What is Weightlifter’s Shoulder and How is it Treated?

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Weightlifter’s Shoulder is a term used to classify painful wear and tear of the distal end of the collar bone and is an overuse injury that can cause small fractures along the end of the collar bone. In some instances, osteolysis or bone breakdown occurs.

The condition is know as Weightlifters Shoulders because weightlifters are commonly affected due to the repetitive motions and heavy weight bearing loads on the shoulder joint associated with weightlifting. However, they are not the only ones affected and jackhammer operators, baseball and football players and soldiers can also develop this problem.

What Causes this Condition?

Repetitive trauma or stress from training and lifting can cause small fractures on the distal end of the collarbone. When the elbows drop below or behind the body during bench press, excessive traction on the AC (acromioclavicular) joint occurs. As a result, the shoulders are in a position of excessive extension and since the bone does not have the chance to heal prior to the next training session, the shoulder can become painful and suffer from reduced strength and range of motion.

Treatment Options for Weightlifter’s Shoulder

Treatment for weightlifter’s shoulder usually starts with conservative or non-operative management. This may include rest and changes in weight-training activities and techniques and over-training must be avoided so that the joint can heal.  A physical therapist or a weight trainer can help with activity modification and design strength training for your condition.

For those who do not improve with conservative therapy, or have significant damage to the shoulder joint, an arthroscopic surgery may be recommended. During surgery, the surgeon removes portions of the damaged end of the collarbone in a procedure known as “distal clavicle excision”.  This procedure is generally performed as an outpatient procedure and most patients are able to return home the same day as their procedure. Physical Therapy is often recommended after surgery to improve strength and restore range of motion. Fortunately, most patients suffer no loss of function in the shoulder after surgery and are able to resume normal activities following rehabilitation.


For patients suffering shoulder pain due to a sports injury, arthritis or degenerative condition, the comprehensive Upper Extremity Team at Orthopaedic Institute of Central Jersey utilizes the experience and expertise of Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeons and Sports Medicine Specialists to diagnose and treat conditions of the shoulder, elbow and hand. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our awarded specialists!

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