Why are above the shoulder exercises causing nausea and dizziness?
July 26, 2008 3:51 PM   Subscribe

I sometimes get nauseous and dizzy after doing exercises that involve having my arms doing something above my shoulders. What could be going on?

I first discovered this problem this winter when I had to walk out of a step class because I was convinced that I was about to faint. We'd been waving and clapping our hand straight above our heads for the past couple of minutes.
Later, when I started taking the weightlifting group class, I had the same problem whenever we started doing shoulder presses and similar exercises above the head.
Today, I had to leave the gym because I started feeling nauseous after doing shoulder presses on the machine.

Relevant (?) details:
- I've been exercising regularly for a few years now, and this isn't the same way that I feel after a really intense workout. Instead of feeling exhausted but somehow "stronger", I feel weak and empty.
- My blood pressure is normal.
- I've fainted once before, but I can recognize the warning signs and this has kept me from it happening again. However, I have dizzy spells a few times a week. My dad is the same.
- This feeling comes if I've been doing something before the shoulder exercise. When the trainer showed me the shoulder press machine and I did just one set, I was fine. Same when I did the exercises out of order and did them first.
- I've mentioned this problem to the trainers at the gym before, and both of them waived it off and just said to avoid doing the exercises.

So does anyone have any idea what could be causing this and why? I realize that the easy answer is to do the shoulder press right after I warm up so that I'm not tired when I do it. I've also stopped doing all the arm movements in step. But I would really like to get to the bottom of this so that I can resume exercising like a regular person...
posted by snoogles to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: And of course, I will talk to my doctor at my next checkup. It's not really a big enough issue to specifically make an appointment for though.
posted by snoogles at 3:58 PM on July 26, 2008

Vanderbilt Autonomic Dysfunction Center
My son has an autonomic disorder and will easily faint when rising from a sitting position, especially in movies -- almost guaranteed to if he raises his arms above his head. We met with these people earlier this year after "standard" fixes didn't fix the problem, and things seemed to be getting worse rather than better. First step for you, however, is your local physician. Once you turn yourself into the doctor -- and you go through the increasing salt in your diet program, plus a possible medication or two - you may be sent here -- bottom line -- no fixes -- but it's not life threatening either. In the words of their Dr Raj-- should you start to feel faint, "Go to ground immediately!" You may also want to wear a medic alert bracelet so that should you faint, you are not treated or judged inappropriately. For what it's worth when my sone does faint it is usually less than a minute -- only a few times have been longer.

Good Luck!
posted by peace_love_hope at 4:36 PM on July 26, 2008

Two other possibilities: subclavian steal syndrome or cervical rib. Either should be easy for your doc to test out.
posted by adoarns at 8:18 PM on July 26, 2008

Subclavian steal?
posted by neuron at 8:19 PM on July 26, 2008

you may have orthostatic hypotension--a drop in blood pressure caused by a change in position. most people feel it when they stand up too fast and get a bit dizzy. talk to your doctor about this. it's not dangerous, except insofar as fainting in uncontrolled environments is uncomfortable and embarrassing.
posted by thinkingwoman at 12:08 AM on July 27, 2008

Wow, I have almost exactly the same issue (can't raise my hands over my head when my heart rate's elevated or else I feel faint; frequent dizzy spells most often after I get out of bed) and never knew what it was. Thinkingwoman's suggestion of orthostatic hypotension sounds right on the money. The wikipedia article says there's medicinal ways of treating it (which seem extreme to me, personally) and also has more common sense ways of dealing with it.
posted by pised at 11:11 AM on July 27, 2008

You say that your blood pressure is normal, but if Canadian medical folks have the same attitudes that US ones do it could actually be low. My blood pressure used to be on the low side of normal, and people checking it would usually get excited about this and occasionally congratulate me as if this was some sort of personal accomplishment. I was always told not to worry about my BP, that it was fabulous and wonderful and perfectly fine.

Low blood pressure, or even BP on the low end of the ¨normal¨ range can cause symptoms like you have described. Make sure you are getting enough sodium and potassium in your diet and drinking enough water, and sit down (on the floor if that´s the only spot handy) if you start to feel dizzy. You can be injured by this if you pass out and hit your head, and that´s also much more embarrassing than sitting down on the floor, so don´t be put off from sitting even if it´s not socially appropriate at that moment.
posted by yohko at 2:12 PM on July 27, 2008

I've had this problem since I was young, and it's because I have a cervical rib (an extra rib in my neck) that compresses the brachial plexus. Do you find you sometimes lose feeling in your hands? That symptom is what led to the x-ray that found my extra rib.
posted by subbes at 6:25 PM on July 29, 2008

« Older How much do the tech specs of HDTV's matter?   |   Recommend a miracle-worker hairstylist for men in... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.