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Shoulder Pain with CrossFit: Why does my shoulder hurt with pull-ups?

If you’ve experienced shoulder pain with pull-ups, it’s likely you’ve experienced pain in your teres major. Teres major strains are often confused with a lat strain, and for good reason; the teres major is effectively a miniature lat.

CrossFit Shoulder Pain Pull-up Teres Major

They share the same motion - to move your arm behind, rotate in towards the body, and bring your arm towards your body. And they sit right beside each other. They’ve even been shown to fuse at the tendon insertion site.

When performing workouts that include movements hanging from a pull-up bar, the teres major works to bring your upper arm close to your body as your pull yourself up. Injuries during this portion of the movement as less common than with kipping movements. When performing kipping pull-ups, butterfly pull-ups, toes to bar, or muscle-ups, the teres major undergoes a large stretch in the “arch” position and quickly contracts to complete the movement. The large amount of load in the stretched position coupled with the speed of contraction is often the cause of injury, especially in a muscle that is sore, stiff, and not properly warmed up.

CrossFit Shoulder Pain Pull-up Teres Major

To locate your teres major, press along the bottom angle of your shoulder blade and trace out towards your armpit. This thick band of tissue is your teres major. There is typically a trigger point around the bottom angle of your shoulder blade. Teres major pain may be present in this area along with a diffuse ache in the shoulder and even some referral down your upper arm, above the elbow.

Teres major injuries typically do very well with conservative treatment. This muscle heals quickly due to receiving good blood flow and responds quickly to manual therapy. Restoring range of motion and progressively strengthening the area are the major components of a good rehab program.

CrossFit Shoulder Pain Pull-up Teres Major

Self treatment options include self myofascial release and isolated loading to the area. Here are a few ways to improve mobility in this area and increase strength.

These movements can help to begin restoring strength and mobility to the area but should not be a substitute for a well progressed rehab program. If you believe you have experienced a teres major strain or tear, you should seek care from a licensed medical provider.

We frequently see teres major strains at EVO Performance Therapy and are able to quickly identify and treat this issue. Visit our website at to self schedule an in-person evaluation or remote consultation or text/call 615-266-5599. We’re happy to answer questions and provide a free consultation if you’re unsure if we are the right fit for you!


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