The infraspinatus muscle is present on the back of the shoulder blade, also known as the scapula. It is one of the four muscles forming the rotator cuff of the shoulder joint. Any soreness or stiffness in the muscle can lead to infraspinatus pain, which may limit shoulder mobility.
“This pain is often felt in the back of the shoulder [especially when lifting or rotating arms] and can range from mild discomfort to severe pain,” says Dr Ram Kinkar Jha, chief and unit head – orthopedics, Artemis Hospital, Gurugram. Experts suggest that early intervention is key to curing the pain.
Who is prone to infraspinatus pain?
Athletes, especially those involved in sports that require repetitive shoulder movements are prone to infraspinatus muscle pain. This includes baseball players, swimmers, tennis players, and those who do heavy overhead lifting. “People who perform tasks involving heavy lifting or overhead arm movements in their occupations are also at risk,” shares Dr Jha. “Additionally, older adults may be prone to rotator cuff issues, including infraspinatus muscle pain, due to natural aging and wear and tear in the shoulder joint.”
What factors lead to infraspinatus muscle pain?
Infraspinatus muscle pain can be caused by various factors, including injury, overuse, or strain.
Dr Rishu Raviraj, consultant orthopedic surgeon, Grant Medical College and Sir JJ Group of Hospitals, Mumbai, lists the common factors:
- Age, as there can be some natural degeneration of muscle mass and joints over the years.
- Overuse or repetitive movements, like those done by athletes such as swimmers and tennis players.
- Trauma to the shoulder joint.
- Incorrect posture over a prolonged period.
- Occupational factors such as lifting heavy objects or carrying loads over the head.
- Rotator cuff injury or tears in the infraspinatus muscles.
- Tendonitis due to repetitive overhead activities.
- Impingement syndrome (when a tendon gets pinched between bones of the shoulder joint).
- Muscle strain due to overexertion or sudden forceful movements.
- Overuse or repetitive motions, especially in sports or jobs that require frequent shoulder movements.
- Trauma or injury to the shoulder, such as a fall or direct impact.
Symptoms of infraspinatus muscle pain
Infraspinatus muscle pain typically manifests as a dull, achy discomfort in the back of the shoulder. The pain may worsen with specific movements. In some cases, it can radiate down the arm.
“The intensity of the pain can vary from mild irritation to severe and debilitating discomfort. People may also experience stiffness and limited range of motion in the affected shoulder,” says Dr Jha. The main symptoms include:
- Dull aching or deep pain, especially in the back of the shoulder during external rotations of the arm.
- Pain associated with arm movements such as reaching overhead or reaching your back.
- Radiating pain in the arm or in the upper back may also be present.
- Weakness in the shoulder joint.
- Limited range of movement of the shoulder, especially external rotation of the joint.
Dr Raviraj adds, “Sleeping with the infraspinatus pain can be difficult. However, one can try sleeping on the non-painful side or using a pillow under the affected arm. Using ice or a hot pack before going to sleep could also help reduce the pain.”
Treatment of infraspinatus muscle pain
“Treatment for infraspinatus muscle pain can vary based on the severity and underlying cause of the pain,” says Dr Jha. However, it is essential to seek medical evaluation and treatment if you experience persistent infraspinatus muscle pain to prevent it from worsening and affecting the quality of life.
Treatment for this condition includes:
- Rest: Give the muscle time to heal by avoiding activities that exacerbate the pain.
- Physical therapy: A physical therapist can suggest exercises and stretches to improve strength and flexibility in the shoulder.
- Ice and heat: Applying ice and heat can help reduce pain and inflammation.
- Non-prescription pain medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers can help manage pain and reduce inflammation.
- Steroid injections: In some cases, corticosteroid injections to alleviate inflammation and pain are prescribed by a doctor.
- Surgical intervention may be necessary for severe cases or in the presence of tears in the infraspinatus tendon.
- Infraspinatus pain leads to discomfort or soreness in this muscle, one of the four muscles forming the rotator cuff in the shoulders.
- Infraspinatus muscle pain typically presents as a dull, achy discomfort in the back of the shoulder.
- It can be caused by various factors, including injury, overuse or strain. It could lead to limited range of motion in the shoulder.
- It is essential to seek timely medical evaluation and treatment to prevent it from worsening and affecting one’s quality of life.