Infraspinatus Pain: Causes, Signs and Treatment Methods

Infraspinatus Pain

Have you ever experienced a persistent ache or discomfort in your shoulder area? If so, you might be dealing with infraspinatus pain. The infraspinatus muscle, nestled within your shoulder blade, plays a crucial role in various shoulder movements. In this article, we’ll delve into the causes, symptoms, treatments, and preventive measures for infraspinatus pain, helping you regain comfort and mobility in your daily life.

Understanding the Infraspinatus Muscle

Understanding the Infraspinatus Muscle

The infraspinatus muscle is one of the muscles located in the shoulder region of the human body. It is a part of the rotator cuff group of muscles, which play a crucial role in stabilizing and moving the shoulder joint. The infraspinatus muscle specifically contributes to the external rotation of the arm and the abduction of the shoulder.

Here are some key points to help you understand the infraspinatus muscle:

  • Anatomy: The infraspinatus muscle is a thick triangular muscle situated on the posterior (back) aspect of the scapula (shoulder blade). It occupies the infraspinous fossa, a concave depression on the scapula’s posterior surface.
  • Origin and Insertion: The muscle originates from the infraspinous fossa of the scapula and attaches to the greater tubercle of the humerus, which is a bony prominence on the upper arm bone (humerus).
  • Function: The primary function of the infraspinatus muscle is to externally rotate the arm. External rotation involves moving the arm away from the body’s midline as if you were turning your palm to face up. This motion is essential for various activities such as throwing, lifting, and reaching.
  • Synergy with Other Muscles: The infraspinatus muscle works in coordination with other muscles of the rotator cuff, including the supraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis. Together, these muscles help stabilize the shoulder joint, provide dynamic stability during arm movements, and prevent dislocation.
  • Injury and Impairment: Infraspinatus muscle injuries can occur due to trauma, overuse, or improper lifting techniques. Injuries can lead to pain, weakness, and limited range of motion in the shoulder joint. In some cases, injuries to the infraspinatus and other rotator cuff muscles can result in conditions like rotator cuff tendinitis or rotator cuff tears.
  • Rehabilitation: Physical therapy exercises and rehabilitation techniques are often used to address infraspinatus muscle injuries. Strengthening exercises, stretching, and range-of-motion activities can help improve muscle function, reduce pain, and restore shoulder mobility.

Common Causes of Infraspinatus Pain

Infraspinatus pain can be caused by a variety of factors, including overuse, strain, injuries, and underlying medical conditions. Here are some common causes of infraspinatus pain:

  • Rotator Cuff Injury: The infraspinatus muscle is part of the rotator cuff, a group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint. Injuries to the rotator cuff, such as strains or tears, can lead to pain in the infraspinatus region. Rotator cuff injuries can result from overuse, trauma, or degenerative changes.
  • Tendonitis: Infraspinatus tendonitis, also known as rotator cuff tendonitis, is an inflammation of the tendons in the rotator cuff, including the infraspinatus tendon. It can be caused by repetitive overhead motions or sudden movements, leading to irritation and pain.
  • Muscle Strain: Overexertion, sudden movements, or improper lifting techniques can cause a strain in the infraspinatus muscle, resulting in pain. Athletes who engage in sports that involve repetitive shoulder motions, such as throwing or swimming, are particularly prone to muscle strains.
  • Impingement: Shoulder impingement occurs when the space between the bones in the shoulder narrows, leading to compression of the tendons and muscles in the area, including the infraspinatus. This can cause pain and limited range of motion.
  • Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis): Frozen shoulder is a condition characterized by stiffness, pain, and limited mobility in the shoulder joint. It can lead to pain in various shoulder muscles, including the infraspinatus, due to the restricted movement of the joint.

Symptoms and Signs of Infraspinatus Pain

Infraspinatus pain can manifest through a range of symptoms and signs, often centered around the shoulder and upper arm area. Here are some common symptoms and signs associated with infraspinatus pain:

  • Shoulder Pain: Pain originating from the infraspinatus muscle typically presents as a deep ache or discomfort in the back of the shoulder. The pain may radiate down the back of the arm and sometimes even extend to the elbow.
  • Pain with Movement: Activities that involve external rotation of the arm or lifting the arm away from the body can exacerbate the pain. These actions strain the infraspinatus muscle, leading to increased discomfort.
  • Limited Range of Motion: Infraspinatus pain can result in a reduced range of motion in the shoulder joint. You may find it challenging to move your arm away from your body or rotate it externally.
  • Painful Sleeping: Sleeping on the affected shoulder can be uncomfortable due to the pressure on the inflamed or strained infraspinatus muscle.
  • Muscle Tenderness: If you press on the area where the infraspinatus muscle is located, you might experience tenderness or soreness.
  • Weakness: Infraspinatus pain can lead to muscle weakness, particularly when attempting actions that involve external rotation or lifting objects overhead.
  • Painful Activities: Everyday activities that require the use of the shoulder, such as reaching for objects, combing your hair, or putting on clothes, can trigger pain if the infraspinatus muscle is affected.

Diagnosing Infraspinatus Pain

Diagnosing Infraspinatus Pain

Diagnosing the cause of infraspinatus pain involves a combination of clinical evaluation, medical history assessment, and potentially diagnostic imaging. Here’s how the process of diagnosing infraspinatus pain typically works:

  1. Medical History: Your healthcare provider will start by asking about your medical history and any relevant information, such as when the pain started, how it feels activities that worsen or alleviate the pain, and any previous injuries or medical conditions.
  2. Physical Examination: A thorough physical examination will be conducted to assess the range of motion, strength, and stability of your shoulder joint. The doctor will also palpate the shoulder area to identify areas of tenderness and pinpoint the source of the pain.
  3. Functional Tests: You may be asked to perform various shoulder movements to assess your range of motion and identify any limitations or pain triggers. These tests can help the healthcare provider understand the specific movements that are causing discomfort.
  4. Imaging: In some cases, diagnostic imaging tests might be ordered to get a clearer picture of the underlying issue. These tests can include:
    • X-rays: X-rays can reveal bone abnormalities, such as fractures or arthritis. While they may not show soft tissue injuries like muscle strains directly, they can help rule out other causes of shoulder pain.
    • Ultrasound: Ultrasound can provide real-time images of the soft tissues, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments. It can help visualize inflammation, tears, and other abnormalities in the infraspinatus muscle and surrounding structures.
    • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): MRI is a powerful tool for imaging soft tissues. It can provide detailed images of the muscles, tendons, and other structures in the shoulder, making it valuable for diagnosing infraspinatus tears, strains, and other issues.
    • Computed Tomography (CT) Scan: CT scans provide detailed cross-sectional images of the shoulder and can be useful for assessing bone structures and detecting fractures.

Treating Infraspinatus Pain

The treatment of infraspinatus pain depends on the underlying cause and the severity of the condition. Here are some common approaches to treating infraspinatus pain:

  • Rest and Activity Modification: Resting the shoulder and avoiding activities that exacerbate the pain is often the first step in treatment. This gives the infraspinatus muscle time to heal. Avoiding overhead movements and heavy lifting can help prevent further strain.
  • Ice Therapy: Applying ice to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and provide temporary pain relief. Use an ice pack for about 15-20 minutes several times a day, making sure to use a cloth or towel as a barrier to prevent direct contact with the skin.
  • Pain Medications: Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help manage pain and reduce inflammation. Always follow the recommended dosage and consult a healthcare professional if you have any underlying health conditions.
  • Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can design a tailored exercise program to help improve shoulder mobility, strengthen the infraspinatus and other shoulder muscles, and correct any postural issues that might be contributing to the pain. Therapeutic exercises and stretches can promote healing and prevent future injuries.

Home Remedies and Self-Care

Home Remedies and Self-Care

Home remedies and self-care strategies can complement professional treatment and help manage infraspinatus pain. Here are some self-care measures you can consider:

  • Rest and Activity Modification: Give your shoulder time to heal by avoiding activities that exacerbate the pain. Modify your daily routines to minimize strain on the infraspinatus muscle.
  • Ice Packs: Applying ice packs to the affected area for about 15-20 minutes at a time can help reduce inflammation and provide temporary pain relief. Remember to use a cloth or towel as a barrier to protect your skin from direct contact with the ice.
  • Over-the-Counter Pain Relief: Non-prescription pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help manage pain and reduce inflammation. Follow the recommended dosage and guidelines on the packaging.
  • Gentle Stretching: Once pain begins to subside, gentle stretching can help maintain shoulder flexibility. Consult a physical therapist for appropriate stretches to avoid further strain.
  • Posture Awareness: Pay attention to your posture, both while sitting and standing. Maintaining good posture can alleviate stress on the shoulder muscles, including the infraspinatus.


Infraspinatus pain can disrupt your daily life, but with the right knowledge and proactive measures, you can find relief and regain your shoulder’s functionality. By understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options, you can take charge of your shoulder health. Remember, seeking professional medical advice when needed is always a wise choice to ensure accurate diagnosis and appropriate care.

If you’re experiencing Shoulder pain, physical therapy for shoulder pain at PhysioMantra can help: Book an online physical therapy session.