Are you experiencing pain between your shoulder blades?
There are many possible reasons for shoulder blade pain or scapulae pain.
This type of shoulder pain could be caused by relatively mild and fixable issues such as sleeping in the wrong position or on a bad mattress, or using poor posture when sitting at your desk or computer (those of us who hunch over our laptops know who we are).
On the other hand, shoulder blade pain or pain between shoulder blades could be a symptom of something much more serious, such as a heart attack, lung cancer, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, pulmonary embolisms, gallbladder disease, scoliosis, or shingles.
Which means that if you are feeling pain in your shoulder blades or shoulder area in general, you should consult with a doctor immediately.
Keep in mind that pain in the shoulder blade area could be either an inflammation in the scapula area itself (scapula pain) or referred pain from elsewhere in the body, such as the lungs, torso, and back, so if you are feeling pain in the shoulder blade region the cause might not actually be a shoulder issue.
You should also be aware that some conditions which cause shoulder blade pain affect the right and left shoulder blades differently, so you should be aware that right shoulder blade pain can be the result of different conditions than left shoulder blade pain or right shoulder blade pain.
Here is everything you’ll learn from this post about shoulder blade pain:
- Defining shoulder blade pain
- What does shoulder blade pain feel like?
- How are your shoulder blades structured?
- Shoulder blade pain from muscle strains
- Shoulder blade pain from bone and joint issues
- Treatments for shoulder blade pain
Defining shoulder blade pain
It’s helpful to understand your anatomy when you are trying to determine the cause of your shoulder blade pain; while of course your orthopaedic surgeon can help, it’s always good to be informed by doing some research yourself.
Let’s start with the anatomy.
Your shoulder blades are the triangular bones in your upper back, and the medical or technical term for them is the scapulae.
They stick out when you move your arms behind your back or flex your elbows towards your back.
The key function of your shoulder blades is to support the rotation or pivoting movements of your arms. Each shoulder blade bone is connected to three different groups of muscles that control the movement of your arms and back.
Because of the way that your shoulder blades are connected to the rest of your body, pain in that spot may be the result of problems in your neck, torso, or abdomen as opposed to being a shoulder injury or issue.
Which is why shoulder blade pain should always be taken seriously, even if it doesn’t seem acute or particularly troublesome at the onset.
What does shoulder blade pain feel like?
Shoulder blade pain can present in different ways depending on the source.
For instance, muscle strains and similar problems can result in more of a dull ache or stiffness, while more significant problems can cause a tingling, numbing, or radiating pain.
Pain that is specifically localised on one side – your left or right shoulder blade – is more likely to be the result of an accident or another acute injury, but if pain on either side presents itself without a specific reason then you and your doctor should be especially concerned.
There is also the possibility of referred pain from other medical conditions. For instance, conditions such as arthritis, gallbladder issues, some types of cancers, and even heart attacks may manifest themselves in the shoulder blade area.
Pain that begins in other areas like the torso, neck, and lungs may manifest as shoulder blade pain due the way that your nerves transmit pain signals throughout the body.
If your shoulder blade pain is accompanied by shortness of breath, chest pain, excessive sweating, or lightheadedness, you should see a doctor immediately, since in this case the pain between your shoulder blades could be a warning about something much more serious.
The shoulder blade area can often be a spot where pain is referred and it can serve as a warning sign or signal of much bigger issues – which is why you should always take shoulder blade pain seriously, particularly if the source is unknown e.g. you didn’t experience an accident or other situation that caused trauma and damage to your shoulders, neck, or upper back.
How are your shoulder blades structured?
The area between and around the shoulder blades includes many of the most essential structures in your body, including the rhomboid muscles, the lower and middle trapezius muscles, the thoracic spine, the thoracic aorta, and even parts of the esophagus, lungs, and heart.
All of these elements are important for keeping your shoulder blades or scapula in place and supporting your spine and rib cage.
Shoulder blade pain from muscle strains
Your shoulder, neck, and back muscles can be injured or strained as a result of a variety of causes, ranging from sleeping in the wrong position to poor posture.
Muscle strains due to overuse of your arms and upper body muscles can cause pain between your shoulder blades as well as the related muscle groups.
Sleeping on your side in an awkward position or on a poor surface can also cause pain in the shoulder blade region. If you’ve started a new workout program, taken up a new sport, or even slept in a different bed, you may experience pain between your shoulder blades.
If your shoulder blade pain feels similar to a pulled muscle or other body ache, then you may have just be dealing with a simple strain.
On the other hand, it’s possible that pain in your shoulder blade area could be a symptom of conditions like fibromyalgia or myofascial pain syndrome (also referred to as nerve entrapment), especially if it’s an ongoing problem not connected to a recent event or injury.
You should also be aware of other conditions related to your arm and back muscles that cause shoulder blade pain, such as rotator cuff tears and snapping scapula syndrome.
Snapping scapula syndrome is a condition that causes shoulder cracking or snapping, which is referred to as crepitus.
Snapping scapula syndrome or crepitus can cause pain along the inside of the shoulder blade and it is often accompanied by shoulder instability, which happens when the structures that surround the shoulder joint do not work to maintain the ball and socket operations that allow your shoulder to operate.
Shoulder blade pain from bone and joint issues
Sometimes shoulder blade pain is the result of structural issues in the shoulder joints themselves. While shoulder blade fractures are relatively uncommon since it is one of the most difficult bones in the body to break or damage, fractures to the scapulae definitely cause shoulder blade pain.
These injuries typically are the result of a traumatic accident like a fall or high-speed motor vehicle accident. Bone cancer, lung cancer or other cancers can also weaken the bone structure of shoulder, causing fractures and pain.
Another potential source of shoulder blade pain is the compression of the nerves in the neck, which is caused by cervical disc disease, herniated discs, bulging discs, collapsed discs or displaced discs, or spinal stenosis that refers pain to the shoulder blades.
These disorders may also cause numbness or tingling pain in your hands and arms, so if you are experiencing shoulder blade pain alongside these symptoms you should see a doctor or orthopaedic surgeon as soon as possible in order to determine if you have a disc problem or a different issue that needs to be treated to help ease your shoulder blade pain.
Osteoporosis and arthritis cause shoulder blade pain as well, and the scapula or shoulder blade may be directly involved as a source of the pain, or you may be experiencing referred pain from other regions of the body such as the spine, upper arms, neck, or ribs.
Referred pain can mean a number of things, ranging from serious ailments like lung cancer or milder issues like acid reflux.
Treatments for shoulder blade pain
How shoulder blade pain is treated varies widely depending on the source of the pain.
For instance, a simple muscle strain will likely only require non-prescription pain killers and perhaps heat or ice and compression and elevation of the problematic joint, along with resting your arms and back for a period of time.
For most individuals dealing with minor injuries and uncomplicated shoulder blade pain that has no underlying issues, this simple treatment will be enough.
However, for more complicated shoulder issues, relieving shoulder blade pain may require additional testing to rule out various diagnoses, some of which could be extremely serious.
For instance, if your shoulder pain is the result of an underlying disorder, you may need more complex treatment like chemotherapy, ongoing medications, and even surgery.
If you are experiencing any kind of shoulder blade pain, you should see an orthopaedic surgeon or doctor as soon as you can, particularly if the pain is new and not the result of a known muscle strain or injury.
Seeking medical attention right away is important because shoulder blade pain – especially unexplained shoulder blade pain – can be a symptom of something much more serious.