Teres Major Muscle: Trigger Point Pain

The teres major muscle is not as well known as rotator cuff muscles or the deltoid, but it can be a major contributor to shoulder pain. The pain often produced by the muscle is a sharp pain in the back of the shoulder.

A major indicator of trigger points in the muscle is you have pain going down the back of the arm, skipping the elbow and continuing in the back of the forearm.

Contents Of Article:

Muscle Location

Trigger Point Symptoms 

Trigger Points Cause

Trigger Point Prevention

Trigger Point Treatment

Interesting Facts 

Muscles With Similar Pain Patterns

Teres Major Referred Pain Pattern

Where is the teres major muscle?

The teres major is located in the back of the shoulder. It connects the shoulder blade (scapula) to the upper arm bone (humerus).

What movements does it control?

  • Moves arm in toward the body and across the body
  • Brings arm down toward the body when the arm is lifted out and away from the body

Looking for detailed muscle anatomy? The Teres Major Muscle Anatomy has origin, insertion, innervation, and blood supply information. It also lists agonists and antagonists for each muscle action.
The Teres Major Muscle


Teres Major Muscle Trigger Points Symptoms:

The biggest indicator of trigger points in the teres major is when you rest your elbows on a table you feel a sharp pain in the back of the shoulder. You will also experience this pain when you lift your arm up and out in front of the body.

You may also experience referred pain going down the back of the arm. TrPs in the muscle will send pain down the upper arm, skip the elbow and then continue down into the forearm.

The symptoms:

  • Sharp pain in the back of the shoulder with aching sensation in the upper arm when resting elbows on a table.
  • Pain in the back of the upper arm  when reaching forward and up
  • Pain in the back of the arm that skips the elbow and continues down to the back of the forearm.
Trigger Points Information

Trigger points are small knots found in the muscle that when pressed increase pain in the area or send referred pain to another area of the body. To learn more about trigger points read Muscle Trigger Points and How They Contribute To Muscle and Joint Pain.

TWD Recommends:
Sombra Warm Therapy Gel is recommended for relaxing muscles and relieving pain. It warms without the burning heat of other gels. An excellent choice for pain caused by trigger points, muscle/joint over-use and stiffness, and arthritis. (Not sold in stores) TWD Recommends:

Biofreeze Professional Gel is what I recommend for the pain and symptoms of muscle strains. It provides excellent pain relief and may help reduce inflammation caused by a strain. Recommended by medical professionals and trainers. 

What Causes Trigger Points To Develop?

Teres major pain is commonly found in athletes, bodybuilders, and people who spend hours driving. A job or activities that require repeatedly reaching overhead (painters) or who work with their arms extended out in front of the body (assembly workers, desk workers).

Some examples:

  • Rowing
  • Throwing or pitching a ball
  • Swimming
  • Chopping wood
  • Driving
  • Exercise  and activities that require pulling up with the arms (chin-ups)
  • Repeatedly pushing down or holding something down with your arms supporting your body weight  (push-ups)
  • Reaching forward or overhead repetitiously
  • Overreaching to work on a desk or tabletop

How To Avoid Development of Trigger Points In The Teres Major Muscle

  • Athletes, bodybuilders, and those who exercise should stop or take a break when they feel the shoulder and arm muscles become tired and shaky. Overdoing will cause trigger points to develop.
  • If a job or activity requires repeatedly holding your arms up overhead or holding your arms up and in front of the body take breaks and stretch out the upper body and arms.
  • Desk work is a problem for the whole body. If you find yourself constantly holding your arms up and out in front of the body without arm support TrPs will develop in the upper back, chest, shoulders, and arms. Get a chair that will comfortably support your arms while you work.

Doctors and physical therapists often recommend TENS to relax the muscles and ease pain. The Belifu TENS Unit Muscle Stimulator is highly recommended and can be used on most areas of the body.

If you have or are buying a TENS unit, Doctor Jos’ book Maximum Pain Relief with Your TENS Unit will help you use your TENS unit to achieve maximum results. Highly recommended!

Teres Major Trigger Point Treatment

The teres major muscle is easy to treat once you understand the area where the muscle is located.

Chiropractors, massage therapists, and physical therapists who are trained in TrP therapy can help you find the location and show you how to treat muscle.

You also have the option of learning self-treatment. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook includes diagrams showing where the TrPs are located and how to treat them. If you would like to learn how to treat TrP pain throughout the body, I highly recommend this book.

If you are flexible, have decent grip strength and can easily reach across the body to the opposite armpit you can treat the muscle with a pincher grip using your thumb and fingers.

If flexibility or hand strength is a problem you can place a  massage ball between the backside of the armpit and a wall to apply pressure and massage the area.

If flexibility is a problem then I suggest the TheraCane massage tool. It does not require flexibility or balance to treat the muscle. Simply stand and use the cane to find and treat the TrP.

The best resource to learn how to treat small painful knots is The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook. The authors explain trigger points and their effects in everyday language, not medical speak. I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning to treat their own muscle pain.

If you are buying the Trigger Point Workbook to self-treat the teres major you will need a hardball for treatment. The Kieba Massage Lacrosse Balls are a good choice to use on many muscles throughout the body.

How Long Before I Feel A Reduction In Pain?

The teres major is located in a sensitive area and you may experience some soreness after treatment. However, pain reduction and increased mobility are noticed quickly.

For most people, three short 1-2 minute treatments spread throughout the day seem to have the best results. Over treating can cause pain and soreness which can delay improvement.

If you are an athlete or bodybuilder who has good body condition more treatments spaced throughout the day may prove beneficial.

What is important is that you continue treatment until the TrPs are deactivated (gone). If you stop too soon the TrPs will quickly reappear as will the pain and stiffness.

The Thera Cane is the other tool recommended by the TrP Workbook. This tool is easy for most people to use. You do not have to contort your body or have a lot of hand strength. You can easily reach most areas of the body including the teres major muscle.

Other Things To Know

Teres major pain and symptoms can be similar to, contribute to, and be affected by these medical diagnoses:

  • Supraspinatus tendinitis
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome
  • Adhesive capsulitis
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Subacromial/Subdeltoid bursitis
  • Dislocation of the Glenohumeral joint
  • Post-injection soreness

Other muscles that should be considered and examined:


Satellite trigger points associated with the teres major muscle:

Trigger points in the teres major muscle will cause TrPs to develop in other muscles. These are known as satellite trigger points. Many of these muscles will contribute to the development of TrPs in the teres major. As a rule of thumb, if you find TrPs in the teres major, there will likely be TrPs in the latissimus dorsi. Checking all of these muscles should be part of your treatment plan.

  • Triceps Brachii (long head)
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Posterior Deltoid
  • Teres Minor
  • Subscapularis

Eco Hot Cold Massage Roller is a useful tool to have on hand for a quick massage treatment on your muscles.  It works very well to on the shoulder and can be used on the teres major.

Other muscles that can affect the teres major and have similar pain patterns:

Teres Minor

Supraspinatus Muscle

Infraspinatus Muscle

Deltoid Muscle

Donna Martin

Massage Therapist Owner: thewellnessdigest.com Twelve years of experience working with clients with chronic pain, post injury pain, and post surgery pain. Muscle dysfunction is often overlooked but can hold the key to many pain conditions.

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