neck and shoulder trigger points

What are neck and shoulder pain trigger points? Below, you will find out more about this painful condition

What is a trigger point?

A trigger point is a knot in an area of muscle tissue. It is caused by muscle stress and tension. It can cause pain in the affected area and also in other parts of the body (referred pain). For example, a trigger point in your back, may produce referred pain in your neck, which may then cause pain in your head. Trigger points can make muscles more likely to suffer tears.


Neck and Shoulder Trigger Points

The shoulder is unique. It is made in such a way that allows the greatest freedom of arm movement.  Unlike other parts of your body, the shoulder joint is not supported by major bones and ligaments. Instead, it relies on the muscle groups in the region to hold the joint together. This group of muscles and tendons are known as the rotator cuff.  The rotator cuff is important for normal shoulder mobility, strength and function. These muscles have to work very hard. It’s not surprising then that the shoulder joint is the most affected by trigger points.

The muscles in your neck most likely to have trigger points are the Scalenes, and Suboccipitals.  In your shoulder, those most prone to trigger points are the Infraspinatus, Levator Scapulae and Trapezius.


Infraspinatus Trigger Points

The Infraspinatus muscle is at the back of your shoulder blade and attached to the top of the bone in your upper arm (the humerus). It is involved in rotating your arm and it also stabilises the joint.

Causes of Infraspinatus Trigger Points:

  • Throwing
  • Walking a dog that pulls on the leash
  • Long periods at a computer keyboard without elbow support
  • Falls or slips where you brace yourself  by reaching behind your body
  • Driving with your hands  on the top of the steering wheel for long periods

Signs and Symptoms

  • Front of Shoulder Pain. This is the main symptom. The pain can feel like it is deep within your shoulder joint.
  • Not being able to reach behind your back. You may not be able to fasten your bra or reach your back pocket for your wallet.
  • Not able to raise arm up to your head. You may have difficulty raising your arm to comb your hair, brush your teeth, or bring food to your mouth.
  • Not able to push up with your arms. You may find it painful to push up out of a chair or out of bed.
  • Shoulder pain when sleeping on your side

Subscapularis Trigger Points

The Subscapularis lies deep in the armpit region and is attached to the shoulder blade. Like the other rotator cuff muscles, the Subscapularis helps to rotate the arm, and stabilize the shoulder joint.

Causes Subscapularis Trigger Points:

  • Bracing a fall. You may have tried to grab at something to save your fall. In doing so, you extend your arm out at shoulder level.
  • Repetitive strain injuries in sports.  For example, swimming, playing tennis.
  • Sleeping on the side, with your shoulder down and the arm pushed forward across your body.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Severe, deep pain behind your shoulder. You may feel pain when you move your shoulder or at rest.
  • Unable to raise your arm past 45 degrees, or reach across your body to your other armpit.
  • Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis) the symptoms of subscapularis trigger points are almost identical to those of frozen shoulder. The pain associated with adhesive capsulitis is generally less severe than that from subscapularis trigger point activity.
  • Wrist Pain. You may feel a band of pain around your wrist. This is refereed pain from your shoulder.

Trapezius  Trigger Points

The Trapezius is a large, diamond shaped muscle group at the base of your neck and upper back. It is attached to the base of your skull, spine, shoulder blade, and collar bone. It is involved in moving your shoulder blade, the neck and head.


  • Poor posture, and sleeping positions.
  • Emotional stress. Emotional stress seems to particularly affect trigger points in the lower and upper trapezius muscles.
  • Whiplash injuries.
  • Falls.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Referred pain to the back and side of your neck, jaw, face, behind your ear, back of your head, or shoulder joint.
  • Throbbing headache in the temple region. It is often described as “behind the eye.”
  • Unable to move the shoulder blade

Other Signs and Symptoms of Neck and Shoulder Trigger Points

  • Muscle weakness
  • Dizziness or ringing in the ears.
  • Reddening, tingling and sensitivity of the skin over the trigger point.
  • Watery eyes

Neck and shoulder problems are very common. They can be very painful and restrict your movements. Understanding neck and shoulder trigger points, often the cause these problems, is the first step in treating the condition properly.

You might also like: