The shoulder is a really complex joint, and although the diagnostic tests all “look normal” it does not mean everything is normal. Also, the current field of medicine doesn’t know everything - Every patient is different, and the medical opinion of today is not necessarily the medical opinion of tomorrow.
I have had shoulder issues since adolescence - Both of my shoulders used to have a partial posterior dislocation on the slightest medial pressure (Think arm wrestling or doing dumbbell flies, only 10lbs would pop them out). I’ve had 2 MRIs, a dozen x-rays, and about as many consultations - The consensus is “I don’t know” or “weak surrounding musculature”
The physical therapy I was on was high rep internal and external rotations, front/lateral/posterior raises, and a bunch of shoulder stabilizing work. [Total time: 1 year. Total benefit: zilch] This really put me off of lifting for several years, as my shoulders really held back my ability to lift weights, and it looked like it would never get better despite following the expert’s advice.
In addition to my shoulders, I also have 2 herniated disks from being stupid (playing neighborhood tackle football with no gear, and lifting things like a tard). From these injuries, I had constant back pain - 5hrs of standing up left me hunched over and I wouldn’t be able to straighten out again.
At this point, my doctors all told me to pop some pills for life or get surgery. Considering surgery for either of my problems was not guaranteed to help, I decided to drastically alter plan of action. I decided to come up with my own therapy plan. I read up on the shoulder joint, the spine, and other people’s stories on how they went about fixing their pain. After a bit of research, I had an understanding of the structure and pathology of my problems, but no clear cut way of solving them. It was time to get to work.
I went to the gym and focused on 100% proper technique while maintaining a pain-free workout; however, I did not stick with the 15+ rep regimen the physical therapists laid out. I switched from a high rep to a low/mid rep range and just did whatever weight I could do without causing pain or dislocations.
At first, the weights I was using were pathetic - lateral raises with a 5lb dumbbell, lat pulldowns with 100lbs, etc. If I felt a hint of pathological pain I stopped the exercise I was doing and gave it a rest. And at this point, my back was still way too stiff and painful to do squats or deadlifts, but a year later, I added them as well.
By trying something that my doctors thought was crazy, I was able to completely heal my back - I haven’t had back pain in 7-8 months. My left shoulder does not dislocate at all, although I do have pain with some movements (And I know enough not to increase the weight through this sort of pain). My right shoulder still dislocates if I raise it over my head or apply medial pressure. If I stabilize it properly, I feel no pain and I can do other lifts quite well. [A strange note is my right arm/shoulder is stronger than my left, even though my right shoulder still dislocates]
After 2 years of trying this approach, including 1 year of organized training(Thanks T-Nation), my current lifts are:
Deadlift - 325 lbs
Back Squat - 295
Front Squat - 245
Bench - 215 (Stresses my shoulders more than any other major lift)
Military press - 175
Chins - BW + 30 (230)
Dips - BW + 70 (270)
Row - 190
My internal/external rotation with the cable pulley increased from 10/5 lbs to 60/40 with no dislocations or pain. (Rep range 8-10)
Physical Stats: 23 years old, 5’9", 200 lbs (I still have quite a bit to go physique wise) The numbers listed are for singles and doubles, but I do not do all-out 1RM work because I do not want to risk my form breaking down.
I realize I still have some muscle imbalances, but I am working to correct these issues. Every day I walk into the gym, I remind myself of the injuries I have and always ensure my form is as close to perfect as possible.
If you have an injury, I would always go with the doctors’ opinions first, and if they tell you that you’re screwed, you need to research it on your own, and try reasonable approaches that address the problem without causing pain. The key to the do-it-yourself approach is you need to have a good connection with (and understanding of) your body, you need to understand the limits your injuries put on you in the weight room, and the consequences of doing further damage if you are not careful.