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Avoid This Common Gym Injury With One Easy Trick


A very common gym injury is a pulled muscle at the junction of the neck and the shoulder. Anyone who has done this knows that once it happens, it is pretty hard to turn their neck. This injury is pretty reliably due to a form issue… but it isn’t what most people think. Everyone knows that you shouldn’t be in a weird or contorted position if you are going to lift something heavy, but did you know that if you look from side to side, even with just your eyes, you are unbalancing your spinal muscles? To put it very simply, there is a neurological circuit that connects the muscles of your eyes with the balance centers in your inner ear and the muscles of your neck. {try this if you don’t believe it to be true- stick your fingers into the muscles at the base of your skull where your head meets your neck. If you move your eyes back and forth while keeping your head still, you should feel the muscles in your upper neck contract and relax}.

In Yoga, the still point of the eyes is called a Drishti. If you practice Yoga you already know that moving your eyes around destabilizes your balance and will cause you to fall over. This is the system at play in this pesky injury. If you work out with a trainer or a friend and you shift your eyes to the side to look at them while you are loading your system…. pop! You just pulled a muscle because you were asking the “big” muscles to pull really hard while you asked something completely different of your “small” muscles (the ones that are controlled involuntarily by your balance system). This is a particular problem when pushing up over your head such as one would when doing a military press or incline bench.

How to avoid the injury then.

  1. For symmetrical lifting activities pick a spot on the wall in front of you and look at it when you are doing your reps. Do not look around.
  2. When you can’t avoid lifting something to the side, like when using a medicine ball or in an airplane when you are putting your bag overhead, look at what you are lifting. This is how the system is designed and sets up far less conflict in the firing patterns of your musculature vs. say lifting something on the right while looking to the left. Eyes on the ball!

If you do hurt yourself like this (and I have done it a few times myself) it is important to be evaluated by a professional so that you know it is nothing more serious like a disc injury, but chances are it is a pulled muscle and it will take a week or so to resolve. It is imperative to keep normal motion in the joint.  Once cleared of a serious injury, do range of motion exercises and perhaps get a chiropractic adjustment while it is healing so as to ensure normal joint function…but a pulled muscle is a pulled muscle…. 7 or so days. I see this quite frequently in the office. Almost every time it is from the same thing (though one can also do this when flipping over in bed, using the head and neck as a lever) and it is usually completely avoidable. If you include a bit of yogic principal and keep a focal point, you will be much less likely to end up sitting in my reception room unable to turn your neck.

Peter W. McManus, D.C.

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A bit about me… I am a Graduate of Palmer Chiropractic College (Iowa 1995) and am now in practice in Lincoln Park, Chicago. I have trained in various topics- neurology, sports injury, gait analysis, rehabilitation, treatment of extremities, standards of practice, whiplash injuries and various other topics since I have been in practice. I have worked closely with university health clinics and hospital rehabilitation departments in Boston and have lectured to state regulatory agencies as an expert in standards of practice and have been a teaching participant in the orthopedics rotation of family practice medical doctors. I specialize in traditional treatment methodologies and I firmly believe that  a combination of rehabilitation and a proper short care plan of chiropractic treatment is the best approach for almost any musculo-skeletal condition.   Visit www.drpetermcmanus.com or www.facebook.com/PeterWilliamMcManusDc for more information or to subscribe to my free monthly newsletter and to stay plugged in with its healthy tips and current relevant research links.

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