Deltoid Muscle Pain & Trigger Points

The deltoid muscle is one of the troublemakers when it comes to shoulder pain.

It also may be responsible for your impingement syndrome.

This muscle builds the top layer of your shoulder joint.

1. Pain Patterns & Symptoms of Deltoid Trigger Points

1.1 Pain patterns

As you can see in the pictures below, pain created by trigger points in the deltoid muscle is mainly felt in your arm and shoulder.

Here, pain will arise in the vicinity of the trigger points.

That means, if trigger points are located at the front, side or back part of the muscle, you also will experience pain in the front, side or back part of the muscle and shoulder, respectively.

That information will make it easier for you to find out, where trigger points are located.

You may also study the location of the trigger points – X1 to X6 – under attachment points of the muscle.

The muscle can be involved in the following symptoms:

Note: Do not forget to also check other muscles for trigger points when your shoulder is painful.

It is very seldom that trigger points in the deltoids are the primary reason for shoulder pain.

More often other shoulder muscles are the main troublemakers.

Pain patterns visualization


Pain pattern front part


Pain pattern middle part


Pain pattern back part

1.2 Impaired or painful movements

If you have a very tight deltoid or one that harbors tender or trigger points, you may be confronted with some difficulties in your activities of daily living.

Combing your hair, reaching to your mouth or lifting your arm may become very painful if trigger or tender points are present.

Even a lack of strength in the affected shoulder and arm is a common symptom when you have tender or trigger points in this muscle.

2. Attachment & Trigger Points of the Deltoid Muscle

The deltoid can be separated into three regions.

A frontal, middle and back division.

All three parts fuse together at the outside of your humerus/upper arm.

The origin of the front part is the outer part of your calvicle/collarbone, the middle part comes from your acromion and the back part originates from your spine of scapula.

3. Functions of the Deltoid Muscle

Together, the three parts abduct your shoulder – whereas the middle part is the most active one during this movement –.

The frontal part helps to elevate/raise your arm in front of you and rotates your shoulder medially.

The back part participates in the extension of your shoulder and rotates it laterally.

Visualizations of its functions








Medial rotation


Lateral rotation

4. Trigger Point Activation in the Deltoid Muscle

In general, activities or movements that require a forceful, repeated or consistent lifting of your arm, can overwork the deltoid which in turn can develop tender or trigger points.

Such activities may be

  • Volleyball and tennis serves
  • Rock climbing
  • Prolonged overhead work with tools like a pad sander
  • Weight lifting – e.g. heavy shoulder exercises –

5. Palpation of the Deltoid muscle

Locating your deltoid muscle and its three parts is fairly easy as it is the top muscle layer of your shoulder joint.

It covers your shoulder from the front over the side to the back.

Just place your hand on your shoulder joint and then start the three movements that activate the muscle.

  • raise your arm
  • spread your arm
  • extend your shoulder – bring it backwards –

I really think you will not have any problems at all to feel the muscle.


To feel its front part, place your opposite hand on your shoulder and lift it a flex it a few times.

Search with your hand for the little muscle that is contracting with that movement.


To feel its middle part, place your hand on the outside of your shoulder and lift your arm to the side.


Last but not least we will palpate its back part.

To do so, place your hand in the rear area of your shoulder, directly over your arm pit. Then extend your shoulder a few times.

While doing so, you will feel the muscle contracting under your fingers.

6. Self-massage of the Deltoid Muscle

For the self-massage I recommend a hard massage ball.

You will be massaging mainly three different parts.

You probably can imagine, those three parts will be exactly the ones that the deltoid muscle consists of.

  • Place the ball on the part you want to massage.
  • Then push against a wall. In order to find tender or trigger points, start rolling over the desired area.
  • When you find a tender spot, stay there for a while and work it a couple of times.
  • As always, use slow and deep strokes for massage.

6.1 Massage of the front part

  • Place the ball in the front section of your shoulder
  • Bend your knees and lean against a wall
  • Slowly roll over this area and search for tender points.
  • Massage every point with a couple of slow massage strokes.

I am sorry to say that I have no picture of this position. Thus, I will create a video soon, so you can see how to massage this area.

6.2 Massage of the middle part

Here again, I recommend a massage ball.

  • Place it on the outside of your shoulder and roll over the upper half of your upper arm.
  • This way, you will search for painful muscle tissue and massage it with a couple of strokes.
  • While doing so, make sure to keep your shoulder relaxed, and let it “hang loose”.

6.3 Massage of the back part

Again the ball is your tool to go.

  • This time place it right in the area where you just palpated the back part of the muscle.
  • Execute the massage in the same manner as shown above.
  • Note: Here you will only massage a tiny area, and the most painful spots are usually located right at the arm pit, right at the capsule of the shoulder.
  • It can be difficult at times to find those points. So take your time!


  • Calais-German, Blandine. Anatomy of Movement. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1993. Print
  • Davies, Clair, and Davies, Amber. The Trigger Point Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide For Pain Relief. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., Print
  • Simons, David G., Lois S. Simons, and Janet G. Travell. Travell & Simons’ Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins, 1999. Print.
  • Schünke, Michael., Schulte, Erik, and Schumacher, Udo. Prometheus: Lernatlas der Anatomie. Stuttgart/New York: Georg Thieme Verlag, 2007. Print