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Do you experience pain or tenderness in your shoulder area?

That may be the result of an injury or strain to your deltoid muscle or delts, which is located at the uppermost part of your arm at the top of your shoulder.

Deltoid pain can be centered on the front, side, or back of your shoulder – or all of the above – and can be caused by a number of factors.

Deltoid injuries or damage are often indicated when generally using your arm, and especially lifting your arm causes some pain, but movement of the arm and shoulder are not necessarily restricted.

The deltoid is considered to be one of the more common “problem areas” of the shoulder joint.

Injuries to the deltoid are most likely to happen while lifting, reaching back, throwing overhead, or even lifting weights and doing exercises like push-ups or pull-ups.

deltoid strain

What Is the Deltoid Muscle?

The deltoid muscle is the one that builds up the top layer or caps off your shoulder joint, and it is a large part of what gives your shoulder its shape.

However, if you injure or overuse deltoids, there is a chance that you will experience pain, soreness, stiffness, or perhaps even a deltoid muscle strain or tear.

Your deltoid muscle is composed of three distinct regions – the front, middle, and back sections, all of which fuse together at the outer side of your humerus or upper arm bone, which forms the “ball” in the ball and socket of the shoulder.

The front section of the deltoid forms the outer area of your clavicle or collarbone on the front of your arm, the middle section stems from the acromion on the scapula or shoulder blade, and the back section comes from your scapula and spine.

All three parts of the deltoid muscle combine with the rest of your shoulder joint to help you move, rotate, lift, and extend your shoulders.

deltoid muscle pain causes

What Conditions Cause Deltoid Muscle Pain?

Deltoid muscle pain or rear shoulder pain can be caused by a variety of conditions or injuries, but they generally all involve overuse of the deltoid muscle.

Depending on the cause, you may experience deltoid pain in the back of your shoulder, medial deltoid pain or pain in the middle of the shoulder, or lateral deltoid pain which is the term used for pain that extends from side to side across the deltoid muscle (or further).

One typical source of pain in the deltoid muscle is deltoid tendonitis, which is an inflammation of your rotator cuff and the surrounding muscles and tendons.

Deltoid tendonitis can range from mild to severe, and it is a repetitive stress injury common in athletes and people who work extremely physical jobs.

Shoulder impingement or swimmer’s shoulder is another possible cause of deltoid pain; impingement of the shoulder occurs when tendons in your shoulder get pinched by the bones, causing pain in the general shoulder area including the deltoids.

Another common repetitive stress shoulder injury is shoulder bursitis, which occurs when the bursa sacs (the sacs of fluid that pad the bones, ligaments, and tendons in the shoulder and allow everything to run smoothly) become swollen and inflamed.

Frozen shoulder can also cause pain in the deltoid muscle area, along with the surrounding muscles, ligaments, and nerves.

This is a stiffness or even inability to move your shoulder after an injury – adhesions develop and tighten or “freeze” the shoulder, causing pain in the general shoulder joint region.

deltoids injury

Deltoid Pain Caused by Acute Injuries

Deltoid injuries, of course, will likely cause significant pain in the shoulder area.

Common injuries to the deltoids include strains and tears.

Deltoid strains are classified on three levels, ranging from level one, which is a mild strain that doesn’t restrict the movement of the shoulder, to level two, a deltoid strain that causes bruising, swelling, and makes it difficult to complete simple movements like lifting the arm over the head.

Finally, there is level three, which is a severe deltoid strain that causes swelling, bruising, and a gap or bulge in the muscle.

A deltoid tear is a more severe version of a deltoid strain.

Deltoid tears can be partial or severe, with partial deltoid tears causing bruising and swelling, while severe tears also have swelling and bruising and your upper arm and shoulder muscles may become deformed or misshapen.

If you have a severely torn deltoid, you will have trouble moving your arm properly (or at all), especially if you cannot lift it.

If you have these symptoms, you should see a doctor immediately because you likely have a muscle tear.

Why Do the Deltoid Muscles Hurt After Sleeping?

Do you wake in the morning with a sore shoulder, or more specifically a sore or stiff deltoid muscle?

Your deltoid muscles and other shoulder muscles may hurt when you wake because direct pressure is generally being applied while you sleep, especially if you happen to roll over and sleep on the injured or painful side.

Since you likely sleep for an extended period of time overnight and fall into a deep sleep, this pressure exacerbates whatever condition or problem you may have with your deltoid muscles and shoulder in general.

To ease the pain in your deltoids and shoulder area while you’re sleeping, try sleeping on your back.

However, if you are used to sleeping on your side or can’t sleep on your back for other reasons, try to sleep on the opposite or non-painful shoulder.

You can use pillows to help keep you in place on the correct side if you are prone to shifting positions in your sleep; you can also try placing a pillow in the underarm area of your painful shoulder to support it while you rest.

deltoid tendonitis

What Types of Shoulder Pain Are Similar to Deltoid Pain?

Any type of shoulder joint pain, upper arm pain, neck pain, or upper back pain can result in deltoid pain, even if the actual injury or condition isn’t centered around the deltoid muscle.

After all, the shoulder joint is a carefully calibrated machine with its ball and socket, and if anything around it – muscles, tendons, or ligaments – is inflamed, injured, swollen, or otherwise damaged, it can throw the whole operation off, causing you pain, stiffness, and a host of other problems.

Deltoid Muscle Tear Test

If you have a sudden pain or acute pain in the muscle at the front and top of your shoulder, you may have strained or torn your deltoid muscle.

Tenderness and swelling, bruising, and any strange depressions or bumps can all indicate a torn deltoid muscle.

Other indicators of a torn deltoid are pain when you lift or move your arms from your side up to the front while keeping them straight against any of resistance (even something that weighs less than a kilogram), or pain when you lift your arm up sideways against the slightest resistance, then you might have torn your deltoid and you should see an orthopaedic surgeon as soon as possible.

Non-Surgical Deltoid Pain Relief

If the source of your deltoid pain is a chronic condition or something relatively mild, you likely will not will require surgery to treat it.

Resting the affected shoulder, icing the area, and taking over the counter anti-inflammatory medication can all help to sooth the pain, while a physiotherapy regimen and some light stretching and massage can help you restore functionality and flexibility.

While many people can successfully treat deltoid pain at home, we always suggest that you see an orthopaedic surgeon to rule out more serious problems and to help you avoid developing a chronic condition or otherwise make things worse.

deltoid injury

Surgery for Deltoid Pain

It is rare that surgery is required for any of the aforementioned causes of deltoid pain, except in especially severe cases or for professional athletes who need to be in peak physical condition again quickly.

That said, if you have a severe tear or other injuries or conditions that are the underlying cause of your deltoid pain, then you may require surgery.

Your orthopaedic surgeon can advise you as to the best course of action.

Exercises for Deltoid Muscle Pain

Physiotherapy is nearly always recommended for deltoid pain relief.

The exercise regimen that is best for your case depends on the severity of the pain itself and whether or not you have any other underlying conditions.

A physiotherapist with expertise in treating shoulder problems can customize an exercise routine that you can do to help relieve your deltoid muscle pain.

Stretching, gentle resistance exercises, and gradual conditioning can all be helpful for relieving your deltoid pain.

These exercises can also improve your posture and strengthen your core as well as your deltoid muscles, which will help ease your deltoid pain as well as being beneficial for your overall health.

A properly customised exercise plan can help ease your deltoid pain, improve the strength of your shoulder, and allow you to resume your daily life and activities without pain in your deltoid muscles.

rear shoulder pain

Preventing Deltoid Pain

If you are already experiencing mild deltoid pain or healing from a shoulder injury, there are steps you can take to avoid making things worse.

You should stretch daily to improve your range of motion, flexibility, and ability to rotate your shoulder, always warm up before any exercise or physiotherapy, and rest your shoulders and other muscle groups by taking days off or alternating days that you work out different parts of your body.

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