I'm a woman

I'm a woman
Photos copyright Laurence Gouault
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Thursday, 5 July 2012

Shoulder Impingement in climbers, by Stevie Haston

A very bad shoulder

Shoulder Impingement is very common in climbers, and will ruin your climbing and training. What can you do?

First off, if you do the wrong thing, you will make things worse. Wrong things to do; are see a doctor who hasn’t got a clue, likewise a bad physio, or indeed listen to me. If you are an American and a Doctor is recommending surgery, delay, and  rethink.

I have suffered from Shoulder Impingement all my life, despite having strong healthy shoulders, and tend to think of it as a normal consequence of moving my arms upwards against the normal mechanics of my body. My body is just not designed to do many of the things I try to do, especially in climbing!

If you have pain in the region of the front of the shoulder, underneath where the Collarbone meets the Shoulder and you have a problem reaching up, you probably have Shoulder Impingement. You could have other things wrong too! So don’t rely on what I am saying.

Let’s go with my problems, and my Yoga teacher wife, she has Shoulder Impingement too. We used to have a great Physio but don’t anymore, but the one thing he had trouble sorting out was our Shoulders. Indeed, Laurence has bursitis in one Shoulder, which has meant she has had to stop occasionally. We have worked around our Shoulder Impingement, or in my more simple way, we have simply tried to work with the poor structure that a Shoulder is.


Shoulders are just not designed to reach up, mine it seems are pretty bad, maybe yours are too. A few signs that you have less than great shoulders would be a dislike of the Front crawl in swimming, an inability to do sitting press, or you hurt trying to throw things. In climbing we make many tough calls on our shoulders, that they were simply not designed to do.

We aren’t even designed to live past our mid twenties let alone jump for crimps way to one side, then take all the weight in an asymmetric swing, while trying to control rotation of the shoulder.

Anyway the purpose of this bit of writing is just so you know a little more. Here are a few things you can do:

see a great doctor

see a great physio

Warm up your musculature before work and sport, Stretch and or do some Yoga before work and Sport. It’s the latter for me that is very important for my Shoulders as I have pain. I am not prepared to stop, but my body will stop, or try to hinder me when I am climbing. Long reaches behind me, or worse a throw to the side behind me, and my shoulder will lock. If I have stretched properly beforehand I might make the moves, if I reach up and turn the humerus in its socket as I reach, I might also make the moves. I can’t do much if I am tense, and I will be tense if my neck muscles are tense.

Here are a few things to do, gentle Shoulder Shrugs.

Rolling shoulders backwards, stretch the neck and upper trapezious

Yoga Cat Cow stretch paying great importance to the alignment of the fingers in a vertical line with the body.

The dog stretch or triangle.
The Triangle

A great amount of advice is given about the Rotator cuff muscles and preventative exercise, if these work for you good, but don’t be surprised if they don’t. Anti inflammatories work a little bit, do not take pain killers for this condition, even if you have trouble sleeping.

Good luck and remember it is actually the shoulders problem not yours. Repeatedly trying the same throw or reach behind you is the surest way to make this condition worse. If you have a hard move like this, try it once, or twice, not one hundred times!