Pectoralis minor pain & trigger points

A pectoralis minor that harbors trigger points may be, among others, responsible for pain at the front of your shoulder and your chest.

Although it is the little brother of the pectoralis major, it has a different function as you will learn soon.

1. Pain patterns and symptoms

1.1 Pain patterns

When your pectoralis minor contains trigger points, it can give you pain right at the location of these spots and send it to other, seemingly unrelated areas of your body.

The main pain zone of the pec. minor is the front of your shoulder, but you might also experience a radiating pain into your chest and all the way down your inner arm.

Furthermore, it is possible that this muscle creates pain in your palm – not shown in the picture –  and in your 3rd to 5th finger.

The pectoralis can cause the following pains

The darker the red in the picture below, the more common it is to experience pain in the respective area when trigger points are present in your pectoralis minor.

1.2 Impaired or painful movements

One of the functions of the pectoralis is to pull the shoulder blade forward, downward and inward.

So what might happen if it is super tight or contains trigger points and you spread your arm to the side and bring it backwards?

Surely, the movement will be limited or even painful because the shoulder blade moves a little upwards and then backwards, and thus pulls on the pectoralis minor.

It has to elongate and if it cannot or “does not want to” – because the stretch will put even more tension on the tight muscle – it will give you pain.

2. Attachment points

The pectoralis minor originates from the processus coracoideus and runs to the upper ribs.

The Xs in the picture display common areas of trigger points in this muscle.

3. Function

When this muscles contracts, it pulls the shoulder blade downward, forward and inward towards the ribs.

Furthermore it helps to stabilize the shoulder. It prevents the shoulder blade from being pushed backwards – while walking on crutches for example – .

4. Trigger point activation in the Pectoralis minor

Paradoxical breathing – mainly chest breathing– and poor posture – rounded shoulders – lead to overuse of this muscle.

In the first case it permanently has to perform work it was not designed for, and in the second case its fibers get shortened over a long period of time.

This tightens up the muscle.

On the other hand if the has to work muscle works hard – stabilizing the shoulder while walking on crutches or while doing lots of pushups – it is prone to develop trigger points, especially if you are not used to this kind of work.

5. Pectoralis minor palpation

The pec. minor lies under the pec. major, so you will have a hard time feeling it.

But as you can massage it anyway with the right instructions, we will not bother with that.

Still, its good to have an idea where it is located, which is why I will show you how to palpate its origin.

  • Search with your opposite hand for the bony little landmark at the front of your shoulder
  • You can find it if you place your hand at the very top of your upper arm (where it meets your shoulder socket)
  • Then slowly move a few centimetres medially and search for a bony little “peak”.
  • With a little patience you will have no issues finding it.
  • This bony landmark is your coracoid process and the origin of the pectoralis.
  • You will massage the area right below it.

6. Pectoralis minor self-massage

You can massage the pectoralis with the Trigger Fairy, a massage ball or with your fingers.

Massaging it with the Trigger Fairy or a ball saves your hands from unnecessary strain.

With the Fairy you can work the muscle while sitting and make use of its small head to really get on to the tiny knots in the muscle.

With a ball you can exert a lot of pressure, which sometimes is needed to release the muscle.

Still, you need a blank space at a wall and have to do some “massage gymnastics” in order to get the ball on the muscle.

Last but not least there are your hands  – brilliant and precise, yet delicate massage tools.

As always, I recommend saving them whenever possible and  using other tools for massage.

Most of you just don´t have strong enough hands to withstand the stress of massage over time.

Still, I will show you all three possibilities.

Note: For massage, inspect the 5 – 8 centimetres below your coracoid process.

6.1 Self-massage of the pectoralis minor with the Trigger Fairy

I recommend holding the Trigger Fairy with one or two hands and to really relax the shoulder at the side of your body that you are massasing.

Now you can choose between precise massage strokes and the pressure-motion technique.

  • For the precise massage strokes place the Fairy on the muscle.
  • Press in the tissue and search for tender spots.
  • Massage each spot with slow strokes.
  • Each stroke should only range from right before to right after the point.
  • While massaging, make sure to only move the skin and not to slide over it.
  • For the pressure-motion technique place the Fairy again on the muscle.
  • Search for tender points and massage them by moving your shoulder.
  • Elevating your arm (picture) or pulling your shoulder backwards works great for this technique.
  • Try to make out the most painful ranges of motion and concentrate your massage on them.

6.2 Self-massage of the Pectoralis minor with a ball

With the massage ball you will work exactly the same area as with the Fairy.

You can also use the same massage techniques.

That means you can roll the ball over the muscle, or you can pressurize the muscle and then make it move by moving your shoulder and arm, respectively.

Precise massage strokes

  • Place the ball on the muscle and lean against a wall.
  • Make sure your hips and feet are far enough away from the wall in order to create enough pressure.
  • Now roll over the muscle by bending and extending your knees and search for tender spots.

Pressure-motion technique

  • Instead of rolling over the muscle you only pressurize it …
  • … and then make it move by moving your arm.
  • Feel free to experiment with different movements.
  • For me, elevating the arm works very good.

6.3 Self-massage of the pectoralis minor with your hands

Last but not least there is the possibility to massage the muscle with your hands.

1

Palpate your coracoid process as you have already done before.

2

Now inspect the area below and search for tight and tender muscle tissue.

To do so, form your hand like a shovel and pressurize the tissue with your finger tips

Massage each point with slow and short massage strokes.

3

In order to save your hand, try supporting it with your other hand.

As I said, the best way to save them is by using another massage tools, like the Trigger Fairy or a ball.

References

  • 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