Deltoid Pain: Causes, Exercises And Treatment

Have you ever gone to the hospital and needed to take a shot in your arm? The injection could be given at the hand, elbow or your arm close to the shoulder. When given in the hand and elbow, it is given through the veins in these areas but when given in the upper part of your arm, it is injected into a muscle.

This muscle in the upper arm is known as the deltoid muscle. The deltoid muscle is responsible for raising our hands from the shoulder in any direction and also stabilizes the shoulder joint.

Deltoid pain is, therefore, pain located or felt at the deltoid muscle.

In this article, we will be discussing what causes pain in this muscle and how it can be treated, even at home.

What Causes Deltoid Pain?

deltoid pain

  1. A muscle strain is an injury to the muscle. The deltoid muscle can be strained by carrying heavy weight over your head or pulling a pulley such as trying to get the generator on or the lawn mower or a chain saw. The muscle strain can be classified into grade levels. These levels are:
    • In a grade 1 strain, there is mild pain but there is still movement at the shoulder joint
    • In a grade 2 strain, there is a partial tear in the muscle and difficulty lifting the affected hand
    • In a grade 3 strain, there is a complete tear in the deltoid muscle which causes severe pain and difficulty using the affected hand.
  2. Overusing the deltoid muscle or doing activities that use the deltoid muscle a lot like swimming or weight lifting can cause deltoid pain.
  3. A contusion is an injury to the blood vessels in a muscle which is usually caused by trauma. It usually leaves a bruise at the position of the muscle. A contusion in the deltoid muscle leads to pain.
  4. Improper warm-up before any activity will put the deltoid muscle at risk of an injury. Warm-ups are necessary to prepare a muscle for any activity.
  5. Side sleeping, especially more on a particular side, can lead to deltoid pain. This can be due to muscle imbalance at the shoulder joint which places pressure on the deltoid muscle that is meant to stabilize the shoulder joint.
  6. Cervical radiculopathy is a condition that starts from the neck and radiates down one or both arms. This is caused by herniated disks at the cervical spine which compresses the nerves that start from them. The nerve that supplies the deltoid muscle comes from the cervical spine and once the nerve is compressed, it can cause deltoid pain.

How Can We Be Sure That The Deltoid Is Affected?

swimmer's shoulder

  1. Pain at the shoulder joint
  2. Swelling
  3. Reduced movement at the affected shoulder
  4. Being unable to raise the affected hand.
  5. Diagnostic tests
    • A doctor will advise running some tests to know the severity of the deltoid injury and if there is no associated injury causing the deltoid pain. An X-ray may be recommended to rule out fracture or dislocation. An electromyogram tests the muscle activity. A CT scan or an MRI scan will give a clearer picture of the muscle.

How Can It Be Treated?

deltoid massage

1. Medications

Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or diclofenac are usually prescribed to help relieve pain and reduce swelling.

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2. R.I.C.E.

R.I.C.E. is an acronym that is used for any form of muscular injury for the first 3 – 5 days after the injury happens. The RICE stands for:

Rest, which means reduce or stop all activities that involve the shoulder joint in order not to worsen the injury at the deltoid muscle.

Ice (not heat) the affected area using ready-made ice packs or making your own ice packs at home. This can be done by placing ice cubes in a damp towel or a bag of frozen vegetables on the deltoid muscle.

Compression helps to reduce swelling that can occur at the deltoid muscle. A compression bandage can be wrapped around the muscle but it must not be too tight because it can reduce blood flow to the deltoid muscle and slow down the healing process.

Elevation is the position an injured part of the body should be placed. The shoulder can be placed on stacked pillows above or at chest level. Elevation helps in reducing swelling.

3. Physiotherapy

A referral to the physiotherapist is written by the doctor to help in recovery from muscular pain. The physiotherapist will assess you to ensure that there is no associated condition and to try and pinpoint the major cause of pain. Realistic goals with treatments to speed up the recovery process are designed after the assessment. The physiotherapy goals will involve:

      • Pain relief which is brought about by using ice and gradually changing to heat, deep tissue massage with an analgesic cream containing an active ingredient like ibuprofen or diclofenac.
      • Strengthening the deltoid muscles and other muscles that support the movement of the shoulder joint. using exercise The exercises are prescribed by the physiotherapist as the injury heals to avoid re-injury to the injured muscle.
      • Increase the range of movement by reducing stiffness at the shoulder joint. Exercises or manual manipulation can be used to increase movement at the affected shoulder joint.
      • Modify your lifestyle by educating you on proper posture, lifting techniques, and stretches that can be done anywhere and anytime.

4. Exercises

exercise for deltoids

    1. Static Shoulder Abduction Exercises
      • Stand with the affected side facing the wall
      • Lift your affected arm slowly and let your hand touch the wall
      • Hold this position for 20 – 30 seconds
      • Relax
    2. Arm Circles
      • Lift your arms out to the side
      • Use your lifted arms to draw 10 small circles in a clockwise direction and then in an anticlockwise direction
      • Draw another 10 circles in a clockwise direction
      • Then as the injury heals, draw big circles in an anticlockwise and a clockwise direction
      • This warms up the muscles in the upper limbs and also strengthens the deltoid muscles
    3. Shoulder Abduction Exercises
      • Stand with your feet slightly apart
      • Lift the affected arm to the side slowly till it is in line with the shoulder joint
      • Return the lifted hand to your side and repeat 10 times.
      • This exercise can be done with a weight or resistance band.
    4. YTW
      • Take your two hands out in front of you at shoulder level
      • Take them over your head and return to starting position (Y)
      • Take them out to the sides and return to starting position (T)
      • Then bend your elbows with your palms facing the wall in front of you and your elbows trying to touch themselves at the back (W)
      • Return to starting position and repeat 5 times.
    5. Deltoid Stretch
      • With your shoulders relaxed by your side, take your right arm across your body towards the left
      • Place your left palm on your right upper arm to stretch the deltoid muscle
      • Hold for 20 seconds and repeat on the other arm
    6. Shoulder Flexion Exercises
      • The deltoid muscles assist in shoulder flexion
      • Lift your affected arm in front of you
      • Hold for 5 seconds then relax the arm
      • Repeat 10 times
      • As the injury heals, weights or resistance bands can be held to help strengthen the deltoid muscle.
    7. Shoulder Extension Exercises
      • Take the affected arm to the back as far as you can go
      • Ensure you do not bend your upper body forward
      • Hold for 5 seconds then relax
      • Repeat this 10 times

Complications

Deltoid pain can lead to weakness in the deltoid muscles. If the pain is not treated or well treated, it can lead to:

  • Shoulder dislocation
  • Reduced muscle size of the deltoid muscle
  • Inability to properly use the affected arm
  • Shoulder joint stiffness

Prevention

deltoid stretches

  1. Always warm up the deltoid muscles before carrying out any activity that will involve it
  2. Take stretch breaks especially when are doing a lot of “over-the-head” activities
  3. If you are a side – sleeper, sleep appropriately to avoid straining the deltoid muscle
  4. Rest after every exercise to give the deltoid muscles time to recover.
  5. Do not stay in one position for too long. Move about and shake up your body. This can be like a mini warmup at work
  6. Strengthen your shoulder muscles, not just the deltoid, as they all work together to stabilize the joints and support themselves.

Summary

Conclusion

Deltoid pain is more of an overuse injury and takes a while before it produces symptoms. Luckily, it can be avoided by doing some easy day to day steps and the healing process depends on the severity of the injury. An early treatment brings about a quick recovery.

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Adekanmi Lipede, M.Sc, MPH

Adekanmi Lipede is a licensed physiotherapist with a Master's degree in physical activity and public health from Loughborough University. She joined 25 Doctors in 2018 and is passionate about educating people about the best steps to take when trying to be physically fit or when recovering from a mobility-related condition. For fun, she loves to exercise and read.
Adekanmi Lipede, M.Sc, MPH
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