Pain in the Front of Shoulder When Lifting Arm

Your pain pattern,
What aggravates it,
How to get relief,
and more…


How People Describe This Pain Pattern

People complain of pain in the front of the shoulder when lifting the elbow above the shoulder or back at shoulder level. This pain is less distinct and focused unless the person has a specific activity that they need to do and cannot adapt to their movement. For instance, one case was a weightlifting enthusiast who could not incline bench or do front dumbbell raises above shoulder level. Another case was a woman who could not reach up to get plates off of a high shelf that she could reach before.

People may complain primarily of pain in the upper forearm. There aren’t many muscles that have a focus of pain in this area, but when it occurs, it is often pectoralis minor or the sternal division of pectoralis major.



How You Activate and Intensify This Pain Pattern

Communicating effectively from thecommongood.org

These days, this problem is most common among students that carry a backpack. It can create some blunt trauma to the pectoralis minor while trying to flex it to keep the backpack on. This problem can also be created by slumping at a low desk or pushing down. One client who had this problem performed ultra-sounds all day while seated and pressing down.

Another more recent problem is that this muscle is overstretched instead of being short and strong. Leaning forward on your elbows is common and creates a complex problem of high and tight shoulders supported by changes in musculoskeletal patterns. There is a simple, effective solution for this in the self-care section for this trigger point.

In severe cases, this muscle compresses the neurovascular bundle that feeds the arm contributing to thoracic outlet syndrome. In this case, weakness or swelling occurs in the arm and hand along with the restriction in raising the arm up or back.


The Musculoskeletal Anatomy Behind Your Pain

This small fan-shaped muscle is an important part of the thoracic outlet and the ability to swing by the arms.

You can read more in this post about the anatomy of pectoralis minor.

Very Similar Pain Pattern, Different Muscle

This trigger point also creates sharp pain when reaching up or forward. It is a different muscle with very different self-care for relief.


Getting Relief on Your Own

Clinically Proven
Self-Care Recommendations.

This post has strategies for getting relief on your own. Explore how to change your activities, stretch, and other strategies that relieve the pain associated with this trigger point.


Treatment Notes for Therapists

Better Bodywork
Through Shared Expertise.

This post has techniques, tips, treatment routines, and anatomy illustrations to improve the bodyworker’s approach.


This site is undergoing changes. Starting in early 2020, we began changing the format of the posts to include more extensive self-care, illustrations, therapist notes, anatomy, and protocols. We’d love your feedback. We are adding posts and converting the old posts as quickly as time permits.


Weekly Featured Post

Optimizing Tension for
the Best Day Ever

This post explores this idea and optimizing the ever-present tension in our lives for our best performance.

Tony Preston has a practice in Atlanta, Georgia where he sees clients. He has written and taught about anatomy, trigger points and cranial therapies since the mid-90s.

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