Shoulder Blade Pain: 12 Possible Causes and Treatments
Experiencing some pain between shoulder blades may seem familiar to many adults. People who are going through pain in shoulder blades also go through aching, dull, sore or shooting pain in the upper part of the back between the shoulder blades.
This pain is also known as interscapular pain. In most of the cases, shoulder blade pain is not a serious issue and can be caused by a minor muscle strain. But there can be times when it may be a sign of a serious condition as a heart attack or lung cancer.
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What Causes Shoulder Blade Pain? 12 Possible Causes
Shoulder blade pain can occur for various reasons. There can be number possible causes for the pain that you feel between your shoulder blades. Some of them are:-
1. Muscle Strain
One of the most common causes of shoulder blade pain is the muscle strain. A muscle strain can result from poor postures (especially slouching), lifting bulky items, changing workout routines or sleeping in one position for too long.
Shingle is an infection which occurs due to the same virus that causes chickenpox. It could be one of the reasons for shoulder blade pain. The pain is usually a burning sensation which is then followed by a rash. The pain precedes the outbreak making it difficult to get diagnosed initially.
3. Disc Disease
Collapsed or displaced disc can result in compression of nerves in the neck. This compression can cause pain between your shoulder blades. It may also cause pain in your neck or numbness down the arms and to the fingers.
It is a disease which makes the bones brittle and fragile. Fracturing your scapula is sporadic, but it may readily occur because the bones are already brittle. It may not require a lot of force to crack your shoulder blade; it can happen if you fall.
Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine that can cause pain between the two shoulder blades. A curved spinal cord causes shoulder pain because the muscles near the curves, located at the top of the spine, work harder than usual to compensate for the unusual angle. It puts a strain on the muscles which feel like a pain in the shoulder.
Whiplash is a soft tissue injury to the neck and is also known as neck sprain or neck strain. A whiplash injury can affect bones, ligaments, disks, nerves, and muscles in the neck.
A whiplash injury may be evident immediately after an accident or a few days later. Pain can begin from the neck and extend to the shoulder blades.
7. Frozen Shoulder
Also called as adhesive capsulitis, frozen shoulder causes pain and stiffness in the shoulders. It is the inflammation and thickening of the shoulder capsule, which wraps the shoulder joint. This condition can take years to heal but can be aided by regular physiotherapy exercises.
8. Abdominal Conditions or Stomach Disorders
Sometimes, the pain between shoulder blades can also result from stomach disorders and digestive issues. The type of pain that occurs in the right shoulder is a result of gallstones, peptic ulcers, or liver disease. The ailments leading to the pain in the left shoulder blade include pancreatitis.
9. Heart Conditions
Pain in the shoulder blades can sometimes be a result of a heart condition, especially in the case of women. Heart attacks or aortic dissection can cause pain in the left shoulder blade. This pain may come along with the chest pain and shortness of breath.
Lung cancer can cause referred pain between the shoulder blades by pushing the nerves near the top of the lungs. The types of cancers which may cause pain in the shoulder blade region include esophageal cancer, mesothelioma, lymphomas, and liver cancer. Breast cancer may also cause pain between the shoulder blades, sometimes without showing any other symptoms.
11. Gallbladder Disease
The pain from the gallbladder attack usually occurs as a shooting pain between the shoulder blades. It causes pain under the right scapula, and the pain can diffuse from the upper abdomen to the shoulder. It commonly happens after having a fatty meal.
It is difficult to fracture the scapula, but it is not impossible. Fractures of the scapula can occur as a result of an accident or fall and can lead to severe shoulder blade pain.
Home Remedies for Shoulder Blade Pain
Some people can find relief from shoulder blade pain by performing simple remedies at home.
1. Regular Exercise
Regular exercise and physical activity play a very crucial role in the overall health of a person. Exercising can also strengthen areas in your back, which may help in reducing sharp pain between shoulder blades. Pushups, pull-ups, and sit-ups are considered to be the best exercises to strengthen the muscles of your back and abdomen.
2. Intake a Proper Diet
Certain foods can cause inflammation in your body which could worsen the symptoms. One should try to avoid processed foods, and increase the intake of fruits and vegetables. Foods that are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon may also help with the shoulder blade pain.
In most of the cases, the pain in the shoulder blades occurs because of the overuse of the muscles or joints. Massage or physical therapy can relieve tightness between shoulder blades.
4. Massage Therapy
In a massage therapy, the therapist works on the areas between the shoulder blades to relax muscle tissue which provides comfort. There are handheld massaging devices available in the market which can be easily used at home.
5. Physical or Occupational Therapy
Your doctor might suggest you go for a physical or occupational therapy, in case you have an injury or a compressed nerve. A therapist will help you to perform some exercises that may improve symptoms and provide relief from the shoulder blade pain.
Stretching activities like yoga can help to get relief from the pain. This improves circulation in the muscles and the joints.
7. Massage the Shoulder Area
Rest your shoulders on a massage ball and roll on it along with the weight of your body.
8. Chest Stretch
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and raise both arms in a position such that your hands are next to your ears. Take a deep breath, and while breathing out, lower your elbows and bring them behind your back. You will feel your shoulder blades slide down, and also a stretch across your chest and at the front of your shoulders.
9. Stretch the Shoulders
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and intertwine your fingers with palms facing down. Raise your arms up and stretch them over the head while keeping the fingers interlocked. Your palm must face towards the ceiling. You can feel the areas of the upper back experiences stretch.
10. Stretching the Thoracic Spine
Place a foam roller underneath your shoulders and rest on it. Keep your ribs downward and don’t arch your back too much. Keep your hands behind your head and then roll gently on the roller.
11. Strengthen Postural Muscles
Stand against a wall with your back touching the wall. Bend your arms at the elbow, hands facing up and palms outward (it should look like a W). Lift the hands above your head and change your position where you look like the alphabet I, hold you for few seconds and return to the W.
Related Reading: Sudden Shoulder Pain: Causes, Treatment and Prevention
How to Prevent Shoulder Blade Pain
People can adopt the following measures to prevent shoulder blade pain:
- Maintain a good posture: Always try to practice proper posture. Stand and sit tall and avoid sagging.
- Avoid sitting for long hours: If you have a job where you have to sit for hours, remember to get up and stretch your body frequently. It will help in keeping your muscles loose.
- Avoid heavy lifting: Lifting heavy items may result in injuries, which can increase the pain between your shoulder blades. Do not carry heavy bags on one shoulder. If you have to lift something, try not to put much pressure on your back.
- Embrace healthy habits: Healthy lifestyle can make you feel energetic and also can manage the pain. Make sure to have a meal which full of all the essential nutrients, get seven to eight hours of sleep each night, and exercise regularly.
When to See a Doctor?
If the pain between the blades of your shoulders is severe and does not go away, you should visit the doctor. When the shoulder blade pain is accompanied by symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, fever, swelling or pain in your legs, it could be a serious condition which requires an urgent visit to the physician.
If the pain does not go away or is reduced even after above remedies, the best option is to seek medical help right away to identify the cause and severity of your condition.
Continuous pain in the shoulder blades can affect our day to day activities. So, it is better to consult a physician and get diagnosed before the condition becomes severe.
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Eldridge, L., “What Causes Pain Between the Shoulder Blades?” Very Well web site, August 11, 2017; https://www.verywell.com/pain-between-shoulder-blades-2248950.
Marks, J., “What Causes Shoulder Blade Pain and How to Treat It,” Healthline web site; https://www.healthline.com/health/shoulder-blade-pain#overview1, last accessed October 23, 2017.
Lunardo, E., “Shoulder blade (scapula) pain causes, symptoms, treatments, and exercises”, Bel Marra Health web site, April 22, 2016; https://www.belmarrahealth.com/shoulder-blade-scapula-pain-causes-symptoms-treatments-and-exercises.