Weight room injuries happen. It’s the nature of the beast.

There’s the “I’m a dumbbass and dropped a plate on my foot” kind of injury (I’ve done this); smashed my fingers re-racking plates (done it too); and stubbed my toe on a bench while I wasn’t watching where I was going.

There’s also the occasional muscle tweak, like when your levator scapulae fires up because you have unstable shoulders. Cue the blinding headache and wreck the rest of your day. That shit hurts; I’ve done it twice and it’s not fun.

Levator Scapulae and trigger points; tweaking the Levator usually occurs with overhead movements and an unstable shoulder blade; results in difficulty turning your head to one side, and headaches

Or maybe a strain in your shoulder or lower back because you lifted too much or were out of position when you went to move.

All acute weight training injuries. Some sideline you for a couple days, others take weeks (or worse, months) to recover and get back at it.

And then there’s chronic injuries.

The ones that stick with you for some time, some days worse than others, but a constant reminder that something just isn’t quite right.

Think knee pain, upper back pain, cranky elbows, etc. that just won’t go away.

The very inconvenient truth about chronic injuries is that, typically, they’re the result of a flawed system. A break in the continuity of movement. A busted cog in the wheel.

Those injuries are usually indicative of something going wrong for too long. It’s the injury that tells you that something failed.

Take for example a rotator cuff injury I sustained in October 2013.

Every time I pushed anything (like bench presses and variations) I would get a sharp pain in my shoulder. No matter how much soft tissue work I did, or stretching or any other therapy I could think of, it wouldn’t go away. Eventually the pain was so bad I ended up in physical therapy getting it seen.

And there lied my problem: I was treating the symptom, instead of the cause. I was targeting the pain, instead of addressing the system that failed.

In my case, the injury stemmed not from a weak rotator cuff, but instability in my entire shoulder complex, including my arm and shoulder blade together.

The rotator cuff was just the part that failed (more specifically, my subscapularis).

It’s important to note here that no matter how much rotator cuff exercises I did, I would still be addressing the symptom, and not the cause. Even with strengthening exercises, the system was bound to fail.

The problem? Turns out it had nothing to do with my rotator cuff, and everything to do with my lower trapezius. Among other things, the lower trap helps with upward rotation of the shoulder blade (think taking your arms overhead), and also helps posteriorly tilt the shoulder blade.

Lower Trap anatomy

In lamens terms, it helps keep my shoulder blade close to my rib cage and let’s me press things over my head safely and with stable shoulders.

Because I had an inhibited lower trap (it wasn’t functioning properly), my shoulder blade “winged” off my body a bit, causing my rotator cuff to overwork to provide some stability to the system, which eventually failed.

An example of Scapular “Winging” caused by weak or inhibited Lower Traps and weak Serratus Anterior; you can see how this much instability in the shoulder joint could be problematic

Bringing it home…

The point I’m trying to make is that chronic injuries are more complicated than the “oh man that hurts sometimes, I should roll it out or stretch.”

By that time it’s a bit too late; unless you know why the pain exists; why you’re having trouble moving in a particular way, you’re just doing what I was doing: addressing the symptom and not the cause. Get it seen by a professional and save yourself some rehab time.

And that my friends, is a very inconvenient observation on injuries.

Andy Van Grinsven

About Andy Van Grinsven

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