Shoulder blade pain can occur for numerous reasons, and we are going to look into those causes along with the symptoms, treatments, and exercises that can help improve shoulder blade pain.
The shoulder blades – known as the scapula – are two triangle-shaped bones located at the top of your back. The scapula is connected to the humerus (upper arm bone) and clavicle (collar bone) along with the muscles of the upper back, neck, and arms.
Shoulder blade pain can be experienced above, within, over, or under the shoulder blades, as well as in-between and below the shoulder blades. As mentioned, there are numerous reasons for shoulder blade pain ranging from mild causes like muscle strain to more severe like lung conditions or tumors.
Causes of shoulder blade pain
Below are 27 different causes of shoulder blade pain to help you narrow in on what may be causing your pain.
Muscle strains, muscle contusion (bruise): Overuse of the muscles surrounding the shoulder can result in shoulder blade pain. Other causes of muscle strain are changing workout routine, overusing the muscles, lifting heavier weight than what you are used to, or sleeping in one position for too long.
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Disc disease: Compression of nerves in the neck due to a collapsed or displaced disc can result in shoulder blade pain. You may also experience pain in your neck, or tingling or numbness down your arms to your fingers.
Heart conditions: More commonly seen in women, shoulder pain can be sometimes a result of a heart condition. Heart attacks, pericarditis, or aortic dissection can cause pain in the left shoulder.
Fractures: It is quite difficult to fracture the scapula, but it is possible. Fractures of the scapula commonly occur as a result of a car accident or fall and can lead to shoulder blade pain.
Shingles: Shingles is an infection from the chickenpox virus. This type of shoulder blade pain is often a burning sensation followed by a rash.
Bone metastases: Bone metastases occur with the spread of a cancerous tumor. The shoulder pain is often a result of the spread of breast, lung, esophageal, and colon cancer.
Lung conditions and tumor: Lung conditions like pulmonary emboli or a collapsed lung along with lung tumors can contribute to shoulder blade pain.
Arthritis, osteoarthritis: Arthritis or osteoarthritis can affect the scapula causing shoulder blade pain.
Snapping scapula syndrome, broken scapula, scapular cancer: There are conditions that solely affect the scapula, such as snapping scapula syndrome, broken scapula, and scapular cancer, leading to pain.
Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis is a bone disease, which causes the bones to become thin and fragile. The scapula can be affected by osteoporosis resulting in pain.
Abdominal conditions (GERD, stomach disorders): Sometimes, a shoulder blade pain can result from stomach and digestive issues. This type of pain can occur in the right shoulder and is a result of gallstones, peptic ulcers, and liver disease. Ailments that lead to pain in the left shoulder blade include pancreatitis.
Gallbladder disease: A gallbladder attack can cause pain under the right scapula and the pain can radiate from the upper abdomen to the shoulder.
Liver disease: Liver disease can lead to pain under the right shoulder because the liver is located under the right rib so the pain radiates to the shoulder.
Overuse of shoulder muscles: As mentioned, the overuse of shoulder muscles, whether through exercise or work, can cause pain.
Sleeping the “wrong way”: Sleeping for prolonged periods of time on one side or simply sleeping at an odd angle can cause shoulder blade pain.
Nerve impingement: If your shoulder blade pain radiates down your arm it could be a result of nerve impingement. You may also experience a burning sensation in your hand.
Rotator cuff injury: This injury is most common among athletes and affects one of the four muscles of the rotator cuff.
Scoliosis: Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine, which can cause pain between the two shoulders.
Paget’s disease: Paget’s disease is a chronic viral infection of the bones which can cause shoulder blade pain.
Brachial neuritis: Brachial neuritis is a rare neurological condition without a precise cause. Symptoms of brachial neuritis include sudden, severe burning pain above the shoulder.Whiplash: Whiplash is a strain or sprain of the upper neck muscles, tendons, or ligaments. Pain can begin at the neck and radiate downward.
Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia is characterized by allover pain with unknown cause. Fibromyalgia patients are known to have tender points and shoulder blades are among those tender points.
Pleurisy: Pleurisy is inflammation of the lung membrane caused by a viral infection.
Enlarged spleen: An enlarged spleen can cause left shoulder blade pain, which can worsen when breathing in and out.
Frozen shoulder: Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) is inflammation and thickening of the shoulder capsule, which wraps the shoulder joint. The condition can take years to heal, but can be aided in physiotherapy exercises.
Avascular necrosis: Avascular necrosis is bone death as a result of limited blood supply. Symptoms include deep, throbbing, and poorly localized pain around the shoulder that can radiate down to the elbow.
Symptoms of shoulder blade pain
The symptoms you experience depend on the cause of your shoulder pain. Pain can be sudden, chronic, temporary, burning, radiating from one area to another, and appearing in different parts of the shoulder. Shoulder blade pain can also cause numbness or tingling, and pain can become worsened when lying on the shoulder or breathing.
Another symptom of shoulder blade pain is crepitus, which is a grating sound when the shoulder moves or when it is pressed.
Pain under right shoulder blade
Pain under the right shoulder can have minor or severe causes. Causes which typically result in pain under the right shoulder include using a computer mouse, carrying a child on the right side, incorrect posture, sleep positions, heart attack, gallbladder attack, liver disease, breast cancer, and arthritis.
Pain under left shoulder blade
Common causes of pain under the left shoulder blade include injury, aging, wrong sleeping position, cold or flu, dislocation, frozen shoulder, fracture, bursitis, torn rotator cuff, compressed nerve, trigger points, inflammation, heart attack, gallbladder attacks, and pneumonia.
Pain between the shoulder blades
Common causes of shoulder blade pain experienced in-between the shoulders are poor posture, herniated discs, gallbladder disease, heart attack, inflammation under the diaphragm, spinal stenosis, cervical spondylosis, osteoarthritis, and facet joint syndrome.
Shoulder blade pain diagnosis and treatment options
If shoulder pain does not go away within a few days, you should see your doctor as it could be an indication of a more serious injury or ailment. Your doctor will perform MRI scans in order to see what is going on with your shoulder to determine if medical intervention is required or home remedies will suffice.
Some treatment options for shoulder blade pain include stopping the pain-causing activity and resting, keeping proper posture, practicing scapular retraction exercises, applying cold and hot compresses, reducing stress, maintaining a healthy weight, practicing acupuncture, wearing a sling, getting massages, taking medications like painkillers or anti-inflammatory medications, getting treatment for underlying illnesses like heart or lung conditions, arthritis, and other infections, which could contribute to shoulder blade pain.
Stretches for shoulder blade pain
Here are some tips, stretches, and exercises you can perform in order to help shoulder blade pain.
Improve your work station: Ensure feet are flat on the ground and knees are bent at a 90-degree angle, back is straight, arms are bent at the elbow at 90 degrees, monitor is at eye level, and your mouse is close to your keyboard.
Correct your posture: Ear, shoulder, and hip joint should be aligned when sitting with good posture. Shoulders should not be slouched and your head should not be tilted.
Massage the area: Lay your shoulder on the massage ball and roll on it with the weight of your body.
Stretch the shoulders: Intertwine your fingers together, lean back, and hunch your upper body as far back as possible, push your hands as far away from you as possible, while looking down. In this position, you can move around to feel other areas of the upper back become stretched.
Stretch the thoracic spine: Have a foam roller underneath your shoulders and lay on it. Keep your ribs downward, but don’t arch your back too much. Keep your hands behind your head in order to support it. Roll gently on the roller.
Do a chest stretch: Stand in the middle of a doorway with each hand forward flat on the side of the door frame. Gently lean into the door frame and feel your chest opening up.
Strengthen postural muscles: Stand up against a wall with your back touching. Have your arms bent at the elbow, hands facing up, palms outward (you should look like a W). Lift your hands above the head to make yourself into the letter I, hold, and return back to the W.
After completing any type of exercise, apply heat packs to the area to further relax the muscle.