Shouldering the Load

Shoulder MusclesMy shoulders are killing me. There, I’ve admitted it.

Shoulder injuries are the bane of manual wheelchair users. Two-thirds of wheelchair users report suffering shoulder pain. According to Gellman H, Sie I, Waters RL. Late complications of the weight-bearing upper extremity in the paraplegic patient, by “20 years postinjury, all patients had complaints of shoulder pain”. Something to look forward to, eh?

I know why my shoulders hurt today. They hurt because I lifted weights on Friday, after two and a half weeks of doing nothing—nothing, that is, except taking an 8 day business trip that included working second shift every day (until midnight), getting a bladder infection, doing a round of antibiotics, and following that up with an ovarian cyst the night before I flew home.

These painful shoulders are showing me the future. It hurts to cook, and to wash dishes. It hurts to haul my ass upstairs from the basement (my triceps hurt, too). It hurts to pick up my 7 pound cat off the table for the 5,000th time (“Cat, you’re not allowed on the table!”). It hurts to get in and out of the car.

I’m not in denial about shoulder overuse. My stove and sink are lowered. I won’t to buy a car (minivan or SUV) that involves transferring upwards, even though I can’t find anything low that I can fit a racing chair and a handcycle into. But at the same time I race. I hear guys say all the time that racing is stupid, handcycling is the future, because racing will blow out your shoulders. I lift weights. Where’s the line between trying to get strong enough to live your life comfortably (oh, all right, and show off your biceps), and trying not to do something stupid to your shoulders?



  1. Laurel

    Uh, what line? Not lifting weights is a great way to injure your shoulders, because then the joint will be stressed instead of the muscle.

    On the other hand, if you’re experiencing joint pain in your workouts, something’s wrong.

  2. wheelchairdancer

    Ohhhh. Shoulders. I’m all about showing off my muscles … smirk. But I think @Laurel is onto something. I’ve done a really bad job in the past distinguishing between muscle and joint wears, tears, and injuries. Figuring some of that out has made a difference in the way I train, dance and move through the world.

    I’d love to have a heads-together conversation about pushing, too. Different pushes different shoulder movements…


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