Tips for weight-lifters with “weight-lifter’s shoulder”

What is weight-lifter’s shoulder, and who gets it? I’m a weight-lifter and I’d like to avoid problems of this sort.

Weight-lifter’s shoulder is a painful deterioration of the distal end of the clavicle (collar bone). The person feels an aching pain in the front of the shoulder at the acromioclavicular (AC) joint. This is where the end of the collarbone (closest to the shoulder) attaches to the acromion. The acromion is a curved piece of bone that comes from the shoulder blade across the top of the shoulder. The clavicle and acromion meet to form the AC joint in front of the shoulder. Repetitive trauma or stress from training and lifting causes tiny fractures of the bone in this area. Because the bone doesn’t have a chance to heal before the next training session begins, the bone actually starts to dissolve. Pain develops with associated weakness.

Weight-lifters aren’t the only ones affected. Female bodybuilders, air-hammer operators, handball players, and others can develop this problem. For that reason, it is also known as distal clavicular osteolysis. Osteolysis refers to the resorption of bone at the site of the injury. Avoiding overtraining and smoking are two very effective ways to prevent this condition. If it does develop, take quick steps to modify weight-lifting techniques and avoid overtraining. For example, you can narrow your hand spacing on the barbells. This takes the stress off the distal clavicle. End your bench presses two inches above the chest. Some lifters place a two-inch folded towel on the chest as a reminder. The power clean or power jerk can also be modified. Don’t rack the bar. Start with the elbows even with or above the shoulders and lift. This eliminates the power pull. Certain activities such as the bench press, dips, and push-ups should be avoided for a while. Apply an ice massage and take ibuprofen after each workout.

For more information on this subject, call The Zehr Center for Orthopaedics at 239-596-0100 or visit The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of a visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.

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