How to Treat Trigger Points in Shoulder
Trigger points can be a major cause of pain in the shoulder. They can also cause stiffness and loss of movement. There’s some good reasons why we get trigger points in the shoulder, and understanding how this joint works will help with successfully getting rid of shoulder trigger points.
The shoulder joint is one of the most mobile in the human body. It has an incredible range of motion – and is vital to how we function as human beings.
The way that the shoulder gets this great flexibility comes from the way the shoulder joint is constructed.
In most joints, there is a socket and ball arrangement, where the bone end has a smooth rounded ball-like end, covered with cartilage, and this fits into a rounded bowl or socket in the other bone. The ball rotates neatly inside the socket and that is how the joint moves.
The shoulder joint is slightly different though. Because it is so mobile, a deep socket for the humerus (the bone of the upper arm) to fit into would restrict its movement. So the shoulder has a very shallow cup, and the humerus keeps minimal contact with this cup as you move your arm around.
So – how does this joint get stability and strength? This is where the muscles of the rotator cuff come into the picture. These four muscles (the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis) do a subtle and difficult job.
As you go through a vast range of movement – from swinging a baseball bat to typing, they work together to balance the humerus in the joint. They need to constantly adjust their tension so that your arm bone will always sit in the joint socket at the optimum angle – even when you’re moving through a 200 degree movement.
So, once you have this picture in your mind, it’s easy to see why the shoulder joint can get so many trigger point and muscle problems.
Let’s recap – you have a series of muscles that need to do complex and difficult tasks. They’re working throughout the day. They need to compensate for very fine as well as very powerful movements (think writing vs. pressups.)
And when you combine this with the fact that a lot of us have bad posture it’s obvious why trigger points in the shoulder are very common and cause pain in many people.
So what can you do about shoulder trigger points? There’s two main areas to look at:
treating the triggers themselves. And
treating the underlying causes.
Let’s look at these in a bit more detail. Supposing you had a fall. You saved yourself by throwing out your arm and catching yourself just above the ground. That quick movement saved yourself from hitting your head, but the wrenched at your arm. This set off trigger points and pain in your shoulder. Figure out how to treat those trigger points and you’re cured.
Now, let’s look at a slightly different scenario. Supposing you work in an office. Every day, you sit for 8 hours in front of a computer. And as the day goes on, you start to slump forwards. Your spine is in an uncomfortable curve, and you compensate by hunching your shoulders and leaning your neck forwards.
You have pain in your shoulders, and when you examine them more closely, you find many trigger points in your upper trapezius and levator scapulae muscles. Now, you can and should go ahead and treat these triggers. But unless you look at the underlying problem and do something about it (like get a different chair, or a back rest, or take frequent breaks to adjust your posture) you’ll continue to get trigger points. They may go away for some time, but they’ll always come back.