Infraspinatus Muscle Pain: Symptoms, Causes, and Exercises

Infraspinatus muscle pain

Infraspinatus muscle pain can be a real nuisance. This article will discuss the symptoms, causes, and exercises to relieve infraspinatus pain. We’ll also cover some prevention tips to help you stay as pain-free as possible!

What causes infraspinatus pain?

To understand what causes infraspinatus pain, let’s first look at the anatomy and physiology of the muscle to understand better its role in movement and how it can become dysfunctional and injured.

Anatomy and function of rotator cuff

Infraspinatus muscle

The infraspinatus is a triangular muscle covering the infraspinatus fossa’s posterior surface. It arises by tendinous fibers from the lower half of the infraspinatus fossa and inserts into the greater tubercle of the humeral head.

The infraspinatus muscle acts to rotate the arm at the shoulder joint laterally and to stabilize the head of the humerus in the glenoid fossa. The infraspinatus muscle consists of four rotator cuff muscles, including the supraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor.

These muscles lift and rotate the arm and stabilize the shoulder with movement. The rotator cuff muscles are essential for overhead motions such as throwing a ball.

The rotator cuff muscles work together to help move and stabilize the shoulder. This allows us to have an extensive range of motion in the shoulder but also comes at the cost of stability.

Think about the hip joint – there are large boney structures of the femur and pelvis to help provide support and stability; however, we have less range of motion.

The shoulder’s stability needs to come from the muscles in the shoulder region. Requiring the forces to stabilize and move the shoulder can more easily result in overuse and injury.

Causes of injury and pain to the infraspinatus muscle

Overuse from exercise

The infraspinatus can be easily injured with repetitive overhead motions, such as those often seen in tennis or baseball. When the infraspinatus muscle is overworked, it can lead to:

  • rotator cuff tendinitis
  • infraspinatus tendon tears
  • infraspinatus tears
  • myofascial trigger points within the infraspinatus muscle of other rotator cuff muscles
  • injury to other rotator cuff tendons

To reduce your risk of injury, it’s essential to warm up properly before any physical activity and to use proper technique. You should also listen to your body and rest when feeling pain or fatigue.

Lifestyle-related overuse

If you find yourself sitting at a computer all day, you may be at risk of an imbalance in your rotator cuff’s muscles.

Stationary work can lead to “congestion” and tension within the infraspinatus muscle and can eventually create problems with the range of motion and function.

A rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that stabilize the shoulder joint, and the infraspinatus is one of those muscles.

When this muscle becomes imbalanced, it can pull on the other muscles in the rotator cuff, causing pain and stiffness. Common injuries can include:

  • infraspinatus tendonitis
  • rotator cuff injuries
  • rotator cuff tears
  • pain in the shoulder blade
  • shoulder impingement

Taking breaks often to move around and get some blood flowing to the area will also help. If you already have an imbalance in your rotator cuff muscles, there are treatment options available from your doctor or physical therapist.

Postural changes in rotator cuff muscles

Repetitive use and overuse can lead to postural changes that can cause pain in the infraspinatus muscle. Remember that posture is just a snapshot of your movement, not the problem, but a picture of the problem. 

If you see your shoulders rolling forward or you feel like they are “up near your ears,” this may indicate a muscular imbalance in the rotator cuff muscles. Exercises can help to strengthen and stretch muscles to restore normal, pain-free movement.

Symptoms of infraspinatus muscle pain

There are several common symptoms of infraspinatus muscle pain, including:

  • Pain in the shoulder or upper arm that gets worse with movement
  • Stiffness in the shoulder or upper arm
  • Weakness in the arm or hand
  • Tingling or numbness in the arm or hand
  • Difficulty moving the arm or shoulder
  • Pain that radiates from the shoulder to the neck, back, or down the arm

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you must see a doctor or physical therapist for an evaluation. They will be able to determine if infraspinatus muscle pain is the cause of your symptoms and develop a treatment plan to relieve your pain.

Myofascial shoulder pain

Myofascial pain occurs when there is a lack of oxygen and blood flow to the soft tissues. As discussed above, this can occur either with repetitive movement or as chronic postural changes develop. 

Lack of oxygen and blood flow leads to the development of myofascial trigger points that can be localized areas of pain. However, they can also refer pain to other locations, causing a more diffuse and achy pain along the back of the shoulder and the arm.

Treatment options for infraspinatus muscle pain

Diet

A healthy, well-balanced diet that limits inflammatory response provides a nutritional foundation for your body to heal injured tissue. Foods that are high in anti-inflammatory properties include:

  • Omega-three fatty acids
  • Turmeric
  • Ginger
  • Green tea
  • Garlic

Healthy, lean protein and whole grains round out a healthy diet that can help minimize pain from inflammation due to injury.

Exercises that focus on strengthening and stretching

One of the best things you can do to alleviate infraspinatus muscle pain is focused on exercises that strengthen and stretch the muscles. Activities focus on improving range of motion while also reducing pain and inflammation.

Physical therapy is an excellent way to start strengthening and stretching program. In addition, a physical therapist can develop a personalized program to address your infraspinatus muscle pain.

Massage therapy and myofascial release

Massage therapy can help to improve blood flow and reduce inflammation. Myofascial release is a massage therapy that focuses on releasing tightness in the connective tissue and can be an effective treatment for infraspinatus muscle pain.

Massage therapy and myofascial release can be a part of a treatment plan with a specialized physical therapist or chiropractor who has additional training. However, it is most effective when coupled with a strengthening program.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine that involves inserting thin needles into the skin at specific points on the body. Acupuncture can help to alleviate pain from infraspinatus muscle pain.

Trigger point injections

Trigger point injections involve injecting a small amount of anesthetic into the muscle at the site of pain. Trigger point injections are typically performed as an outpatient procedure in a pain management clinic. Make sure to seek a doctor specializing in pain management for trigger point injections.

Trigger point injections may be used as a treatment or as part of a more comprehensive management strategy combining physical therapy and massage therapy to relieve pain from infraspinatus muscle pain.

Over-the-counter pain medication

Over-the-counter pain medication can help temporarily alleviate the pain from infraspinatus muscle pain. In addition, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen effectively reduce pain and inflammation.

Always follow the recommended dosage on the bottle, and check with your doctor before taking any medication, especially if you have a medical condition.

Natural muscular pain remedies can also be effective.  

Exercises and stretches for infraspinatus muscle pain

Sleeper stretch for infraspinatus pain

Sleeper Stretch

Goal: The sleeper stretch aims to improve the shoulder range of motion and reduce pain. Improving the mobility through the back of the shoulder will help alleviate infraspinatus pain.

  • Lie on your side with the frozen shoulder on top
  • Bend your elbow to 90 degrees, keeping your hand close to your chest
  • Use your other hand to pull your bottom arm across your body towards the floor
  • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds
  • You should feel a deep bit in the back of your shoulder.
  • Repeat the period five to seven times, gently moving deeper into the stretch.

Active Internal Rotation

Internal rotation exercises to strengthen infraspinatus

Goal: The goal of the strengthening internal rotation is to improve the shoulder range of motion and reduce pain in the affected arm.

  • Tie the exercise band around a door handle securely
  • Start by holding a band in your right hand
  • Keeping your elbow close to your side, rotate your arm inward, bringing the band in towards your stomach
  • Repeat this exercise 15 times
  • Rest and repeat two more sets
  • Repeat left side

You should feel your shoulder muscles working throughout this exercise.

Active External Rotation

External rotation exercises to strengthen infraspinatus

Goal: The goal of the strengthening external rotation is to improve the shoulder range of motion and reduce pain in the affected arm.

  • Tie the exercise band around a door handle securely
  • Start by holding a band on the side of the affected arm
  • Keeping your elbow close to your side, rotate your arm outward away from your stomach
  • Repeat this exercise 15 times
  • Repeat both sides

Rest and repeat two more sets. You should feel your shoulder muscles working in the affected arm throughout this exercise.

Ab roll out

Ab roll out for shoulder strengthening

Goal: This exercise will strengthen your core and rotator cuff muscles while improving your functional range of motion through the shoulder. Make sure to keep your core engaged throughout the movement.

  • Start kneeling on the floor with the ab roller in front of you.
  • Place your hands on the handles of the ab roller and lean forward, placing the weight on your forearms.
  • Keeping your core engaged, slowly roll the ab roller away from you, extending your body as far as you can without letting your hips touch the floor
  • Roll back to the starting position and repeat

Serratus anterior push-ups (scapular push-ups)

Scapular push up for shoulder strengthening

Goal: The anterior push-up isolates the serratus anterior, a primary stabilizer of the shoulder, in a push-up position. Strengthening the serratus anterior will help take some of the load off the infraspinatus, allowing it to heal.

  • Get into a push-up position and straighten your arms without locking your elbows.
  • Carefully slide your shoulder blades inward towards each other, then outwards away from each other.
  • Keep your neck neutral, as there should be no additional strain on your neck.
  • Push through the shoulder blades, allowing them to rotate, feeling the serratus anterior activate.
  • Maintain a neutral spine
  • Repeat this movement ten times

Strengthening other muscle groups within the rotator cuff and shoulder girdle can also be effective.  Check out our exercises for rhomboids and serratus anterior muscles.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you relieve infraspinatus pain?

There are several ways that you can relieve infraspinatus pain.

  • Exercises and stretches (see those listed above)
  • Over-the-counter medication, like ibuprofen, helps reduce both pain and inflammation.
  • Massage therapy or myofascial release
  • Injections

If you have any questions, seek medical attention to evaluate your specific needs.

What does an infraspinatus tear feel like?

An infraspinatus tear can feel like a dull ache or a sharp pain in the back of the shoulder. You may also experience weakness in your arm and difficulty moving your arm away from your body. If you think you have torn your infraspinatus, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Where do you feel infraspinatus pain?

Infraspinatus pain is felt in the back of the shoulder in the muscle belly. However, it can also radiate down the arm and into the hand.

What happens if you tear your infraspinatus?

If you tear your infraspinatus, you may experience pain, weakness, and difficulty moving your arm. Therefore, seeking medical attention as soon as possible is essential to receiving the proper treatment.

Conclusion

If you are experiencing infraspinatus pain, there are several things that you can do to find relief. Exercises and stretches can help to strengthen the muscle and reduce pain. You may also want to try over-the-counter medication or massage therapy. You may need to seek medical attention for injections or surgery if the pain is severe. Torn infraspinatus muscles can be painful and cause difficulty moving the arm. If you think you have torn your infraspinatus muscle, seek medical attention right away.

*Note: This is not professional medical advice, and we recommend that you always consult with a doctor or medical professional if you are experiencing pain.

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