Deltoid muscle pain: Symptoms, causes, and pain relief tips

deltoidDeltoid muscle pain can cause unpleasant shoulder and upper arm pain that makes movement difficult. Deltoid muscle pain can be mild or severe, but either way, sufferers are usually anxious to find relief so they can return to normal activity.

The deltoid muscle is the muscle that covers the tip of the shoulder. It is made up of three parts: the anterior, middle, and posterior. The deltoid connects the shoulder, the shoulder blade, and collarbone to the upper arm. The deltoid muscle has an important function. It rotates arms, enabling us to carry objects and move them from one spot to another. This muscle also prevents the humerus bone, which is the long bone in the upper arm, from dislocating or getting injured when we carry heavy objects.


When we hear someone say that they have a deltoid strain, it is likely because the deltoid muscle was torn or strained as a result of excess pressure being put on it. Deltoid strain is common among athletes, especially those who participate in sports like discus and shot put, as well as baseball.

When we consider what the deltoid does, it is easy to understand how not being able to use an arm due to deltoid strain can be disabling. For example, the anterior deltoid helps raise the arm in front of the body, to the side, and across the front. The posterior deltoid pulls the arm behind the body, twists the arm away from the body, and brings the arm down to the body from an overhead position.

Deltoid muscle strain classification

There are three different classifications for deltoid muscle strain: grade one, grade two, and grade three.

Grade one – Causes mild tightness and pain in the shoulders. People with this grade can usually still use their shoulder for activities.

Grade two – Usually the result of a major injury to the muscle. There could be partial rupture of the deltoid muscle. People with this grade will have increased pain and difficulty, using their shoulder for activities.

Grade three – There is likely a complete rupture of the deltoid muscle. People who experience this grade have severe pain and can’t use their shoulder for any activities.

As you may have guessed, the grades are based on the severity of the injury a person receives.

Symptoms of deltoid muscle pain

When someone has strained the deltoid muscle, they can experience a sudden pain in the front of the shoulder. That pain can happen again when they lift the arm from the side to the front or when lifting the arm from the side up sideways against resistance in situations where the strain is in the middle part or top part of the muscle. Tenderness and swelling are also common symptoms when the muscle is torn. Some people who experience severe injuries will even see bruising.

Let’s take a look at the symptoms for each grade of deltoid muscle injury:

Grade one – Tightness in the muscles, unable to do press-ups easily.

Grade two – Unable to do press-ups, sudden twinges of pain during activity, some swelling, and pain when lifting the arm up to the front, side, or back against resistance.

Grade three – Unable to move the arm, extreme swelling, possibly a bulge or gap in the muscle, and severe pain.

Those who suffer from grade three are more likely to experience deltoid muscle pain while sleeping. They can also expect to be out of competition for anywhere from 3 to 12 weeks or more.

What causes deltoid muscle pain?

Deltoid muscle pain causes are usually linked to activities. Some of the most common causes are swimming, skiing, heavy weightlifting, repetitive throwing, using heavy tools, carrying children, and repetitive typing when the keyboard is too high.

Being conscious of what causes deltoid muscle pain can help prevent it in a lot of cases.

Trigger points can be activated in the deltoid muscle. Trigger points are sensitive areas of the body that can impact another part of the body. Trauma, such as falling on the shoulder; overload, like when you reach out with your arm to brace a fall; and repetitive activity, including hours of using power tools, can activate trigger points.

Diagnosis of deltoid muscle pain

The cause of the injury and the symptoms a person experiences can help the doctor determine if it is a deltoid muscle strain. The physician will likely conduct an examination that looks at range of motion, strength, and swelling in the shoulder. Radiographs are ordered in cases where a doctor suspects there might be a fracture or dislocation. An MRI may be ordered if a severe rotator cuff injury or tear is suspected.

Deltoid muscle pain treatment and recovery tips

In many cases, deltoid pain relief requires a conservative approach. Many people find that rest, ice, compression, and elevation are all they need to recover. Depending on the severity of the condition, some patients are given NSAIDS, such as Tylenol or ibuprofen, as part of their deltoid muscle pain treatment. These medications can help lessen the pain and reduce inflammation.


Many people who have suffered from deltoid muscle pain have reported success with over-the-counter cooling gels. These topical solutions can cool the area and help prevent swelling. There are also those who find warm therapy works. Much like cooling gels provide a cool sensation, warm gels provide warmth to the area and can relieve stiffness and mild pain. A cold and warm shoulder wrap can also be used. It provides both therapies and is said to decrease inflammation.

Recovery from deltoid muscle strain can take time. Some people are better in just a couple weeks, while others find it takes several weeks or months. It’s important to not rush your recovery and follow physician instructions so that you don’t prolong the agony or reinjure yourself.

If you experience deltoid muscle pain, explain all of the signs and symptoms to your doctor, and describe your daily activities and any new activities you might have taken part in recently. The more information the doctor has, the quicker you will be diagnosed. While activity strain is the main cause, sometimes, personal injury can be ruled out. Research shows that there are some cases where certain medical conditions, such as rotator cuff damage, bicipital tendinitis, and glenohumeral joint arthritis, can lead to deltoid muscle pain.


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