Overcoming Shoulder Pain During Bench Pressing: Expert Advice from Boston’s Physical Therapy Professionals

Overcoming Shoulder Pain During Bench Pressing Expert Advice from Boston’s Physical Therapy Professionals


Bench pressing is a staple in many fitness routines, renowned for building upper body strength. However, it can also lead to shoulder pain, particularly affecting the rotator cuff. At Sustain Physical Therapy in Boston, we frequently encounter clients struggling with shoulder pain and rotator cuff issues related to bench pressing. This blog explores the causes of shoulder pain during bench pressing, effective strategies to manage and prevent it, and how physical therapy can help you maintain a strong, pain-free upper body.

Understanding Shoulder Pain During Bench Pressing

Shoulder pain during bench pressing is often caused by improper technique, muscle imbalances, or overuse injuries. The shoulder joint, being highly mobile, is susceptible to various issues, particularly when subjected to repetitive stress from exercises like bench pressing. Common causes of shoulder pain include:

Rotator Cuff Strain: The rotator cuff muscles stabilize the shoulder joint. Overloading these muscles can lead to strains and pain.
Impingement Syndrome: This occurs when the shoulder’s tendons are compressed during movement, causing pain and inflammation.
Tendinopathy: Chronic overuse can lead to tendinopathy in the shoulder, affecting the rotator cuff tendons.
Poor Technique: Incorrect form, such as flaring the elbows out or lowering the bar too low, can strain the shoulder joint and cause pain.

The Role of Physical Therapy in Managing Shoulder Pain

The Role of Physical Therapy in Managing Shoulder Pain

At Sustain Physical Therapy in Boston, we utilize a comprehensive approach to manage shoulder pain and rotator cuff issues associated with bench pressing. Our physical therapy services include:

Assessment and Diagnosis: Identifying the underlying cause of shoulder pain is crucial. Our therapists conduct thorough assessments to determine the specific issues affecting the shoulder.
Manual Therapy: Techniques such as joint mobilization and soft tissue massage can help reduce pain, improve mobility, and promote healing.
Exercise Therapy: Customized exercise programs are designed to strengthen the rotator cuff and other supporting muscles, improve flexibility, and enhance overall shoulder function.
Education: Teaching proper bench pressing techniques and ergonomics to prevent further injury and promote safe lifting practices.

Effective Strategies to Prevent and Manage Shoulder Pain

Warm-Up Properly:

Dynamic Warm-Ups: Engage in dynamic movements like push up to downward dogs, banded “touchdowns”, and arm bars.
Rotator Cuff Activation: The above exercises target these muscles specifically, but adding in some 90/90 external rotations with a band, or face pulls can be beneficial as well.

Correct Bench Press Technique:

Grip Width: Ensure your grip width is not too wide or narrow. A moderate grip helps distribute the load evenly across the shoulders.
Elbow Position: Keep your elbows at a 45-degree angle to your body to reduce stress on the shoulder joint.
Bar Path: Lower the bar to the mid-chest, avoiding the neck and upper chest area to prevent excessive shoulder strain.

Strengthening Exercises:

We want to really focus on maintaining strength through the rotator cuff, upper back, and shoulders to support the body during bench press. Here are a few of our favorites:

1. 90/90 Banded Shoulder Flexion

2. Kettlebell Arm Bar

3. Landmine Press with Reach

4. Split Stance Rotational Row

Modifying Bench Press Variations to Reduce Shoulder Pain

If you are noticing pain with regular flat bench press, sometimes finding an alternative while rehabbing the shoulder can be very beneficial to maintain strength while you are out for the count. Here are some of our favorites:

Dumbbell Bench Press: Using dumbbells allows for a more natural range of motion and reduces stress on the shoulders.
Neutral Grip: Hold the dumbbells with a neutral grip (palms facing each other) to further decrease shoulder strain.
Floor Press: This variation limits the range of motion and reduces the risk of shoulder impingement.
Technique: Lie on the floor and press the barbell or dumbbells from a dead stop, focusing on controlling the movement.
Incline Bench Press: Adjusting the bench to an incline position can reduce the load on the shoulder joint.
Technique: Set the bench at a 30-45 degree angle and press the barbell or dumbbells, maintaining proper form.


Shoulder pain and rotator cuff issues related to bench pressing can be effectively managed and prevented with proper technique, targeted exercises, and comprehensive physical therapy. At Sustain Physical Therapy in Boston, we specialize in addressing these concerns, helping you achieve a strong, pain-free upper body. Whether you’re an athlete or a fitness enthusiast, our expert team is here to support your journey to optimal health and performance.
For personalized guidance on managing shoulder pain and improving your bench press technique, contact Sustain Physical Therapy in Boston. Let us help you achieve your fitness goals with our holistic approach to physical wellness.

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"