Shoulder Pain Bench Press: Causes and Prevention



Shoulder pain bench press is a common condition among enthusiasts in the fitness industry, particularly those who incorporate bench press exercises into their workouts. This exercise is effective for building upper body strength but can put significant strain on the shoulder joints and muscles if not performed correctly. Understanding and addressing this issue is crucial, not only for enhancing performance but also for safeguarding long-term shoulder health.

This blog delves into the anatomy of shoulder pain related to bench pressing, exploring its causes, prevention strategies, and relief methods, ensuring your journey towards strength does not come at the expense of your well-being.

For those seeking an answer to the question, “What is tendinosis in the shoulder?” consider the resources provided by Sustain Physical Therapy for accurate and detailed information regarding this condition.

Anatomy of the Shoulder Muscles and Joint

The shoulder is a complex structure allowing for an unparalleled range of motion. Central to this functionality is the ball-and-socket joint, where the humerus (upper arm bone) fits into the scapula (shoulder blade). This joint’s stability and movement are supported by a symphony of components: the rotator cuff muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis), responsible for rotation and stabilization; the deltoids, which cover the shoulder and aid in arm lifting; and the pectoralis major, a key player in the bench press that assists in bringing the arms together.

Ligaments and tendons serve as the scaffolding, ensuring the bones stay in place while allowing the muscles to exert their force efficiently. However, the shoulder’s complexity and mobility make it vulnerable to different types of injuries, particularly under the excessive strain of repetitive motions like those found in bench pressing.

Common Causes of Shoulder Pain During Bench Press

AC Joint Dysfunction:

Traumatic AC Joint Injury

The acromioclavicular (AC) joint, where the clavicle meets the highest point of the shoulder blade, is prone to injury during bench pressing. Traumatic injuries can arise from poor form or an accidental drop of the barbell, leading to acute pain and discomfort.

Overuse AC Joint Injury

Repetitive stress on the AC joint, often seen with frequent bench pressing without adequate rest or proper technique, can result in overuse injuries. Such conditions are characterized by gradual muscle tear and wear, leading to chronic pain over time.

Labrum Irritation

The labrum, a fibrous ring of cartilage surrounding the shoulder socket, ensures the head of the humerus stays in place. Intense or improper bench pressing can irritate or tear the labrum, leading to pain, decreased range of motion, and a sensation of shoulder instability within the joint.

Rotator Cuff Tears

The rotator cuff is susceptible to tears from both acute incidents and chronic overuse. A tear can range from partial, affecting only a portion of the muscle or tendon, to full-thickness, completely severing it. Rotator cuff injuries often result from lifting heavy weights, sudden movements, or long-term degradation of the tendon.

Improper Form

Incorrect bench press form is a significant contributor to shoulder pain. This can include misaligning the body, improper bar path, or incorrect elbow positioning, all of which increase the stress on the shoulder joint and its components.

Improper Grip

The width and positioning of the grip on the barbell can also impact shoulder health. Research demonstrated that a wide grip or too narrow alters the mechanics of the exercise, potentially increasing the strain on the shoulder joint and leading to joint pain.

How to Identify where Shoulder Pain When Benching comes from

When you lower the Bar during Exercise: Posterior Delts

Pain during bench pressing while lowering the barbell can often be traced back to the posterior deltoids. This phase of the exercise puts significant tension on the rear shoulder muscles, especially if the bar is lowered too quickly or if the scapulae are not properly retracted. Recognizing pain in this area can signal issues with poor technique or indicate the need for strengthening the posterior deltoids and supporting muscles.

When you press the bar up during Exercise: Lateral Delts

The act of pressing the bar upwards primarily engages the lateral deltoids. Pain in this phase suggests that these muscles are being overburdened, possibly due to excessive weight or a lack of supporting muscle strength. It may also highlight improper form, such as pushing the bar in an incorrect trajectory, which can shift undue stress onto the shoulder.

When arms are extended during Exercise: Anterior Delts

Experiencing pain when the arms are fully extended at the top of the lift often involves the anterior deltoids. This discomfort can be attributed to overextension or locking out the elbows, which places additional strain on the shoulder joint. Identifying pain in this phase is crucial for adjusting your technique to mitigate stress on the shoulders.

Tips to Prevent Shoulder Pain Bench Press

Shoulder Pain Bench Press: Causes and Prevention

Proper Warm-Up

Engaging in a thorough warm-up routine is crucial for preparing the shoulder muscles and joints for the demands of bench pressing. Dynamic stretches and light, shoulder-focused exercises can increase blood flow, improve flexibility, and reduce the risk of common injury.

Master Bench Press Basics

Understanding and applying the correct bench press technique is essential. This includes maintaining a natural arch in the back, keeping the feet firmly planted on the ground, and aligning the wrists and elbows. Proper form ensures the load is evenly distributed, minimizing unnecessary strain on the shoulders.

Correct Shoulder Positioning

Keeping the shoulders back and down, in a position of scapular retraction and depression, stabilizes the shoulder joint and protects it from undue stress. This correct shoulder position should be maintained throughout the entire lift to prevent future injury.

Avoid Elbow Flaring

Elbows should be kept at a 45-degree angle to the torso rather than flaring outwards, which can increase the risk of shoulder impingement. This adjustment helps distribute the force more evenly across the shoulder girdle.

Understanding your shoulder joint’s range of motion

Recognizing and respecting your unique range of motion can prevent overextension and the consequent risk of injury. Avoid pushing the joints beyond their comfortable limits, especially in the fully extended or fully lowered positions.

Strengthen Your Rotator Cuff

Incorporating rotator cuff strengthening exercises into your routine can bolster shoulder stability and reduce the risk of injury. Exercises like internal and external rotations with light weights can be particularly beneficial.

Prioritize Form Over Weight

Focusing on mastering the technique before increasing the weight lifted is crucial. Lifting heavier weights prematurely can lead to compromised form and increased injury risk.

Progress Gradually

Increasing the weight lifted in small. Manageable increments allows the muscles and joints to adapt safely. This fosters strength without unnecessary strain.

How to Relieve Shoulder Pain from Bench Press

RICE Method

For immediate relief from shoulder pain after bench press. The RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) can be effective. This approach helps reduce inflammation and alleviate pain in the initial stages following an injury.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

In cases of significant shoulder discomfort, NSAIDs can be used to manage pain and reduce inflammation. However, they should be used carefully and under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Physical Therapy

Engaging in physical therapy can be instrumental in recovering shoulder pain when benching. A physical therapist can provide targeted exercises and treatment plan to strengthen the shoulder, improve flexibility, and facilitate a safe return to bench pressing.

When to Seek Medical Help

It’s essential to seek a healthcare provider if the shoulder pain persists despite rest and self-care, if there is a noticeable decrease in shoulder strength or mobility, or if the pain is severe and accompanied by swelling. These symptoms could indicate a more serious injury requiring specialized treatment.


Shoulder pain bench press is a common issue that can hinder progress and risk long-term shoulder injury. However, by understanding the anatomy of the shoulder, identifying the source of pain, and implementing effective prevention and relief strategies, it is possible to enjoy the benefits of bench pressing without compromising shoulder health. Always prioritize form, gradually progress in weight, and listen to your body to maintain a healthy and strong shoulder joint.

Don’t let shoulder pain hold you back from reaching your bench pressing goals. Take action today and schedule a consultation with back bay physical therapy. Our team includes trainers with a physical therapy background, ensuring you receive expert guidance. These highly trained professionals can assess your shoulder pain, pinpoint the root causes, and craft a personalized treatment plan. Their unique expertise allows for a holistic approach to not only eliminate pain but also enhance your performance, bridging the gap between rehabilitation and peak physical achievement.


Why does my shoulder hurt when I do bench press?

Shoulder pain during bench pressing can result from several major contributors including improper form, overuse injuries, or weaknesses in the shoulder muscles and supporting structures.

How do I stop my shoulders from hurting when I bench?

To prevent painful shoulder, ensure proper warm-up, master the bench press basics, maintain correct shoulder positioning, and strengthen the rotator cuff. Prioritizing form over weight and progressing gradually is also key.

How can I bench without shoulder pain?

Bench pressing without shoulder pain involves adhering to a comprehensive approach that includes correct form, adequate warm-up, strengthening exercises for the shoulder, and gradual progression in intensity.

a man in a green shirt smiling in front of a gym.

Dr. Adam Babcock PT, DPT

Sustained Fitness and PT

"We Help Active Adults Quickly Recover From Pain Or Injury So They Can Stay Active, Get Back To What They Love To Do, and Do It For Decades"