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Your Shoulder Pain Explained

Pain in the front of the shoulder is a common issue with many people when arms are overhead. It is something I see frequently with my CrossFit athletes.

Many times, I see the athletes doing self-treat techniques, which is a great thing, but the techniques do not address the true issue. Most times the athletes are smashing out the front of the shoulder with a lacrosse ball or working to stretch the front of the shoulder. The problem is, this is addressing the symptoms, which will help temporarily, but will not address the root cause of the pain.

The root cause of shoulder pain is normally a number of issues that all combine to contribute to one area of pain. These issues are ones that have been present for quite some time and are finally rearing their ugly head. In no particular order of importance…

Trigger points/Tight muscles

Yes, tight muscles do contribute to anterior shoulder pain, just not in the area you think it is. If you continue to smash out or stretch the front of the shoulder, you will continue to lack progress on recovery. The issue is the closer to the shoulder blade. (See circle in picture.)

If you want to work on an area to self-treat, you need to focus on this area instead of where your actual pain is.  Check out this video for several exercises that address that area.

Upper back mobility

This is an area that many people don’t realize is a contributor to shoulder issues.  Because of habits and postures we tend to keep, our upper back tends to get stiff in a slightly rounded forward position.  For good shoulder motion, our upper back needs to extend slightly, or at the least get to a straight position at a minimum.  When we don’t have this motion in our spine, the shoulder muscles are required to work harder and move through more of a range than ideal to obtain the range of motion you are requiring of it.

Check out this video to learn how to mobilize your spine.

Shoulder blade activation

In order to perform movements effectively, efficiently, and safely, the shoulder blades need to be in the correct position.  The problem is, many people don’t know how to do this.  As mentioned in the section above, our postures and habits cause a rounded forward spine.  They also cause our shoulders to be rounded forward.  Because this position feels “normal” to our body, we tend to keep them there when doing any activity with our arms.  Over time, our muscles forget how to actually activate and control our shoulder blades.


So what exactly does this mean?  Start working on learning how to get your shoulder blades to move “down and back” when sitting and/or standing.  And learn how to do this without using your arms to assist the motion.

Poor stability

 All our joints have what I like to call “mover” muscles and “stabilizer” muscles.  The mover muscles are the ones you know how to strengthen.  They are the big muscle groups that perform our movements.  The stabilizer muscles are often ignored.  Because of this, many times they are weak and/or lack muscular endurance.  When they fatigue out, two things can happen: they cause other muscles to take up the slack and/or they become tight and develop trigger points in them.

In the shoulder, it is typically the posterior rotator cuff that becomes fatigued and tight, putting more stress on the front of the shoulder, resulting in the anterior shoulder pain.


To start addressing the stability issues, take a look at some of my favorites!

Have more questions regarding your shoulder pain?  Email me at

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