Helen asked the Guru about her stiff right shoulder

August 28, 2014

When I had a massage, the therapist told me my right shoulder was particularly stiff and that I would benefit from a deep massage in future. I have no pain in it and don’t recall an injury. However, when doing bicep curls with weights on a bar, I have noticed an unevenness in my shoulders. The left one seems to come up higher faster, and more awkwardly and it sometimes clicks and jumps while the right one comes up smoother. I don’t know if this is a different problem or whether I’m somehow compensating for the other side? It is obviously not a serious problem but is affecting my ability to do certain lifts and I don’t know if there could be an underlying issue? I do yoga regularly and body pump as well as running, swimming, and other cardio (but no sports like tennis). Are my workouts likely to be creating or helping this problem with my shand is there anything I can do to loosen it up?


August 28, 2014

Hi Helen It’s a real shame when body workers feel they need to scare you into having body work being done. If you don’t think it needs doing, then you don’t need to have it done.

The effects of any passive body work – Physio or massage, is so transient that the only true benefit is that it gives you the ability to move better. If, in this short time after a session, you don’t try to move better, then the long term effect of the session will be zero…

It’s all about how you move and how you control that movement.

Your left shoulder is the prime example. As you attempt to increase the strength around your shoulders you have less control over your left scapula (shoulder blade) and so you notice you shrug your shoulder up.

This means that your upper traps muscle is being allowed to do more In comparison to its synergist, lower traps. This a common postural fault. You’ve lost muscle timing and control of your lower traps, allowing your upper traps to shrug your shoulder when moving under load.

This just happen 1 day. It happens because of something. It mostly happens because your thoracic position, when lifting load, is not as good as it needs to be and so the muscles starting position is faulty due to their attachment to your shoulder blade from the thoracic spine (whew!)

You need to decrease your load to a point where you notice that you don’t shrug you shoulder. This is where you can control the movement. This is where you need to focus your work out – and don’t progress until you can maintain this control.

You’ll need to do this with great form, adequate thoracic mobility and an awareness of what your lower traps are, what they do and how they work. Pilates rocks for things like this! Just maybe your massage therapist was feeling normal tissue on the right but feeling “under toned” tissue on the left, making the right on feel relatively stiffer…..

The Guru
Six Physio

​Helen Replied:

Thanks very much for this helpful and informative answer. This makes a lot of sense to me, as the shrugging does only start to happen with a certain load, as you suggest. I will swap body pump for Pilates for a few weeks, and will look into doing some lighter free weights with exercises to work on the lower traps.

Thanks for the reassurance about the right shoulder. It feels fine!



Guru Responded

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