Shoulder Blade Pain: Common Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
Shoulder blade pain usually develops from overuse or strain. Pain can also be the result of direct injury or be “referred” pain from surrounding muscle groups. It can even stem from rare underlying conditions.
Anatomy of the Shoulder Blade
- Your shoulder blade, or scapula, is the triangular-shaped bone at the back of your shoulder which is attached to a number of other muscles.
- Four of these muscles make up the rotator cuff
- Several more attach the scapula to the spine, neck and occiput (lower part of your skull)
- Some attach to the front or upper part of the arm.
- The pectoralis minor actually attaches the scapula to the front of the chest on the ribs.
So, when you complain of shoulder pain it can stem from weakness, injury, or overuse of the surrounding muscles, joints, and tissues that connect to the scapula. Diagnosing shoulder pain must take into account this complex, dynamic muscle system. The same can be said for treating it.
Minor causes of shoulder pain include postural patterns and natural changes. Symptoms can include discomfort and pain between shoulder blades as well as shooting pain or tingling down the arm.
- Slumping over the computer and using poor arm to mouse alignment
- Sleeping the “wrong way.” Side- or belly-sleeping for prolonged periods puts pressure on your neck and shoulders
- Holding a child on your hip (usually the hip opposite of your dominant hand), or carrying a heavy object in front of your body for a while without additional support
- Holding a shoulder bag or laptop bag
- Driving for long periods of time with your arms up, elbows out, or holding your arms up too high
- Overuse of shoulder muscles, often seen with activities that require repetitive motion, such as tennis or golf
Fortunately, greater body awareness and massage therapy can usually correct these postural patterns and eliminate or lessen shoulder blade pain.
A lifetime of constant use or misuse can strain and weaken muscles, soften bones and create minor tears in tendons and muscles. Over time, shoulder blade pain might be triggered by:
- Tendonitis (repeated trauma to the rotator cuff tendons resulting in inflammation)
- Bone spurs on or around the scapula
- A pinched nerve in your shoulder or neck. In addition to scapular pain, you might feel a burning sensation in your fingers and hands. Pain can last for weeks or months.
- Arthritis (rarely seen in shoulder blade, but a real possibility)
- Myofascial pain (below the right shoulder blade). Pain in scapular muscle tissue is usually caused by pain originating from somewhere else
- Stress (physical and emotional)
Realize that occasional scapular pain is normal and will usually resolve on its own. However, unrelenting or worsening pain between shoulder blades can be a sign of a more serious problem such as:
- Broken Scapula
- Rotator cuff injury
- Shoulder Blade Dislocation
- Collar Bone Fracture
- Upper Arm Fracture
- Slipped Disc
- Heart problems
- Lung infection or shingles (the initial sign of shingles is burning or pain in the right shoulder blade followed by a rash and flu-like symptoms.)
Diagnosis and Treatment of Shoulder Blade Pain
For persistent shoulder pain that won’t ease up, your doctor might want to perform an exam, including an MRI or other imaging tests, to figure out the source of your pain. While medical intervention might be necessary, a number of home remedies and treatments (especially massage and physiotherapy therapy) can be helpful.