While squats primarily target the lower-body muscles and core, the shoulders play a crucial role in stabilizing the barbell during back squats.
Although more severe factors can lead to shoulder pain, it’s most commonly caused by faulty shoulder mechanics, mobility restrictions, weaknesses, poor technique, repetitive use without appropriate rest, and poor postural habits!
Therefore, remedies like changing your grip width and bar position during back squats, mobilizing the pecs and the lats to get rid of rounded shoulders, and strengthening the posterior back muscles can be all keys for pain-free squats!
This blog will detail these causes and show you some simple and functional fixes for your shoulder pain!
Common Reasons for Shoulder Pain While Squatting
Below, I will go through the most common issue that can lead to shoulder pain while squatting. These everyday functional, mechanical problems can be solved with a more conscious squat technique!
Let’s dive in!
1. Improper Bar and Grip Position
Whatever technique you use for squatting, like low or high bar squat, should make your technique more efficient.
There isn’t a strict rule you need to follow if you are a regular gym goer. What you should consider is:
- How can you lift the most weight and increase your performance safely without getting injured and feeling pain?
- What position of your grip and bar helps you maintain the perfect technique?
Let’s see a few instructions and examples of what that looks like while performing low and high-bar squats.
When you perform low-bar squats, the bar should rest under the shoulder blade and on top of the rear deltoid! Your elbows shouldn’t be pointing down; put slightly back or up, causing your dear deltoid muscle to activate and pop.
This is where the bar will be able to comfortably and safely rest! Keep your chest up and tall and the back rigid and activated throughout the movement!
Without doing these, your shoulders and arms will try hard to stabilize the barbell’s position (avoiding slipping down), putting unnecessary stress on the joint and leading to shoulder pain.
Regarding your grip width, wider than shoulder-width apart can be ideal! However, this can hugely depend on your mobility level (which can be another cause of shoulder pain while squatting).
Without adequate mobility, you may also compensate by leaning too far forward during a squat, which will put unnecessary load on your upper body and lower back too!
If you find reaching the bar behind you hard, you must improve your shoulder mobility, which I will show you below. Additionally, you can go slightly wider with your grip width.
The grip style can be a thumb-around-the-bar grip or a thumbless grip! A thumbless grip can keep your wrist straighter and suit those experiencing wrist pain. However, a thumb grip is way safer for beginners or those less experienced!
Low-bar squats suit those lacking adequate hip mobility. Your torso position will likely lean forward more than a high-bar squat! This squatting technique isn’t for everyone, but it is worth trying!
High bar squat
Rest the bar on top of the meaty part of your traps (top of the shoulder blade) for cushioning!
People often make the mistake of resting the bar on their neck, leading to neck and shoulder pain while squatting due to excessive stress on the cervical spine! This can be dangerous and painful!
Unlike the low-bar squat, push the elbows slightly down to activate the lats and help you stay more upright by keeping the hips closer to the bar! Of course, your ankle, hip mobility, and bar position will hugely influence your torso angle!
You can wear weight-lifting shoes that can help you stay more upright. Improving your mobility with RAMP warm-up before squatting is also advised!
2. Poor Posture
Poor posture results from a lack of postural awareness while working, for example, in an office environment!
Sitting long hours with a rounded back and head forward position can lead to shoulder pain while squatting as they can cause:
2a. Limited shoulder mobility and muscle imbalances
Rounded shoulders and head forward position tightens the pectoralis (chest), front deltoids, and lats muscles, and the upper back muscles like the rhomboid, lower, and mid-traps become weak!
This can limit shoulder movements like external rotation necessary to stabilize the bar on the back while squatting and affect overall form and technique, leading to shoulder pain!
Besides maintaining good posture at all times, you can do the following:
Pec stretch (1 minute on each side)
Lats foam rolling (1 minute each side)
Prone flies (2-3 x 10 reps)
Seated rows (2-3 x 10 reps)
2b. Thoracic spine restrictions
Prolonged sitting and slouching reduce the ability of the thoracic spine to extend. A rigid thoracic spine affects the ability to maintain an upright torso during squats, potentially causing the shoulders to bear more load and leading to shoulder pain.
You should complete thoracic mobilization exercises such as:
Box Thoracic Extension
Hold for 30 seconds to a minute!
2c. Weakened core
A strong core can help keep you upright, stable, and balanced! It also protects your spine while squatting. Without its support, your shoulders must work harder to maintain balance, resulting in shoulder pain or injuries!
Make sure you keep your core strong and perform exercises that involve twisting, diaphragmatic breathing, and bracing:
Diaphragmatic breathing (1-2 minutes)
Pallof press (2-3 x 15)
Side plank (30 sec to 1 minute hold each side)
Torso twists (2-3 x 10)
2d. Nerve compression
Poor posture can result in cervical or thoracic nerve compression, leading to shoulder pain! This pain can radiate from the back and neck to the arms, even causing pain during sleep.
To avoid this, I would advise postural awareness, including:
- Sitting with a neutral spine, for example, on a swiss ball.
- Taking regular breaks.
- Stretching and performing daily body maintenance.
- Setting up an ergonomically friendly workspace to support good posture!
3. Mobility Restrictions
We know that poor posture can lead to mobility restrictions. However, repetitive movement, skipping warm-ups, and daily body maintenance like stretching and mobility work can also result in mobility restrictions.
While I’ve already mentioned the tight chest and weak upper back, I would like you to visually see how it affects your squat:
3a. Limited shoulder external rotation
With limited external rotation, you cannot reach behind you and hold the barbell properly on your shoulders! This can mess up your squatting technique from head to toe!
Your elbow will pop up, putting pressure on the anterior shoulder and causing pain (front shoulder pain).
3b. Tight Pectorals (Chest)
Tight chest muscles will pull the shoulders forward. This can also result in limited shoulder external rotation, making your elbows pop up and causing shoulder pain while squatting!
In addition to the exercises mentioned above for strengthening the upper back muscles and releasing the pecs and lats, I also recommend performing external rotation mobilization exercises!
Here is my favorite:
Prone external rotation (2-3 x 8-10 on each side)
4. Inadequate rest
Proper rest is essential for the joints and muscles to adapt to stress. If you suddenly increase your activity, you may exceed the tolerance of the shoulder tissue, resulting in pain while squatting!
If you frequently train squats combined with other shoulder exercises without enough rest and recovery, the shoulder muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other surrounding structures can become overused and inflamed!
If you think you may have been overtraining and you drop into this category, here are some suggestions for overcoming your shoulder pain while squatting:
- Implement recovery days into your training schedule to allow enough time for your muscles to grow and recover!
- Sleep at least 8-9 hours a day; don’t wait for the weekend to catch up on sleep. Sleep helps the muscles and joints to recover by releasing growth hormones!
- Try progressive overload, which can help you gradually increase the intensity of your training instead of suddenly! This gives enough time for your body to adapt to a certain load!
- Listen to your body and modify exercises if you feel any discomfort. Additionally, you can take extra rest days if you feel fatigued! Less is more sometimes!
- Eat healthy, nutritious meals! Getting the right vitamins and minerals can aid in recovery, too!
- Warm-up and cool down to increase body temperature, improve mobility and flexibility, and reduce the risks of injuries!
While shoulder pain during squats can arise due to various factors, it is essential to have a personalized assessment by a physical therapist or qualified professional to address the root cause of the problem before ‘guessing!’
If your shoulder pain worsens, see a practitioner or doctor to close out any serious causes!
FAQs About Shoulder Pain While Squatting
How do you squat without hurting your neck and shoulders?
Make sure you keep the bar on the top of the meaty part of the traps while performing high-bar squats. This will help you squat without hurting your neck and shoulders.
Additionally, you can hold the barbell with a wide grip, especially if you have limited shoulder mobility!
Can you keep training if your shoulder hurts?
You can keep training with shoulder pain! However, you should modify your exercises (including squats) so your shoulder can tolerate them. This is different for everyone and highly depends on the type of shoulder pain you are dealing with.
Also, I advise you to seek help from a professional who can identify the cause of your shoulder pain and give you the right exercises and modifications for your pain!
This may include:
- Mobility and overhead stability exercises
- Strength exercises
- Postural correction
What does my shoulder hurt when I do overhead squats?
Overhead squats require adequate shoulder mobility, stability, and scapular movement. On top of these, you should have a good thoracic extension to be able to keep the bar above your head!
If you lack any of these, you may experience pain due to compensations for poor shoulder mechanics.
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Let us improve this post!
Tell us how we can improve this post?