Pains in the Shoulder Blade: Causes and Treatment

shoulder blade pain

Shoulder blade pain can be confusing because the causes aren’t constantly obvious. This sign can be an indication of something major like a cardiac arrest or lung cancer, or something as basic as sleeping incorrect or bad posture at work.

There are lots of other prospective causes, varying from degenerative disc disease, to arthritis, to gallbladder disease, and even shingles. What should you understand if you are experiencing pain in the region of your shoulder blades (your scapulae), what concerns might your physician ask, and what tests might she or he suggest?

Symptoms and Signs

Before speaking about symptoms, it helps to describe precisely what area we are talking about when explaining the shoulder blades. The shoulder blades — clinically called the scapulae — are the triangular-shaped bones of your upper back that stand out and end up being more visible when you extend your elbows towards your back. The shoulder blades have many functions, among which is to support critical movements of the shoulder.

People with shoulder blade pain usually have aching, dull, aching, or shooting pain in the upper part of their back in between their shoulder blades.

Pain in the area of the shoulder blade can be due to multiple causes. It may be due to inflammation in the scapula itself or referred pain from other areas of the body. Which shoulder blade is impacted is a crucial concern, as some conditions are most likely to impact the left shoulder blade, and others most likely to affect the right.

This short article speak about what happens in the shoulder blades instead of the shoulder. If you are experiencing pain in your shoulder, consider finding out more on shoulder pain symptoms and shoulder pain causes, or rather, learn about possible causes of pain between the shoulder blades.

Possible Causes of Pains in the Shoulder Blade

Pain in the shoulder blades can be associated with inflammation or injury to the shoulder area itself, or may instead be due to referred pain from other areas in the chest and abdominal area. Since of this, pain experienced in this area can be something as simple as a moderate muscle stress, or as serious as a heart or lung condition or cancer.

Some conditions are more likely to cause referred pain to the shoulder blades on one side. For example, gallbladder disease might trigger referred pain in the right shoulder whereas heart disease are more likely to cause referred pain to the left shoulder blade.

Injuries to other parts of your body, such as rotator cuff tears, spine fractures, or other injuries that cause trauma, can also result in pain between your shoulder blades.

Let’s have a look at the possible causes of shoulder blade pain broken down into different organ systems and regions of the body.

Musculoskeletal Causes

The most common reason for shoulder blade pain is a muscle pressure. Short-term overuse of your arms and upper torso may be experienced in your scapula. This pain might be accompanied by pain in other muscle groups, such as your shoulder or back, however can be felt just in your shoulder blade too. Even something as simple as sleeping in the wrong position (particularly prolonged sleeping on one side) might be a cause of this pain.

In basic, muscle stress frequently feel “like a pulled muscle” and are more likely to be the case if you’ve started a new workout program, done lifting that you are not accustomed to, or oversleeped a new or various bed. Longer standing pain might be related to conditions such as fibromyalgia or myofascial pain syndrome.

Other muscular conditions which may trigger shoulder blade pain include rotator cuff tears and a condition referred to as snapping scapula syndrome. Snapping scapula syndrome is significant for having symptoms of cracking and popping (crepitus) along the inner side of the shoulder blade. Many people with this syndrome also have instability of their shoulder accompanied by shoulder pain.

Bone and Joint Related Causes

Bone issues such as fractures are uncommon in the shoulder blade as the scapulae are considered a few of the most hard bones in the body to fracture. It’s not likely that you would have a scapular fracture without remembering the cause. Causes generally include falls or high-speed automobile mishaps. The bony part of you scapula may be affected without a history of trauma if you have a history of cancer.

Osteoporosis might impact your shoulder blades, shoulders, or neck, resulting in shoulder blade pain.

Arthritis might lead to pain in the shoulder blades in more than one way. The scapula may be directly involved, or you may be experiencing referred pain from arthritis in other areas of you chest including your spine, shoulder, or ribs.

Lastly, compression of nerves in the neck by collapsed or displaced discs or spine stenosis may lead to referred pain to the shoulder blades. With disc disease, you may have pain in your neck or numbness and tingling down your arm into your hands. The area of pain in the shoulder blades associated with cervical disc disease is actually being examined for its ability to help doctors recognize the area of nerve compression needing surgery.

Heart-Related (Cardiac) Causes

While pain in the shoulder blades occurs less frequently than pain in the chest, pain which happens in the shoulder blades alone has actually been well documented in individuals having heart attacks.

Heart attacks, particularly in women, need to be considered with any form of pain in the torso.

Shoulder blade pain is often a symptom of cardiac arrest, particularly amongst women.

Conditions such as pericarditis (inflammation of the lining of the heart,) or aortic dissection might be experienced as pain in the left shoulder blade alone.

If you are uncertain about the cause of your pain and have any danger factors for cardiovascular disease, look for instant medical attention.

Lung-Related (Pulmonary) Causes

A relatively large percentage of people with lung cancer and mesothelioma experience pain in their shoulders or shoulder blades. Pancoast tumors are a type of lung cancer that grows on the tops of the lungs, and typically causes pain in the shoulders, shoulder blades, and arms, rather than the more normal symptoms of lung cancer.

Lung conditions such as pulmonary emboli (blood clots in the legs that break off and travel to the lungs) or a pneumothorax (a collapsed lung) are likewise possible causes.

Pulmonary embolism is another serious condition that can trigger shoulder blade pain. Some people report a sudden, sharp pain in their shoulder blades when embolism in their legs break off and take a trip to their lungs.

Chest Wall (Skin and Soft Tissue) Related Causes

Shingles, an infection triggered by the exact same virus that triggers chickenpox, may cause shoulder blade pain. The pain is usually a burning or tingling pain. While shingles generally involves a rash which happens in the area of the nerve impacted, the pain typically precedes the rash by a couple of days, making the medical diagnosis difficult at first.

Stomach and Pelvic Causes

You may be surprised to hear that abdominal or even pelvic issues can cause shoulder blade pain, however this is actually relatively typical.9 Irritation of nerves that pass along the base of the diaphragm (the muscles that separate the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity) can cause pain which seems like it has actually come from your shoulder or shoulder blade. You might have heard people speak about having shoulder or shoulder blade pain after surgery. When gas is injected into the stomach cavity throughout laparoscopic surgery, it often irritates nerves along the bottom of the diaphragm leading to shoulder pain post-operatively.

Some conditions which might cause shoulder blade pain consist of gallstones, peptic ulcer disease, heartburn, and liver disease. With these conditions, the referred pain is frequently to the right shoulder blade. The pancreas is part of the digestive system, but pancreatitis is more likely to trigger pain in the left shoulder blade.

Malignancy (Cancer)

In addition to lung cancer, other growths including the chest such as lymphomas, or abdominal cancers such as esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, liver cancer, or pancreatic cancer might lead to take on blade pain. Bone metastases to the shoulder blades may accompany cancers such as breast cancer, lung cancer, esophageal cancer, and colon cancer.

Types of Diagnosis for Shoulder Blade Pain

Your doctor will start by taking a mindful history and doing a physical exam. Many causes of shoulder blade pain can be diagnosed based upon your history. She or he will carry out a careful physical exam, yet studies suggest that it’s often challenging to diagnose the cause of shoulder blade pain based upon physical exam alone. Other tests and research studies may include:.

Radiological Studies

Radiologic studies might include a chest X-ray, a CT scan of your chest or other areas of your body, an MRI of your chest or other areas, and/or a PET scan if you have a history of cancer. Keep in mind that a routine chest X-ray may miss out on a few of the causes, and chest X-rays are normal in roughly one out of four individuals with lung cancer.

Heart Tests

If your physician is at all worried that your pain may be originating in your heart, tests such as an EKG or stress test might be advised. It is worth repeating that heart pain, particularly in women, may just be kept in mind in your shoulder blades.

Stomach Test

Tests such as an upper endoscopy may be done to assess your stomach and little intestine. In an endoscopy, you are provided a medication to make you worn out and a tube is threaded through your mouth and into your esophagus and stomach, permitting a physician to thoroughly envision these areas. An ultrasound might be done to assess your gallbladder, and a CT may be done to look at your liver and pancreas.


Blood tests might likewise be done. Liver function tests may be gone to check for inflammation of your liver (which can often be described your left shoulder or shoulder blade).15 Tests may likewise be done to search for inflammatory forms of arthritis and other connective tissue diseases.

Concerns Your Doctor May Ask

While some concerns may be distinct to your health history and scenario, most of the times be prepared to address:

  • Which shoulder blade is painful? Your right shoulder blade, your left shoulder blade, or both?
  • For how long have you been having the pain?
  • Did the pain come on slowly or unexpectedly?
  • Have you altered your workout regular lately?
  • Do you participate in activities that typically trigger pain in the shoulder or shoulder blade? For example, tennis, golf, swimming, basketball, badminton, racquetball?
  • Is the pain on the same side of your body you sleep on?
  • How would you explain your pain? For instance, is it sharp or dull, shallow (on the surface) or deep, burning or throbbing, stabbing or stable?
  • What makes the pain even worse? For instance, do particular movements, a deep breath, or eating make the pain even worse?
  • What makes the pain better?
  • What other symptoms have you been having? For example, shortness of breath, pain in other regions of your body, coughing, chest pain, hoarseness, unexplained weight loss, or stomach pain.
  • Do you, or have you ever smoked?

Shoulder Blade Pain Treatment

The treatment of shoulder blade pain will depend upon the underlying reason for the pain. If shoulder pain is related to a muscle strain, the acronym RICE may be helpful. This represents:

  • Rest.
  • Ice.
  • Compression.
  • Elevation (this can be rather hard, but discovering a positional in which you are more comfy might help).

For musculoskeletal shoulder blade pain that persists, heat or physical treatment may be helpful. If there are no reasons why you can’t take anti-inflammatory medications, treatment with Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen) may also lower discomfort. Extending and/or massage have likewise been of advantage for some people.

For other causes of pain, treatment needs to deal with the underlying cause, such as radiation, bone-modifying drugs, or chemotherapy for cancer-related pain.

Massage or physical therapy may provide relief in a lot of cases, particularly if the pain is triggered by overuse of your muscles or joints, or an injury. A massage therapist can deal with areas in between your shoulder blades to unwind muscle tissue. You can also purchase handheld massage gadgets to use at home.

When to Call Your Doctor

If you have shoulder blade pain that continues beyond a couple of days it is essential to make an appointment to see your doctor– even if you have actually taken part in activities that you suspect has actually triggered your pain. If your pain is extreme or is accompanied by symptoms of chest pain, shortness of breath, or if you merely have a sense that something serious is wrong, call 911 or your medical professional right away.

References / About Reyus Mammadli (article's author)

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