lost nothing but have kept moving around, which is rarely a bad thing.
But if you find something that works, you’ll be glad. I currently experience some sort of mild shoulder pain at least once a month because I am so active. But the difference is that while doctors might give me a solution that failed to produce relief after a year, I am now able to resolve my pains in minutes, if not seconds, simply by pursuing gross motor movements that test well.
If you’re curious about learning more about how to apply biofeedback testing to the gym, and to pain relief, I’d recommend checking out Adam Glass and Brad Nelson’s Grip and Rip DVD. It is a wonderful product that will help you implement testing in the easiest, most immediate way.
Again, I’d rather have you trusting your doctor than me, so please just take the above as what it is: a snapshot of my experiences. It’s working for me, so if you’re in pain, maybe it will work for you too.
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