A Guide to Common CrossFit Shoulder Injuries and the Available Treatment Options

by AZ Pain Doctors, on Sep 15, 2021 9:04:00 AM

Did you know that the shoulder is the most common injury in CrossFitters? Overall injury rates in CrossFit are not higher than in other sports, but they all tend to center around this sensitive joint.

If you, like so many people, are addicted to CrossFit, it's important to stay aware of your shoulders. Addressing shoulder pain as soon as it pops up is the best way to prevent more serious shoulder injuries. However, sometimes injuries can't be prevented and recovery is the only way through.

In the spirit of making the rehab and treatment process more transparent, we put together this guide to common CrossFit shoulder injuries and their treatments. Read on to learn all about it! 

Why Are Shoulder Injuries So Common?

The shoulder is the most flexible joint in the body. The range of motion in your shoulder allows you to move your arm in almost every direction. Compare your shoulder to your knee which only bends in one direction, and you'll see what we mean. 

Your arm is attached to its socket primarily through muscles. This allows for great flexibility but also makes it susceptible to tears, strains, and more. Many gyms favor volume rather than intensity, meaning it's very easy to overwork your shoulder muscles, which can cause them to tear and give out.

In addition, many gyms have a culture of toughness where athletes are considered strong only if they push through injury and pain. Sure, this might make you tough, but it also makes you prone to overuse injury resulting in months at home on the couch! Listening to your body's warning signs is the best way to stay active and tough in the long term. 


Rotator Cuff Injuries 

Your rotator cuff is a set of four tendons that stabilize the joint. Specifically, they help stabilize overhead arm movements. Considering how much lifting and overhead motion CrossFit demands, these tendons get a lot of use! 

In addition, your tendons adapt to exercise much more slowly than your muscles. While your muscles strengthen and adapt (relatively quickly), your tendons have less blood flow and strengthen over time. So while your muscles might be able to handle heavy weights and lots of reps, your tendons are less willing!

Shoulder impingement is a common result of overworking your rotator cuff, as are rotator cuff tears. Impingement is when one of the tendons gets stuck or pinched between the bones of the shoulder, resulting in pain.


You can prevent rotator cuff injuries by maintaining proper form. If you notice your form slipping, it's probably due to your tendons getting tired. Either back off the weight or take some time off and rest. 

Remember, it's better to take a few days off than to get injured and have to take a few months off. 


Your first stop when you experience shoulder pain should be a pain management specialist. Your pain could be the sign of a serious injury, or it could be the warning sign that a serious injury is on the way. The earlier you catch an injury, the quicker your recovery. 

If you catch it early, your treatment can be simple as rest, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, and physical therapy for shoulder injuries. In addition, cortisone injections and other treatment methods can help reduce pain and promote healing. 


Bursitis is the inflammation of a fluid-filled sac known as a bursa sac. Bursa sacs are in almost any joint, meaning that you can experience this condition almost anywhere. However, for CrossFitters, the shoulder is the most common.

The bursa sac is intended to reduce friction and absorb impact in the joint. Repetitive movements can cause these sacs to get inflamed. In addition, if your tendons are over-stressed or you're over 40, your bursa sacs will end up absorbing more impact. 

Bursitis results in extreme pain in the joint. Your joint might also be stiff, swollen, or even red. Sometimes bursitis is sudden, sometimes it has a slower onset. 


Bursitis isn't always preventable, but you can take a few steps to reduce local joint stress. Start slow and build up your routine, don't rush into tons of volume and heavy weights. This is especially important if you're starting a new exercise. 

In addition, make sure to back off if you experience any pain, and take frequent breaks. 


Bursitis is a fairly simple injury to treat, especially if you diagnose it early. Stop by your pain clinic for confirmation, but usually, treatment can be as easy as ice, rest, and over-the-counter painkillers. 

As with all CrossFit injuries, if you ignore the pain and let it get more severe, treatment might be more complex so make sure to check in with your doctor as soon as you notice something's wrong. 

Cartilage Tear

Around the rim of your shoulder joint is a layer of cartilage, padding for impact and motion. You can easily tear your cartilage with the same repetitive motions or during a fall. In addition, absorbing lots of force can cause a cartilage tear making it one of the most common shoulder injuries during CrossFit. 

You'll notice pain when you raise your arms above your head, a feeling of weakness, and a catching or locking sensation. 


Maintaining good form and posture is the best way to keep proper shoulder function. In addition, make sure you warm up properly so your muscles are ready to absorb the force of your exercise.


Cartilage is a low blood flow tissue in the body, which means it has a slow healing time. Usually, it can be treated with rest and physical therapy, however, cortisone and PRP injections have some proven benefits for speeding up recovery in these kinds of cartilage injuries. 

Checking in with a pain specialist is the best way to form a treatment plan, as cartilage tears can vary in severity. 

Treat Your CrossFit Pain and Shoulder Injuries 

The shoulder is a delicate and complicated joint. An expert will be able to assess your condition and give you the best treatment plan for your shoulder injuries. If you're looking for expert pain care in Arizona, look no further than AZ Pain Doctors.

Our professionals have seen everything and can treat your CrossFit aches and pains, so you can be back in the gym quickly! Schedule your first appointment today and see how good you can feel! 

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Topics:shoulder injuries