The Shoulder Pain Solution

A review of Shoulder Pain? The Solution & Prevention by John M. Kirsch, MD

If you need a shoulder pain solution, all you need is frequent prolonged brachiation, which is a scientific term for hanging from a bar.  

So says John M. Kirsch, MD, a board certified orthopedic Surgeon in his book Shoulder Pain? The Solution and Prevention.  

In this book, Dr. Kirsch explains that brachiation – hanging from a bar – not only heals injured shoulders, it also prevents shoulder problems and relieves back pain.  

Go hang yourself, for shoulder health!  

I've been a strong advocate of performing hanging exercises in the form of vertical pulling – primarily chin ups – for a long time.  I knew hanging was beneficial for the shoulders before a friend introduced this book to me but I was not aware that hanging can solve and prevent most of the shoulder pain and dysfunction problems that occur.   

Kirsch's book explains how and why hanging from rings or an overhead pull up bar can prevent and fix the most common shoulder problems, including those that are often treated surgically but with little success. 

Read this book to learn why people who have shoulder impingement, frozen shoulder, shoulder osteoarthritis and rotator cuff injuries should go hang themselves, from their hands. 

What Kind of Shoulder Injury Is Solved by the Shoulder Pain Solution?

People seeking a shoulder pain solution make an estimated 4.5 million annual visits to physicians and expenditures for shoulder pain relief account for about $3 billion each year in the U.S.A. alone.1  The most common diagnosis for shoulder pain is shoulder impingement syndrome (accounting for 44-70% of patients), and this complaint has annual direct medical costs estimated at more than $1 billion in the US.1

The most common conventional treatment for this problem is a surgical procedure called subacromial decompression, wherein the surgeon smooths the undersurface of the acromion to decompress passage of the rotator cuff tendon. Subacromial decompression is one of the most frequently performed orthopedic surgeries in the world.  However, a multi center, randomized, double blind, placebo surgery controlled trial found that arthroscopic subacromial decompression for shoulder impingement syndrome "provided no benefit over diagnostic arthroscopy" at 2 years of follow up.1  In other words, arthroscopic surgery had no benefit over arthroscopic diagnosis (placebo) alone.

In his own case and in his practice as an orthopedic surgeon Kirsch has found that brachiation, which has practically no cost to the patient, provides a shoulder pain solution not only for subacromial decompression, but also for

  • shoulder arthritis (osteoarthritis)
  • rotator cuff tears
  • frozen shoulder

Kirsch's Personal Shoulder Pain Solution

Kirsch came to understand the shoulder pain solution by personal experience.  He developed shoulder impingement syndrome as a consequence of performing  many arthroscopic knee surgeries that required him to hold his arms in one position for long hours.  One day he was hiking in a park with his two young boys when they came across a horizontal ladder apparatus.  His two boys grabbed the overhead ladder and swung from end-to-end like monkeys, but he was unable to reach overhead to grab the rungs due to his shoulder pain.  

"And then I sensed that the reason I could not do the ladder was because I had not been doing it!  I had not been hanging or brachiating.  If you want to be able to do something you must do it.  If you want to run a marathon, you must run and run and run.  The same is true of the shoulder.  If you want to be able to use your arm for overhead activity, you must use the arm for overhead activity.  In the words of F.J. Kottke, a noted exercise physiologist: 'Normal motion in joints and soft tissue is maintained by normal movement of the parts of the body which elongate and stretch joint capsules, muscles, subcutaneous tissues and ligaments through the full range of motion many times each day.'"

The same principles apply to every other joint in the body.  To restore joint function and keep joints functioning throughout their natural full range of motion, you must use their full range of motion.  This is why I use full range of motion in all exercises I perform and prescribe full range of motion resistance exercise as well as time-efficient mobility training to all of my online coaching clients.  

Strength without mobility is stiff and brittle;

mobility without strength is limp and weak.

– Don Matesz –

Kirsch concluded that without overhead arm activity, the space between the acromion and the humorous undergoes slow contracture resulting in degenerative changes.  These changes underlie shoulder impingement syndrome, osteoarthritis, frozen shoulder, and also shoulder soft tissue tears (rotator cuff, labrum, etc.).  

Kirsch started hanging from a bar daily and doing basic ROM exercises for his shoulders.  Within a few days his shoulders felt better; within 2 weeks he had much less pain and after about 3 months his shoulder pain was gone.

Then he suffered a full tear of the supraspinatus tendon of the rotator cuff when knocked down by two large dogs.  Due to the full tear, he could not raise his arm overhead.  A surgeon friend recommended immediate surgery.

Instead of surgery, he chose to hang from the bar:

"This exercise was accompanied by painful crunching and grinding in the shoulder. Initially I could barely lift the arm to the horizon.  Then I attached some elastic bands to the ceiling and used them to pull my arm up.  I gradually began helping the elastic bands lift my arm.  This gradually strengthened my arm and after some months of hanging and weight lifting I could lift a 10-lb weight 150 times to a full overhead position each day.  I was once again able to play tennis with a strong accurate serve using the arm with the large rotator cuff tear."

Kirsch shares stories of patients he has helped overcome shoulder disability by hanging from a bar and lifting weights through a full range of shoulder motion. He has proven his shoulder pain solution in his medical practice.

Not A Shoulder Panacea

Kirsch warns that the hanging exercise is not a panacea.  He does not recommend it for those in precarious health or severe osteoporosis.  He also recommends that people who have had a previous shoulder dislocation or instability exercise some caution in undertaking a regimen of hanging.

I agree with Dr. Kirsch when he says that everyone who wants healthy shoulders should be hanging on a regular basis.  I highly recommend this book to everyone. 


1. Paavola M, Malmivaara A, Taimela S, et al. Subacromial decompression versus diagnostic arthroscopy for shoulder impingement: randomised, placebo surgery controlled clinical trial. BMJ. 2018;362:k2860. Published 2018 Jul 19. doi:10.1136/bmj.k2860

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