Fix Gymnast Related Shoulder Pain!

Fix Gymnast Related Shoulder Pain

Are you a frustrated gymnast who is missing time from practice due to painful or clicking shoulders?


Have you been told by the doctor to just rest it or stop doing gymnastics?  


Gymnastics requires a combination of strength, power, endurance, flexibility, balance, and control in order to enable gymnasts to perform the amazing skills necessary for competition.  One of the areas of the body that can result in pain due to injuries is the shoulder joint. The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint in which two bones connect (head of the humerus and glenoid fossa of the scapula).  This joint is one of the unique one’s in our body because it was designed for mobility as we can move our shoulder joints in all planes of movement and we have a lot of motion to move through in order to reach and perform everyday activities (reaching behind back, washing hair, etc.).  However, the sport of gymnastics requires even greater mobility demands on the shoulders in order to perform bar routines, back walk overs on the beam, or tumbling passes during floor exercise.


The first step to getting rid of a cranky shoulder is to first get a proper diagnosis by a medical professional.  They will determine the structure at fault whether it is the rotator cuff tendons, glenoid labrum, or a specific muscle.  However, the key to fixing your problem is determining the root cause of why your pain started in the first place. In the shoulder and especially with gymnasts, it usually comes down to either a mobility or stability issue.  


Let’s talk about mobility first as this is usually not thought of in the case of a gymnasts as you may be thinking “how could I be tight when I can do all these crazy contortionist type of skills” and most healthcare professionals who do not work with a lot of gymnasts tend to make that assumption as well.  The main mobility issue is not in the shoulder joint itself (the capsule and ligaments) but is in the soft tissue surrounding the shoulder joint (latissimus dorsi, teres major, and pec major muscles). This is especially common as the gymnast gets older due to adolescent growth spurts and the increased hours of training required in Junior Olympic levels 7-10.  There is a ton of strength and conditioning that is being done during those 20-25 hours of practice per week. If the gymnast is not taking care of the soft tissue mobility to combat all the strength and conditioning work then that could lead to limited overhead mobility causing an impingement of the rotator tendons and thereby creating shoulder pain with any overhead activities such as handstands and tumbling skills.  


The other main issue that tends to be a problem for gymnasts is a stability issue.  This is very common in gymnasts because a fair majority of them have what we call loose joints and that is probably the reason they got selected at an early age to participate in the competitive program at your gym.  If you didn’t have normal or more than normal mobility in your joints then you really would find it difficult to perform the skills necessary for gymnasts (think natural selection). Therefore, most of these girls work on flexibility and mobility from an early age and that can tend to create imbalances around the joint if not counteracted with good joint stability work.  In the physical therapy world we call this a movement coordination impairment meaning the muscles that provide stability to the shoulder joint (rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers) are not kicking in at the right time when they should or are being overpowered by the bigger stronger muscles like the lats and pecs as previously mentioned. Therefore, the goals is to “wake up” the sleepy muscles by retraining them with specific exercises that usually require hands on feedback by a skilled therapist and a lot of weight bearing exercises through your arms on unsteady surfaces (balance board, BOSU ball, stability ball).  These exercises create an unstable environment for the shoulder, thereby causing the deep shoulder muscles to have to kick in to perform correctly.


To summarize, the key to preventing and treating shoulder pain is to determine if your problem is a mobility or stability problem and then perform specific exercises to address those areas in order to fix your current problem or prevent it from coming back.  Stay tuned for future posts relating to specific shoulder mobility and stability exercises you can do to keep you happy and healthy doing what you love!


Are you a gymnastics parent who is wondering what it will cost your daughter in the long run if she continues to work through the pain?



There are solutions to these problems (besides quitting gymnastics)


At SPARK Physical Therapy, we have a unique treatment approach that focuses on solving these problems with our clients.  Our goal is to help keep your gymnast active while recovering from injury by staying in the gym and guiding them in ways to modify their skills and training, rather than eliminating gymnastics!  We combine manual hands-on techniques with guided supervised exercises to help your gymnast get stronger, pain-free, and perform at their peak level to get them back to full speed in the gym.


If you’re in the Wallingford, CT area and are a gymnast that has been dealing with injuries we can help. We’d love to chat for a few minutes and see if you are a good fit for what we do. Fill in the contact request and we’ll set up a free 10-minute phone consultation with a doctor of physical therapy


Thank you for taking the time to read,


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“I don’t have enough words to express my gratitude towards Duane Scotti and the Spark Healthy Runner program. When I started working with Duane, I had been dealing with chronic shin splints/posterior tibialis tendinitis for almost a year.

I had worked with multiple other coaches and physical therapists with little success and was at the point of almost giving up on my love for running. Duane is so kind, thoughtful and knowledgeable as both a physical therapist and running coach. Our first virtual meeting lasted two hours because he was so meticulous in his assessment. His strength and running program is progressive and created so that you can continue to build strength and mileage as you heal. His strength program is unique, effective, and fun.

Additionally, his warm-up routine is awesome and includes drills that over time have made me a more efficient runner. His training platform is easy to use, and he is always readily available to chat when problems or questions arise.

Over four months of working with Duane, I have built back to five days a week of running and am almost back up to my pre-injury weekly mileage and long run distance. Whenever I have flare ups or setbacks, Duane reassures me and makes necessary adjustments so that I can continue to progress in my running journey. I have had so much success with him so far that I have signed on for four more months so that he can help me to continue getting stronger as I train for the Dopey challenge in Disney World.

If you are struggling with a running injury and are feeling hopeless, you have to reach out to Duane Scotti. Of course, you will have to put in a lot of hard work, but with Duane by your side, you will be able to achieve your goals and more. Thank you Spark Healthy Runner for bringing the spark back to my running!”

Dipti Pandya

You can teach an old dog new tricks!!!  I have never considered myself a runner and I knew I needed to be smart about it because I am no spring chicken. Spark preached getting strong and healthy to be injury free and they practice what they preach.  I am soooo glad I made the investment in me!  I finished my half marathon last weekend and couldn’t be any happier!  The program fed me all the steps I needed to essentially learn how to run long distance, build strength, nutrition help, a forum of other runners and probably most important was the 1:1 coaching.  I had no idea how to tackle training for a 1/2 marathon and this program broke all of it down, had it individualized for me and we tweaked as we went to make sure I was staying healthy and strong.  I had so many questions the week prior to my race and Coach Cat was always there for me and answering all the questions and issues I had-and believe me there were a lot!  The biggest benefit I think I got was the strength. I am strong and fit. But most important was what I gained emotionally.  I built confidence and strength I didn’t know I had, even at my age.  Honestly could not have done this without Spark Healthy Runners!

Gina J.

My Healthy Runner journey started after I had battled bilateral achilles pain for a few months and was frustrated how it affected my running. As soon as I talked to Duane I knew I had made the right decision. His positivity, enthusiasm and genuine care are infectious. The training plan that was tailored to me included specific exercises to rehab my injury and I was so excited that I didn’t have to stop running. It took patience to only run slow for a few weeks but I trusted the process and it got me me to where I am now: running pain free. We made adjustments to the plan throughout whenever needed having someone in your corner that is always there with guidance and support throughout the process was invaluable.

I just ran my second half marathon, both with Duane’s coaching, and PR’d by over 9 minutes! I got all choked up in the last mile when I realized that I felt strong and could still kick it up a notch.

I’m so thankful for the Healthy Runner program, community and the entire coaching team for all the support!

Katja L.

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