Pectoralis Major Muscle: Pain & Trigger Points

A tight pectoralis major muscle that contains trigger or tender points can trigger chest and shoulder pain.

Additionally, if this muscle is too tight it fosters a round shouldered posture.

1. Pain Patterns & Symptoms of the Pectoralis Muscle

1.1 Pain patterns

Trigger points in this muscle – shown as “Xs” in the picture under “Attachment points” – can refer pain to the red areas displayed below.

The deeper the red, the more prone it is to experience pain in the respective area when trigger points in the pectoralis major are present.

The points X1 and X2 mainly trigger shoulder pain, whereas the other points refer pain to the chest itself, and to the upper and inner side of the forearm.

This muscle can contribute to…


1.2 Impaired or painful movements

A tight pectoralis major can contribute to an impaired flexibility in your shoulder – e.g. when reaching behind – as it pulls the whole system forwards and keeps it there.

2. Pectoralis Major Muscle: Attachment Points

From the outside the pectoralis major looks like one muscle.

But actually, it consists of three parts.

Every one of the three parts has its own and separate origin, while all its fibers fuse together at the same spot, namely at the upper side of your arm pit –

The three parts are named after the location of their origin.

  • Clavicular part – comes from your collarbone/clavicle –
  • Sternal part – comes from your breastbone/sternum –
  • Costal part – comes from your ribs/costal = ribs – .

3. Function of the Pectoralis Major Muscle

All fibers together adduct the arm and rotate the shoulder medially/inwardly.

The lower/costal fibers pull down the shoulder joint, whereas the upper/clavicular fibers elevate/raise the arm.

Furthermore, the muscle protracts the shoulder.


Shoulder neutral


Depression at the shoulder


Flexion at the shoulder


Adduction at the shoulder


Medial rotation at the shoulder


Protraction at the shoulder

4. Trigger Point Activation

If you are a desk worker, spending hours in front of your computer or writing, the pectoralis might start troubling you.

Why? Because you are prone to be working in a round shouldered position where your pectoralis is constantly contracted, and your shoulder rotated inwardly, respectively.

This means the muscle is constantly in a “shortened” position, which eventually can lead to tender and trigger points.

On the other hand, you can overstress it with too much exercise or activities that you are not used to.

Doing excessive chest workouts at the gym can be a reason for trouble in this muscle.

5. Pectoralis Major Muscle: Palpation

To feel the muscle, pinch the front of your arm pit and feel the tissue from your collarbone to your breastbone and your rips, all fusing together at your arm pit.

6. Self-massage of the Pectoralis Major Muscle

You can massage this muscle best with a massage ball or with your fingers.

If you use the latter, pay attention not to strain them, as they are delicate “tools”.

6.1 Self-massage with a ball

  • Place the ball on your chest and lean against a wall.
  • Roll over the muscle and massage each tender spot with slow strokes.
  • Make sure to inspect the whole area of the muscle. From right next to your sternum all the way out to your arm pit.
  • Also do not forget to include the lower part of the chest – not shown in the pictures –

6.2 Self-massage with your fingers

Your hands come in handy especially at the outer part of your pectoralis as you can pinch its fibers and work them extremely precise.

Here, it is important to inspect the whole area from right next to your nipple all the way up to your arm pit.

Precise massage

  • Pinch the muscle between your fingers and search for tender areas.
  • Roll every point a couple of times between your fingers.

Pressure-motion technique

  • Again, search for tender points.
  • The most painful ones are usually located towards your arm pit.
  • If you find one, stay there.
  • Then move your arm in various directions.
  • Concentrate on the most painful ranges of motion.
  • Usually you encounter them when bringing your arm behind your body and rotating your shoulder outwards.

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  • 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