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Pain in the Front of Shoulder When Lifting Arm

Trigger point pain post includes

  • how people describe this problem
  • activities that create or aggravate the trigger point
  • links to relief through self-care, anatomy, and massage notes

Want to skip ahead?
Here’s a link to my post about
getting relief on your own.

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 are only a few trigger points that have a focus of pain in this area. So, when it occurs, it is often pectoralis minor or the sternal division of pectoralis major.

Labored Breathing

Occasionally, athletes get this pain during labored breathing. This muscle helps expand the rib cage to increase capacity. usually, this pain lasts for only a short time until the breathing calms.

How You Activate and Intensify This Pain Pattern

These days, this problem is most common among students that carry a backpack. It can create some blunt trauma to the pectoralis minor while flexing it to keep the backpack on.

Also, this problem can 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.

Leaning on Elbows

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.

Throacic Outlet

This muscle compresses the neurovascular bundle that feeds the arm contributing to thoracic outlet syndrome in severe cases. 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 Strategies

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.

Therapy Notes for Massage and Bodywork

Better Bodywork
Through Shared Expertise

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

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Tony Preston has a practice in Atlanta, Georgia, where he sees clients. He has written materials and instructed classes since the mid-90s. This includes anatomy, trigger points, cranial, and neuromuscular.

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*This site is undergoing significant changes. We are reformatting and expanding the posts to make them easier to read. The result will also be more accessible and include more patterns with better self-care. Meanwhile, there may be formatting, content presentation, and readability inconsistencies. Until we get older posts updated, please excuse our mess.