Saturday 5th November, 2022

Trigger point & pressure point therapy for your shoulder pain

Using a spiky ball on shoulder
In this article we show you a much easier and more effective way to treat points for shoulder pain

Clinical trials have shown that trigger points or “pressure points” are a big cause of shoulder pain and treatment can give great relief. However, most guides:

  • only show a few common points rather than the complete set,
  • give no way of scientifically diagnosing which points are actually involved, and
  • show you techniques that are painful, hard to do, and at best only give moderate short term relief.

In this article we’ll share with a much more effective and complete system, including:

  • a complete list of points as determined by the top research scientists,
  • the system to work out which you need to treat, and
  • an effective way to treat these points that is easy to do and doesn’t hurt.


  1. An overview of the trigger/pressure points
  2. How to find which points
  3. The basic therapy
  4. Specific points and therapy for each muscle
  5. Other things to help shoulder pain.

Trigger points or “pressure points”: which do we use?

Trigger point and pressure points such as acupressure are largely the same points, but the way therapists work out which to use and how to treat them is a lot different, of course giving far different results. Let’s look at what each are, then most importantly how this effects whether your shoulder gets better or not.

Pressure points (eg. acupuncture points)

Ancient civilisations found that certain points were associated with various conditions including shoulder pain, and that pressing on them or needling gave relief. Without the aid of modern science they had no idea what they were so they essentially made up their own “science” with things like “meridians” and “energy flows” (1–6).

Trigger points

More recently scientists have “re-discovered” these points calling them trigger points, and subjected them them to modern scientific analysis.

The difference between using “pressure points” and trigger points

The key issue is that ancient pressure point systems give no way to actually work out which points you need to treat. For example, even if the points were really blocking life forces running through meridians we don’t have any life force meters to help find the blockages. The reality is that all these systems have a list of points that people with similar problems had centuries ago.

On the other hand “trigger point” scientists have physically identified these points. This means:

  • you can find them and see whether they are involved or not, and
  • by working out what they actually are they have worked out better ways of preventing and treating them.

Because of this we will be using the “trigger point” system for identification and treatment.

How to find the right points for your shoulders

Muscles with trigger points that cause shoulder pain
Scientists found that points in 17 different muscles cause shoulder pain

Most guides only show some of the common points

Most articles and videos on points for shoulder pain show a hand full of common points, but the scientists who’ve investigated and successfully treated shoulder shoulder pain found problem points in 17 different muscles, with most muscles having several possible points (7,8)⁠.

We will show you the simple way to check them all

Claiming a small number of points will make an attractive headline and an easy to read article, but by addressing only a fraction of the possible points it’s very unlikely to fix your shoulder. Instead, in this article we will give you a systematic way to examine and treat all 17 muscles possibly involved. It sounds complicated, but after you have done it a couple of times it is very quick and easy. To do this will show you:

  1. the basic examination techniques, and
  2. each of the individual muscles and a systematic way to check them all

The basic examination techniques

Trigger point do not show up in medical scans or testing so doctors usually do not find them. However, you can easily find them using either using your fingers to find them, or alternatively using a vibration massager. We show you both in this short video.

Video: How to find trigger points

Your basic home trigger point therapies

Trigger point therapy vs release

For practical purposes trigger point therapy and release mean the same, so the terms are used interchangeably.

There are two main types of home trigger point therapies:

  • pressure techniques, and
  • vibration (the easiest and most effective, but need proper equipment)

See this video for an overview, and for more detail check out the articles listed.

For more information

How to release trigger points yourself
Why do trigger points keep coming back

Video: home trigger point therapy

Specific points an therapy for each muscle

In this section we will go over each of the 17 muscles involved, including the common points for each. In the video we demonstrate the examination and treatment techniques for each, plus a systematic routine to quickly check and treat them all.

Infraspinatus, Teres Maj. & Min.

We’ll group three of the most important muscles together: infraspinatus, teres minor and teres major. As these diagrams shows they’re at the back of your shoulder blade. In these diagrams the “x”s are the trigger points and the red is where they usually shoot pain. The best way to massage these is lay on your side to put your arm up so the muscles are easy to access.

Infraspinatus muscle trigger points and pain referral
Infraspinatus muscle trigger points and pain referral
Teres major muscle, points and pain
Teres major muscle, points and pain
Teres minor muscle, points and pain
Teres minor muscle, points and pain

Trapezius, Supraspinatus

The upper trapezius muscle runs across the top of your shoulder and up the side of your neck. According to the scientists this was the second most common problem muscle for shoulder pain.

The supraspinatus sits underneath the upper trapezius muscle in a groove at the top of your shoulder blade. These are very easy to reach and examine for trigger points. The trapezius is at the top so you can easily start with the flats of your fingers, but supraspinatus is in a bit of a groove so you need to curl your fingers a bit to get to it.

Massage these sitting up, holding the massager with the opposite hand so the muscles I’m massaging are relaxed. If you sit up straight you’ll see the muscle is on slope so you need to grip the massager so it doesn’t slide off, but if you lean slightly across and forward it makes the part more horizontal so it’s a lot easier to hold. What you can do is move over the muscle systematically, giving anything you find a good soak. When you’re to the side over the top of supraspinatus just remember it’s deep and in a groove so give it a good soak.

The middle and lower trapezius ar best massaged sitting, leaning forward.

Trapezius muscle, trigger points and pain
Trapezius muscle, trigger points and pain
Supraspinatus muscle, points and pain
Supraspinatus muscle, points and pain

Deltoid muscles

As these diagrams show they they run from your shoulder to part way down your arm, with part at the front, side and back. These are easy to reach and examine. And the easiest way to massage these is laying on your side. You roll backwards a bit for the front part, on your side for the side part, then forward for the back part of the muscle. Again, work systematically and give anything you find a good soak.

Deltoid muscles, trigger points and pain referral
Deltoid muscles, trigger points and pain referral

Biceps and Triceps

Now your biceps and triceps muscles are very easy to massage. It sits at the front and back of your arm running from your shoulder to your elbow so it’s very easy to reach and examine. To massage the muscle I just have the massager in the palm of my hand and go over the muscle systematically.

Biceps muscle, trigger points and pain referral
Biceps muscle, trigger points and pain referral

Pectoralis Major and Minor

As these diagrams show the biggest muscle pectoralis major sits on top running from the centre of your chest to the top of your arm, while pectoralis minor sits underneath the outer part running roughly vertical.

Pectoralis Major Muscle, trigger points and pain referral
Pectoralis Major Muscle, trigger points and pain referral
Pectoralis Minor Muscle, trigger points and pain referral
Pectoralis Minor Muscle, trigger points and pain referral


There’s a muscle sitting under your shoulder blade called subscapularis. It normally sits between your ribs and shoulder blade where you can’t get to it, but if you bring your arm up like this your shoulder blade sticks out and you can get to it a bit. With every other muscle I use the flat head on my massager to get the best vibration transfer, but because this one is so hard to get to I use the domed attachment.

What I do is sit the head in there getting the best access I can, and this is where you’ll be really glad you’re using a vibration massager. You’ll never be able to poke your fingers or thumb in far enough to effective massage this muscle, but the vibrations will soak in. That said it is difficult and there are a lot of sensitive structures near there so I definitely recommend getting a professional show you and make sure you are doing it correctly

Sub scapularis Muscle, trigger points and pain referral
Sub scapularis Muscle, trigger points and pain referral

Scalene Muscles

The last muscles are the scalenes that run deep along side of your neck. The scientists found that these were the least important of the 17 muscles, which is a good thing because I don’t want you self massaging them. They sit on top of sharp pointed parts of your spine right next to some major nerves and blood vessels. Leave these ones to the professionals.

Scalene muscles- leave to the professionals
Scalene muscles- leave to the professionals

Other things that can help shoulder pain

While treating these muscles can be highly effective (7,9–14)⁠ there can be other issues causing shoulder pain. Please check out the following articles for more information.

Shoulder pain reference articles

Why shoulder pain keeps coming back and what you can do about it
Do exercises help shoulder pain

Professional at desk


DrGraeme massagers were originally built by Dr Graeme for use in his clinic, and to prescribe to his patients for additional self use at home. Now these are used by colleagues and other professionals for similar purposes. If you are a professional and wish to know more about this therapy, or possibly get a sample massager to trial please check out our practitioner page.


  1. Robinson N, Lorenc A, Liao X. The evidence for Shiatsu: A systematic review of Shiatsu and acupressure. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2011;11.
  2. Cabo F, Baskwill A, Aguaristi I, Christophe-Tchakaloff S, Guichard JP. Shiatsu and acupressure: Two different and distinct techniques. Int J Ther Massage Bodyw Res Educ Pract. 2018;11(2):4–10.
  3. Sun M, Yang M, Rong J, Ma X, Zheng H, Cai D, et al. Trigger points and sensitized acupoints: same book, different covers? Acupunct Herb Med. 2021;1(2):74–80.
  4. Dorsher PT, Fleckenstein J. Trigger points and classical acupuncture points: Part 1: Qualitative and quantitative anatomic correspondences. Dtsch Zeitschrift fur Akupunkt. 2008;51(3):15–24.
  5. Dorsher PT, Fleckenstein J. Trigger points and classical acupuncture points Part 2: clincal correspondences in treating pain and somatovisceral disorders. Rev Int Acupunt. 2009;62–8.
  6. Dorsher PT, Fleckenstein J. Trigger Points and Classical Acupuncture Points Part 3: Relationships of Myofascial Referred Pain Patterns to Acupuncture Meridians. Dt Ztschr f Akup. 2009;52(1):9–14.
  7. Bron C, De Gast A, Dommerholt J, Stegenga B, Wensing M, Oostendorp RAB. Treatment of myofascial trigger points in patients with chronic shoulder pain: A randomized, controlled trial. BMC Med. 2011;9.
  8. Bron C. High prevalence of shoulder girdle muscles with myofascial trigger points in patients with shoulder pain. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2011;12.
  9. Gordon CM, Andrasik F, Schleip R, Birbaumer N, Rea M. Myofascial triggerpoint release (MTR) for treating chronic shoulder pain: A novel approach. J Bodyw Mov Ther 2016;20(3):614–22.
  10. Sergienko S, Kalichman L. Myofascial origin of shoulder pain: A literature review. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2015;19(1):91–101.
  11. Shih YF, Liao PW, Lee CS. The immediate effect of muscle release intervention on muscle activity and shoulder kinematics in patients with frozen shoulder: A cross-sectional, exploratory study. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2017;18(1):1–10.
  12. van den Dolder P, Ferreira PH, Refshauge KM. Effectiveness of Soft Tissue Massage for Nonspecific Shoulder Pain: Randomized Controlled Trial. Phys Ther. 2015;95(11):1467–77.
  13. Hains G, Descarreaux M, Hains F. Chronic Shoulder Pain of Myofascial Origin: A Randomized Clinical Trial Using Ischemic Compression Therapy. J Manipulative Physiol Ther . 2010;33(5):362–9.
  14. Esparza D, Aladro-gonzalvo AR, Rybarczyk Y. Effects of Local Ischemic Compression on Upper Limb Latent Myofascial Trigger Points : A Study of Subjective Pain and Linear Motor Performance. Rehabil Res Pract. 2019 Mar 4;2019

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Dr Graeme

About Dr Graeme

Several years ago Dr Graeme, a Chiropractor practicing in Victoria, Australia was looking for a serious hand held massager his patients could use at home to get the extra quality massage they needed. The ones he found in the shops and on-line for home use looked nice but were not serious, and... read more

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