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weight lifters shoulder

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

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

The condition is know as Weightlifter’s 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 far end of the collarbone. When the elbows drop below or behind the body during bench press, excessive traction or pull on the AC (acromioclavicular) joint occurs. As a result, the shoulder comes into a position of excessive extension which causes deterioration of the joint space and micro fractures of the clavicle. When the bone does not have the chance to heal properly 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. Over-training must be avoided so that the joint can heal. In addition a variable training program can aid in allowing the shoulder joint to heal while still allowing the athlete to continue activity. A physical therapist or athletic trainer can help with activity modification and design strength training in order to maintain fitness while allowing the joint and injury to heal.

For those who do not improve with conservative therapy, or have significant damage to the shoulder joint, a surgical procedure 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 setting and most patients are able to return home the same day as their procedure as often this is done arthroscopically. 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.


At The Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine (OSM) Center we utilize the collective skills of our exceptional providers to deliver the most complete musculoskeletal care available. From your first appointment, you are cared for by a team specifically built based on the best treatment for your condition. If surgery is necessary, you will be paired with an OSM surgeon who has the expertise and experience in your specific condition. Our surgeons use the latest minimally invasive techniques where appropriate to ensure fast recovery.  Contact us today to schedule a consult.