Shoulder Pain: Impingement Syndrome, Frozen Shoulder, Maybe Just A Tight Teres Major?

teres majorShoulder Pain can be due to many different reasons, here are three possible causes:

Impingement Syndrome

This can be mistaken for a frozen shoulder, but this condition involves the muscles of the shoulder that make up the rotator cuff.  Athletes using lots of overhead motions such as swimmers, throwers and tennis players may be more susceptible from this.  Treatment is usually rest, gentle stretching in a warm bath or shower, by trying to get your thumb up and behind your back, but since it is due to inflammation, be very gentle so as not to aggravate the condition.

Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatories and cortisol shots, but cortisol can end up weakening the tendons so try to avoid these.

Could it be just a tight Teres Major?

But before seeking drastic measures to treat the worst case scenario, there is a tiny muscle called the Teres Major within the rotator cuff that may also show the same symptoms as a frozen shoulder if it has become tight.

It originates on the bottom portion of the scapula and inserts at the back of the humerus bone in the upper arm, close to the armpit.  Various factors can cause this muscle to tighten up and therefore be unable to stretch out enough to enable the arm to rise up.

It is said that endocrine conditions can cause this muscle to over contract, causing the shoulder to become stiff, but there are self massage methods that may help to release the tension and therefore enable you to lift your arm.

shoulder painMassage the Teres Major with a tennis ball

Your best bet is to visit a physiotherapist, so that they can first figure out why your shoulder is painful and stiff and also to demonstrate where you need to perform any self massage at home.  One tip is to get yourself a tennis ball.  No need to invest in the fancy made for massage balls as they work in the same way.

Lie on the floor and position the ball directly onto the belly of the muscle  (the middle part), place some body weight onto it and hold it there for about a minute, while you slowly raise your arm.  Move the ball to another point of the muscle and repeat.  You can continue exploring the shoulder area and upper arm for signs of tension and treat these muscles in the same way, as the infraspinatus and subscapularis muscles could also be tight.

It’s going to be quite painful to massage these muscles, so take it easy.

Frozen Shoulder

In comparison, frozen shoulder syndrome is medically referred to as “adhesive capsulitis”, if you have this condition then it is because you have inflammation in the joint capsule of the shoulder joint, when this happens, the bones cannot move freely and the pain and inability to raise the arm is shown.

Frozen shoulder can take a long time to recover fully, up to 26 months without treatment.  it begins with a painful initial stage, where the shoulder becomes stiff.  Then the pain subsides but the shoulder is still retains its loss of motion.  Then the shoulder becomes slowly better with more range of motion – from 5-26 months.

You can get surgery to cut through the tight ligaments, reducing the scar tissue and freeing up the shoulder, but since there is no definite diagnosis for frozen shoulder, I would start by hoping that the shoulder pain you feel is due to a tight Teres Major or impingement syndrome.

Post Author: Max

Massimo (Max) Vencato holds a doctorate (PhD) in Sports and Exercise Psychology and a Degree in Sports Sciences (first class with honours). He works today as a cardiac rehabilitation trainer, personal trainer (specialising in weight loss) and lecturer in Sports and Exercise Psychology at Brunel University London.

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