Supraspinatus: Pain & Trigger Points

The supraspinatus muscle is one of the most common troublemakers when it comes to shoulder pain.

It belongs to the rotator cuff group.

People that often stress this muscle too much are painters, rock climbers, piano and violin players.

In a nutshell, people that work with elevated arms for prolonged periods of time.

Of course, other people may overload this muscle, too. So, if you have pain in your shoulder, make sure have a look at it.

1. Pain Patterns & Symptoms

If the supraspinatus contains active trigger points, you might experience local pain in the shoulder, right at these points.

But you also might feel an ache in more distant, seemingly unrelated areas.

The most classic pain pattern is pain at the side of the shoulder.

Besides that, pain can radiate down the entire side of the arm – especially to the elbow –.

This way it can contribute to the following aches. Click on the corresponding link to learn how to get yourself out of pain.

The intensity of the red color in the pictures indicates how common it is to feel pain in the respective area.

The darker the red, the likelier it is to experience pain if the supraspinatus contains active trigger points.

Visualization of the pain patterns


1.2 Impaired or painful movements

Trigger points in this muscle can cause pain during the following movements.

Please remember that those are just examples and do not display a complete list.

In general, you may have problems with all movements that require lifting your arm at and above shoulder level.

In more dramatic cases it may be even difficult to elevate your arm at all.

Here are some common movements and activities where you need to lift your arm.

  • Painting a high wall or a ceiling
  • Combing your hair
  • Playing the violin – Arm that holds the bow –
  • Tennis serve

2. Attachment Points

The muscle attaches planar on the shoulder blade just above the spine of scapula.

From there it connects to the tuberculum majus at the humerus – the outer side of the upper arm –.

The Xs in the picture below display common areas where tender and trigger points in this muscle commonly develop.

3. Function

Its function is the abduction of the arm. Furthermore, it helps to keep the shoulder stabilized when moving it.

I want to give you an example of how this muscle stabilizes the shoulder.

When carrying a shopping bag, its weight is pulling on the shoulder.

Here, it prevents the upper arm from sliding downwards too much.

Thus, while carrying a bag it is very active and acts as a counterforce of the bag.

This scenario of course, applies every time objects are pulling on the arm.

Imagine how strong the supraspinatus needs to work to stabilize the shoulder when doing deadlifts or pulling anything heavy off the ground.

Another common scenario would be a dog at a leash or a child pulling on the arm and thus stressing this muscle.

Here again, the muscle prevents the shoulder from “pulling apart”.

4. Trigger Point Activation in the Supraspinatus

Trigger points in the supraspinatus usually develop due to active overload.

Good examples might be carrying a heavy bag or executing dead lifts in the gym. In both scenarios the weight is pulling on the arms. The supraspinatus needs to work hard to not let the humerus (upper arm bone) getting pulled out of the shoulder socket.

But also, all activities where you work with the arms above the head are stressful, as they activate the muscle permanently.

Furthermore, injuries like a rupture of the supraspinatus tendon can activate trigger points, which might persist long after the injury itself has healed.

5. Supraspinatus: Palpation

Locating and feeling the supraspinatus is easy.

Just put your fingers slightly above the spine of scapula.

Try not to go too high as you will then reach the middle part of your trapezius.

You want to place your fingers between your trapezius and your spine of scapula.

Now slowly start to raise the arm to the side.

While doing this movement you should feel it contracting under the fingers.

If you cannot feel it right away, do not stress.

Just repeat the slow raising of the arm a few of times while searching for the right spot.


6. Supraspinatus: Self-massage

I recommend massaging this muscle with the Trigger Fairy.

This is the easiest and safest way to access it and to exert pressure.

You also can use a massage ball, but it is a little bit more difficult and not that convenient – still effective and doable. But you will never be able to really get through onto tissue of the muscle.

I will show you the massage with the Fairy

I do not recommend massaging this muscle with your fingers of the opposite hand.

Yes, you can reach the muscle very good and you also can apply pressure BUT you exert all the force from your fingers, your arm and your shoulder.

It is possible that you do something good to one of your shoulders while stressing too much the just mentioned parts.

Still, if you want to do it, form your hands like a shovel and apply the principles shown below.

6.1 Massage with the Trigger Fairy

With the Trigger Fairy, you can access the muscle without straining your hands.

  • Place the Trigger Fairy on the muscle.
  • Search for tender points by pulling the handle downward and forward.
  • To massage the muscle, use circular motions or the pressure-motion technique.

Circular motions

  • Find a tender spot and then execute circular motions with the handle.
  • This way you massage each tender spot.

Pressure-motion technique

  • Press in the muscle.
  • Lift and lower your shoulder or execute circular shoulder movements.
  • Concentrate on the painful ranges of motion.
  • Also experiment with the position of the Fairy.


  • 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