Upright Rowing – Shoulder Impingement – Rotator Cuff Injury

Uprightrows (a high pull with a narrow grip) are tightly correlated with shoulder impingement. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research:

April 2014 – Volume 28 – Issue 4 – p 1081–1089

The barbell upright row is an exercise done to develop strength in the front and side shoulder muscles (deltoids) and trapezius as well as biceps, rotator cuff muscles.

Holding a barbell or dumbells in front of you with a close, overhand grip, you pull the weight up to your chest, keeping it close to your body, leading with your elbows. On every repetition, you’ll notice that the humerus, the upper-arm bone, has to be internally rotated before the weight is elevated, so the thumb faces the torso.  When the weight is elevated, your shoulder is placed in an impingement zone. Shoulder impingement occurs when the tendon of the supraspinatus (a rotator cuff muscle) gets inflamed as a result of being repeatedly pressed against the bony acromion above it. This may not hurt immediately; it may not even hurt for a long, long time. The problem is the tendon will gradually become worn down and damaged.

This motion places an enormous amount of stress upon and inside the joint itself, most notably, the risk of impingement of the biceps tendon, supraspinatus, (the top rotator cuff muscle), and bursae, (fluid filled sacks that assist smooth gliding of the joint). Stress is also placed upon the wrists as they are forced to adjust or deviate out of natural positioning having to accommodate holding a straight bar.

Excessive resistance lifted doing this exercise only compounds it’s detrimental effects as well as incorporating bad posture, momentum, and compensatory patterns. All of this can create setbacks for the gym person or athlete.

When testing for impingement syndrome, doctors place the shoulder in positions that impinge, or pinch, the supraspinatus tendon. Neer’s test is done by elevation and internally-rotated arm in the scapular plane, causing the supraspinatus tendon to impinge against the anterior inferior acromion. It’s essentially the same motion as barbell upright rows. If the patient demonstrates pain, the doctor has a good idea that there’s some inflammation involved.

So the movement used to intentionally impinge the supraspinatus is fundamentally the same motion as the barbell upright row. This exercise has a high risk-to-benefit ratio and that there are safer alternatives to train the muscles supposedly being targeted.

If you are struggling with shoulder pain or discomfort the sooner you get appropriate care the quicker the symptoms will go and allow you to go back to normal activities.

Shoulder problems are often complex and can take a long time to resolve. An osteopath will work with you to try and understand the cause of your shoulder problem.

As an Osteopathic health Professional it is important to promote safe and effective forms of exercise that advise each patient in doing exercises that  help give them results instead of injury for the time and effort they put in.

An ounce of prevention truly is better than a pound of cure, which is why you should do everything in your power to protect your shoulders from possible injury.

‘This article is meant to inform you of exercises that don’t actually give you the benefits you seek, and may actually be causing more harm to your body than good.’

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