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Sharp Pain in Front of Shoulder, with Tight Low Back

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

How People Describe This Pain Pattern

People complain of pain in the shoulder that is sharp and sudden when reaching up and/or forward. This may occur during a tennis serve or when getting something off of a high shelf. Also. this is aggravated when a dog yanks forward on the leash. This creates sharp pain in the shoulder at the end of the stretch in exercises like pullovers and seated triceps extensions.

These people may complain of pain in the shoulder while sleeping on that side, especially when the arm is pulled up and forward so that the border of the latissumus dorsi is pressed into the ribs. Some say they can only be comfortable sleeping on their stomach, as the low back pain may wake them as well.

The low back referral is usually described as “stiffness” or restricted motion when bending to the opposite side. It is seldom described as pain, except when this chronic. Or when the muscle is compressed by sitting in a hard-back chair or sleeping on it.

Often, these people have already tried several things, including stretches, exercises, and therapy, without success. This muscle is often missed in assessing shoulder problems and low back problems as it is not thought of as being either. When the right combination of moves occurs, this muscle unexpectedly stretches, the shoulder pain is sharp, and the low back is stiff.

How You Activate and Intensify This Pain Pattern

This is usually activated by some activity that jerks the arm up and forward, like jerking pull-ups. Also, when you allow the top end of a pull-down motion to bounce as it stretches. It can also be activated by reaching up to grab for support as you are falling into a seat.

Once it is activated, activities that press down, like weeding, stuffing a sleeping bag into its bag, or pressing into the arms of a chair to get up, may become aggravating.

Also, activities like pitching or reaching into a high cabinet can produce a sudden, sharp pain. So, if you’re scheduled to go on American Ninja Warrior, you’re going in the water with a boatload of pain.

The Musculoskeletal Anatomy Behind Your Pain

Very Similar Pain Pattern, Different Muscle

Musculoskeletal Anatomy

About these Illustrations…

This broad, flat muscle attaches to almost every bone in the axial skeleton below T6 as well as the pelvis. Read more in this post about latissimus dorsi anatomy.

Very Similar Pain Pattern, Different Muscle

This trigger point produces almost the same pain pattern in front of the shoulder when reaching forward. It is a different muscle with very different self-care. Take a look at this post.

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.