Ask Dr. Joe: Why Do My Shoulders Hurt When I Lift Weights?

If you’re a weight lifter, you know the deal: no pain, no gain. While post-lifting soreness is always to be expected, sharp shoulder pain when lifting weights is not. That’s why it’s so important to maintain proper form, take adequate rest days, and not load on the weight too quickly.

Shoulder injuries are commonly the result of improper form and lifting too much, too quickly. They can be prevented by following some general lifting tips.

Let’s dive in.

What Causes Shoulder Pain?

While muscle soreness is a normal side effect from weight lifting, shoulder pain isn’t. The two biggest causes of shoulder pain are typically improper form and loading on too much weight before your body is ready.

Don’t Sacrifice Form for Reps

Never sacrifice your form to complete a certain number of lifts. Even if you have to reduce the amount of weight you’re lifting, you should always make sure your form is 100% perfect. There are tons of resources available to you as a weight lifter, but I highly recommend working with a professional trainer to ensure your form is solid.

Additionally, there are plenty of great weight-lifting resources online to help you check your form and make sure you’re lifting properly and efficiently.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Don’t increase your weight too quickly. To increase safely, you should do it systematically over a set amount of time.

I recommend doing everything in a progressive nature. Do controlled weights and don’t push things too hard—slowly increase your weight every week.

What are the Most Common Shoulder Injuries?

There’s a difference between muscle soreness and shoulder pain that’s the result of an injury. Pain from an injury usually persists for several days and isn’t alleviated from the RICE method.

Three shoulder injuries I see frequently include:


Also known as a superior labral tear from anterior to posterior, SLAP tears affects the labrum where the bicep attaches in the shoulder. Symptoms typically include:

  • Shoulder locking or popping
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Pain when lifting overhead

Depending on the severity of the tear, surgery may or may not be required.

Rotator Cuff Tendinitis

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and tendons that ensures your shoulder’s ball joint is centered where it needs to be against the socket joint. Rotator cuff injuries are extremely common in many different types of sports, and symptoms usually look like:

  • Stiffness
  • Pain when reaching overhead or behind
  • Limited range of motion

Rotator cuff tendinitis usually requires lots of rest and physical therapy. If the rotator cuff is torn, an acutely painful injury that results from lifting too much with improper form, surgery may be required.

AC Joint Injury

The acromioclavicular joint is where the top part of your shoulder blade connects with your collarbone. When the ligaments connecting the two are torn, you have a dislocated shoulder and a pretty serious injury.

Also known as “weight lifter shoulder,” the symptoms of an AC joint injury include:

  • Pain in the shoulder
  • Limited range of motion
  • A small bump on top of the shoulder where the dislocation happened

How Do I Prevent Shoulder Injuries When Lifting Weights?

If you work out and have a terrible pain in your shoulder, first you should evaluate why and when the pain happened. If it’s minor, just drop your weight down. If it’s major, stop the workout immediately, ice the injury, and take anti-inflammatory medicine.

If it’s pain that comes and goes, you can return to your workout in a couple days. If it persists, go to the doctor to get it diagnosed and feeling better.

To prevent shoulder injuries, you have to focus on your form. Additionally, it’s important to make sure you’re always doing the following:

  • Always warm up properly
  • Wear supportive, non-slip shoes
  • Don’t load up on weight too quickly

Experiencing Shoulder Pain When Lifting?

Then it’s time to speak with a professional. Contact our office today to set up a consultation with my team and I at Wilson Shoulder.


The material contained on this site is intended for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE– it is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with a physician or a qualified healthcare provider directly with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.