Shoulder Pain – Why is it painful putting on my shirt?



Eliminating shoulder pain isn’t always as simple as you may think. The shoulder is a complex joint, so pain could be from weakness or stiffness resulting in poor mechanics. Sure, it looks nice to have strong shoulder muscles but they’re not always the best in reducing your pain. The photo-op muscles I’m talking about are your deltoids, which are made up of three parts: anterior, middle, and posterior. The muscles that we are really focused on are your rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers. 

The rotator cuff (not rotary cuff) can be thought of as the main muscles that provide stability in your shoulder. Imagine the relationship between your shoulder and glenoid fossa (shoulder socket) as a golf ball and tee. The golf ball is held on the tee by the rotator cuff. As you can probably see, this places a large strain on the muscles so they must be strong to properly do their job. The rotator cuff is something that is addressed with normal weightlifting but isn’t truly strengthening without performing specific, targeted exercises. Below is one of my favorite exercises to get you started in strengthening the rotator cuff! 

Perform these exercises for 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps.  


The other important muscle group is your scapular stabilizers. The muscles we are focusing on are your rhomboids, middle trapezius, and low trapezius. These muscles provide stability in our shoulder girdle so that it can pivot, rotate, and hinge appropriately.  Below is a schematic that shows their relationship!


Trapezius and Serratus Force Couple. (From The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 2011. 6(1). 52-58.)

To address weakness in these muscles, perform the exercise below for 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps. 


​As you can see, there is an important relationship between the rotator cuff and scapular musculature as it relates to shoulder pain. There typically isn’t one specific way to completely fix shoulder pain, so consult your medical professional if you’re unsure how to start or progress your exercises. No one should be satisfied living with pain, so get started on your path to recovery today with Bull City PT! 

– Dr. Colten Sullivan
Bull City Physical Therapy

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