Why Do My Shoulders Hurt When I Do Push Ups?

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Why Do My Shoulders Hurt When I Do Push Ups?

Let’s talk about exercise and injury. Two topics that you really don’t want to use in the same sentence together. But, we all know injuries happen.  The best way to avoid them is by educating ourselves on how these injuries occur and best practices for preventing them.

First things first, there’s a big difference in feeling pain and being uncomfortable. Let’s be real here, if the exercise you’re doing doesn’t challenge you then what’s the point? If there’s one thing I’ve learned to ask people is: “Does it hurt or are you just uncomfortable?” Eight times out of ten, the response is uncomfortable. But, in those instances where pain is involved it’s time to reevaluate the exercise.  What does your form look like, what could be the cause behind the pain and what type of injury are you suffering from?

Why Do My Shoulders Hurt When I Do Push Ups

A majority of injuries from exercising are the result of improper form. Hence why form is a major key. Seriously, nothing is more important than your form. It doesn’t matter how much weight you can lift, because if you’re not lifting it right then you won’t be lifting it for long!

If you’ve ever gotten an injury from working out then you know it’s absolutely no fun at all. Not to mention it can really put a hamper on your exercise routine and keep you from reaching those goals. It’s really sad when an individual has gotten in the habit of a healthy exercise routine, to have to stop due to an injury that sets you back weeks or even months!

One exercise I’ve always struggled with is push-ups. My shoulder strength seems practically non-existent at times – no matter how hard I work them. And there’s been various times where I find myself asking: “Why do my shoulders hurt when I do push ups?” Realistically, I find myself asking that more times than I’d like to admit. In my case, it’s a total lack of shoulder strength. Shoulders aren’t my favorite muscle group to workout so they don’t get much attention.  Especially when compared to the glutes or abdominal regions.

However, if you’re finding yourself feeling some pain in the shoulders when doing push-ups, it could be due to various reasons. Which can make it difficult to pinpoint your exact problem. So, let’s dive a little deeper into push-ups, injury prevention and proper form.

Injury Prevention

As stated earlier, the best way to avoid pain is to educate yourself on injury prevention. Had I done this when I first started exercising, I would have saved myself a lot of pain and maybe a few pounds! If you’ve found yourself asking “why do my shoulders hurt when I do push ups” then it’s imperative to know the potential culprits behind the pain.

Why Do My Shoulders Hurt When I Do Push Ups

Injuries that can cause shoulder pain while performing push-ups include:

If you suffer from any of the above injuries, then it’s important to consult with your doctor before exercising. For those who are experiencing severe pain when performing push-ups, it’s imperative to get the injury evaluated by a doctor. Do not continue to exercise or “push through the pain.” Give your muscles and yourself an adequate amount of time to heal. This will also help prevent the injuries from becoming worse or lifelong. As always, you should discuss any type of strenuous exercise with a physician – especially if you have health problems.

Warm-Up Exercises

The best way to prevent injury is to warm-up before working out. For some reason, adding an additional five minutes to a workout can be really difficult for people to do. I’m speaking from experience here. But, as soon as I made it a priority to warm up (especially before doing push-ups) I noticed a decrease in pain! Seriously, what’s an extra five minutes when it’s going to spare you from dealing with an injury that might last weeks? If you can’t spare five minutes, then warm-up for three minutes – just be sure to do SOME type of warming up!

Here are a few shoulder warm-up exercises you can do:

Across the chest stretch

Basically exactly how it sounds. Bring one arm straight across your chest, place it in the crease of the opposite elbow and hold it there for about a minute.
Why Do My Shoulders Hurt When I Do Push Ups

Seated twist

This shoulder stretch can either be done by sitting in a chair with your ankles directly under the knees. You’ll start by twisting your upper body to the right, then place your left hand on the thigh and right hand wherever feels most comfortable. Hold this position for 30 seconds to a minute and then switch sides.
Why Do My Shoulders Hurt When I Do Push Ups

Ear to shoulder

Sit with your spine straight and begin tilting your head toward one shoulder. Only go as deeply into the stretch as possible without straining your neck or lifting the shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute and then repeat on the other side.
Why Do My Shoulders Hurt When I Do Push Ups

Knee push-ups

I know what you’re thinking, knee push-ups are “too easy.” But they’re definitely a great idea before going into full on push-up mode. Start in a plank position with your hips lifted and shoulders above the wrists. Drop to your knees but keep the spine long. From here, begin bending the elbows and lowering the chest to the ground. Lift back up by straightening the arms and repeat!

Why Do My Shoulders Hurt When I Do Push Ups

The 411 on Proper vs. Improper Form

Of course, you can do all the warming up known to man but if you’re not doing push-ups with the right form then your shoulders will continue to hurt. You may not even be suffering from an actual injury.  It could be an unfortunate case of improper form that causes you to ask “why do my shoulders hurt when I do push ups?” So, let’s talk about proper vs. improper form when doing push-ups.

Proper Form

When it comes to any exercise, proper form is crucial. It’s the best way to get the most out of the exercise and of course, the best way to prevent injuries from occurring. In the case of doing push-ups, you should have your elbows to the side at a 45 degree angle. When you lower down to the ground the elbows shoulder point behind you and the shoulder blades shoulder squeeze (or contract) together. Be sure to have your shoulders back away from the ears and keep your body in a straight line. Try to release any tension from the neck and shoulders prior to performing push-ups.

Improper Form

Have you ever seen that person in the gym who is doing an exercise and you just think to yourself “that’s an accident or injury waiting to happen”. Don’t be that person when it comes to doing push-ups. And, if you see that person give them some kind advice to help them from getting hurt!

Improper push-up form might include:

  • Elbows to the side at a 90 degree angle which causes stress on the shoulders.
  • Shoulders shift forward toward the ears when lowering to the ground which causes tension in the neck and shoulders.
  • Hips lifted too high or too low (sagging), which causes strain in the back and keeps the core from being engaged.
  • Head or nose touches the ground first instead of the chest touching. If you can’t lower all the way to the chest, go as far as possible without messing up form or opt to do push-ups from your knees.

Below is a instagram graphic created by Lauren Pak of @achievefitnessboston that shows both proper and improper push-up form.  Why Do My Shoulders Hurt When I Do Push Ups

Wrap-Up

It’s not uncommon at some point to ask yourself  “why do my shoulders hurt when I do push ups?”.  A lot of us have asked the ourselves the very same question.  First, you must eliminate the possibility that you might have a more serious injury such as a torn rotator cuff or torn cartilage.  Only your doctor will be able to diagnose those type of injuries.  Once you are sure you have no serious injuries, performing shoulder warm-up exercises before doing push-ups will go a long way to help eliminate any pain.

Another thing to check is your push-up form.  If you are doing push-ups with bad form, you are likely putting undue stress on your shoulders.  Use proper push-up form, warm those shoulders up beforehand and you won’t have to ask – why do my shoulders hurt when I do push ups?

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