Shoulder Blade Pain

What is Shoulder Blade Pain?

Recurrent movements or overuse of your upper back muscles can often result into a sharp throbbing pain, in one or both of the shoulder blades which is often referred to as shoulder blade pain or pain in the scapula.

Shoulder blade pain is referred to any discomfort that may be experienced in between or below the shoulder blades or within, under or over the shoulder blades.

Pain in the shoulder blades may be often experienced because of the overuse of muscles, stress, bad posture, muscle injury, pinched spinal nerves or any other disorders in the neighboring organs like heart, lung, abdomen etc.

Shoulder Blade

The shoulder blades are also known as the scapula. These are two triangular shaped bone located at your upper back side of the body and below the neck.The function of the scapula is to connect the upper arm bone (called humerus) and the collarbone( called clavicle) forming an intricate network of muscles and nerves connecting the neck with upper back and arms.The shoulder blade pain may be caused due to numerous reasons such as muscle strain or critical ailment conditions like heart attack, lung disorders or tumors.

Shoulder Blade Pain Symptoms

There may be multiple reasons associated with the shoulder blade pain, however the most common are the postural disorders.  Shoulder blades which are often referred as Scapula are the two triangular shaped bone which is connected to the upper arm bone (known as humerus) to the collarbone (known as clavicle) in the upper part of your body.  The upper part of the body also comprises of the thoracic spine, which, along with the scapula provides support to the rib cage. The upper part of the region, back, and spine form a complex network of muscles, bones, and nerves and are responsible for protecting various vital organs like lungs, heart etc.

Because of the complex network of nerves and muscles and adjoining organs, the pain in the shoulder region may originate from any of the nearby organs or nerve tissues and often the diagnosis becomes difficult at times. The pain in the shoulder region, may sometimes be a “referred pain”, i.e. the pain is experienced in the shoulder region, however, its origin is somewhere else in the body. For example, shoulder pain experienced during the heart attack.

What Causes Shoulder Blade Pain?

As discussed above the pain in the shoulder blade may be caused because of multiple reasons. The shoulder blade pain may be experienced on the right side or the left side or maybe between the shoulders.

Right Shoulder Blade Pain: may be caused due to various reasons such as a disorder in the abdominal region like spleen, appendix or stomach; gallstones; cancer in the liver; ectopic pregnancy or rupture in the ovary or ovarian tube; and few pelvic inflammatory diseases.

Left Shoulder Blade Pain: may occur because of the digestive system disorder like irritable bowel syndrome; various disorders in heart; spleen or pancreas.

Pain between the shoulder blades: may occur due to reflux diseases; Cancer like Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and esophageal cancer; bone cancer or osteoporosis or broken vertebra.

As discussed above, the pain in the shoulder region may be experienced due to multiple reasons, few of the important and most common reasons have been listed below:

  • Fatigue or strain in Shoulder Muscles:  Overuse of shoulder muscles is one of the most common reasons for shoulder pain. Vigorous or recurrent use of shoulder muscle may lead to severe strain and inflammation in the muscle tissues, causing sharp pain which may often radiate to the scapula region. This is many a time observed in sports players like tennis and cricket players.
  • Poor Posture: Pain between the shoulder blades may be caused due to the inflammation of muscles caused due to wrong posture; wrong sitting or standing habits. If the head is held straight, then it provides proper stability and thus less strain on muscles. Hunching forward causes extra pressure on the muscles, hence causing fatigue and pain.
  • Change in the Sleeping Positions: Often prolong sleeping on one side or if the position of the head is kept in an odd position or because of the uncomfortable pillow; the neck muscles may get strained thus causing unbearable pain and stiffness in the neck which often moves down to the shoulders.
  • Pinched Nerve or inflammation in nerves: A nerve injury or damage of the nerve tissues may result in a sharp unbearable pain in the shoulder region which may often radiate down the arms. The person may experience excruciating pain in the shoulder region along with burning sensation in the fingers and hands.
  • Heart Attack: A heart attack or an impending heart attack is often accompanied by the pain in the chest area. The person experiencing heart failure often complains of having an unbearable pain in the left arm and shoulder along with the pain in the chest area.  However, pain in the shoulder may not always be indicative of a heart attack, but shall not be ignored either.
  • Gall Bladder Disease: Inflammation of the gallbladder or occurrence of gallstone are among the two most important disorders associated with the upper abdomen. Often these two diseases cause pain in the upper abdomen region, which radiates into the upper part of the body between the scapulas causing pain and discomfort in the shoulder region.
  • Herniated discs: This condition is often referred as slip disc. The disc is a special pad-like structure in between the vertebrae region, which provides a cushion like structure and acts as shock absorbers. Often due to mechanical injury or because of any disease, the disc gets ruptured. Rupturing of the disc in the cervical region may cause discomfort and pain in between the shoulder blades.
  • Broken Scapula:  Any mechanical or accidental injury may cause a broken scapula. This is a serious condition and causes intense pain especially while moving hands or arms. The region may often appear discolored and swollen.
  • Myofascial Pain. This is a chronic condition where the muscle sheaths have lots of knots like structures. These knots in the muscle sheath may act as trigger points. The movement of the shoulder blades may trigger these knots causing twitching of the muscle tissue resulting in unbearable sharp pain in the shoulder region which might radiate in the lower arm region.

Shoulder Blade Pain Treatment

The doctor has to first find out the underlying cause of the shoulder pain. The treatment methods shall be based on the final diagnosis. If the shoulder pain is caused due to mild reasons like a muscle injury, etc. so mild painkillers and physiotherapy shall be sufficient.

Few general remedies that can be tried to reduce shoulder blade pain are as below:

  • Maintaining Good Posture: Keeping a good straight posture helps relax muscles and reduce pain. This also includes sleeping in a correct position where the head and shoulders are properly aligned. Also taking a comfortable pillow to give support to the neck and lying on back, if sleeping on sides increases the shoulder pain.
  • Taking Proper Rest: If the pain is caused due to overuse of muscles, then it is often advisable to take a break and give rest to the muscles for some time. While resting use of heat and cold packs may be used to soothe the pain and relieve the pain.
  • Retraction Exercises: In most of the general causes of shoulder pain, following proper exercise routine shall be enough for the treatment. Many retraction exercises are suggested which generally involve stretching the area which helps in increasing muscle flexibility, thus easing the movements.
  • Surgery: This is suggested in extreme cases with a broken scapula, Snapping scapula syndrome, pinched nerves, calcium deposition in tendons etc.


Last updated on February 20th, 2018 at 11:16 am

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