Shoulder Blade Pain: Causes and Treatment

Most of us have experienced shoulder blade pain. In most cases, it is due to muscle strain or poor posture. Most of us try to ignore this discomfort since it goes away after a few days. However, in certain cases, it can be due to other serious problems that need medical attention.

Simple Description about Pain in Shoulder Blades

The scapulas, or simply known as the shoulder blades are two triangular-shaped bones in the uppermost region of the back. There are various body structures surrounding the scapula. Muscles such as rhomboids and trapezius are located between the scapulas. Underneath these muscles are organs such as the heart, lungs, esophagus, and thoracic spine. All these are essential for optimum body function. If there is an interscapular pain, or shoulder blade pain, your body is telling you that something is wrong in the body structures within this region.

What are the Causes?

There are various reasons a person will experience shoulder blade pain. It can be either a minor or a major medical condition.

  • Poor Posture

Most people who sit for long periods suffer from the pain under or between shoulder blades. The most common culprit is poor posture. This leads to muscle imbalance wherein one muscle is stronger than the other causing muscle strain, pain, stiffness, and fatigue. Improper posture when standing and sleeping can also cause back and shoulder pain. Poor posture can also cause injuries in activities like weight lifting.

  • Muscle Strain

Muscle strain occurs when a person overuses a certain muscle. The most common reason people suffer from muscle strain is due to poor posture. However, activities that involve twisting or repetitive movements such as golf or tennis can also cause muscle strain.

  • Fracture

Another reason a person may feel pain in the shoulder blades is due to a fracture or broken collarbone or scapula. These bones can only be broken with a lot of force. Thus, this can only occur due to an accident like a car crash. In severe cases, surgery is a necessary treatment.

  • Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a condition wherein the bones become brittle. As mentioned above, it takes a lot of force to break the collarbone and scapula. However, since the bones are already brittle, a minor accident such as falling or slipping can break these two bones.

  • Frozen Shoulder

Synovial fluid is necessary for the smooth movement of the shoulders. If there is an insufficient amount of synovial fluid, frozen shoulder may develop. One characteristic of this condition is a pain, which intensifies as you move your arms and shoulders.

  • Nerve Impingement

Nerve impingement occurs when a nerve within your shoulders or neck is pinched or damaged. This type of condition will produce a sharp pain that radiates towards your arms. It can also produce a burning sensation in your hands and fingers. This medical condition may require medical treatment in order for the ache to go away.

  • Gallbladder Disease

Due to various factors such as high cholesterol levels in the bile, gallstone formation may occur in the gallbladder. The gallbladder is far away from the shoulders. However, when gallstones block bile flow, the pain starts in the abdomen and may move towards the right shoulder. Gallstone attacks may occur after eating a fatty meal. Symptoms may also include nausea and vomiting.

  • Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is an abdominal problem wherein inflammation of the pancreas occurs. Like gallstone attacks, the pain will start in the abdominal region and move towards the left shoulder blade. Other symptoms may include bloating, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.

  • Pulmonary Embolism

Pulmonary embolism is a life-threatening condition that happens when a blood clot blocks the lung’s pulmonary artery. A sharp and sudden pain accompanied by a difficulty in breathing will be felt if you are experiencing this condition. It is strongly recommended to seek immediate medical attention if you feel these symptoms.

  • Heart Attack

Chest pressure is not the only sign of an impending heart attack. In some cases, there will be shoulder blade pain. For men, the pain is present in the shoulders. Women, on the other hand, may experience pain between their shoulder blades. Other symptoms may include excessive sweating, dizziness, and vomiting. It is crucial to call your emergency hotline once you feel these symptoms since a heart attack is a life-threatening condition.

  • Cancer

Certain types of cancer can also cause the pain in your shoulder blade. In lung cancer, the Pancoast tumor growing on top of the lungs is causing an intense and constant pain. If the pain occurs at night when resting and it does not cause loss of mobility, it is best to consult your doctor for peace of mind. Breast, liver and bone cancer are other types that may cause pain in the shoulders.

Treatments and Home Remedies

Depending on the medical condition, your doctor may recommend various treatments to ease the interscapular pain.

  • Sufficient Rest

Resting is one of the most recommended treatments for shoulder blade pain. In minor cases, restricting shoulder and arm movements will help ease your discomforts. This is highly applicable to muscle strains and injuries. Giving your body some time to heal and recuperate is enough.

  • Apply Cold or Warm Compress

A common home remedy to relieve pain and swelling is the use of ice packs or cold compress. You can do this at least 3 times per day for about 15 minutes. You can also do warm compress to improve blood circulation and for a quick recovery.

  • Medications

Over-the-counter pain medications can help relieve minor pain. For intense pain and swelling, your doctor can prescribe muscle relaxants, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and injectable steroids.

  • Massage Therapy

Getting a massage can greatly ease muscle pains including interscapular pain. You can also do a self-massage. However, before trying this, you must first consult a therapist or chiropractor. They can provide information about the appropriate techniques you can use and the areas you should target.

  • Physical Therapy and Exercise

You doctor may recommend physical therapy to regain the strength and mobility of your shoulders. Stretching is a common exercise used for muscle relaxation, pain relief, and to improve flexibility.

  • Good Posture

Since poor posture is a common cause of shoulder and back pain, improving your posture will ease and prevent discomforts. Always make sure to straighten your body whenever you notice that you are slouching. If you are going to sit for a long period, opt for a chair that is high enough so you can support your elbows while maintaining good posture. When sleeping, avoid lying on your left or right side. It can aggravate your pain. As much as possible, you should try to sleep on your back.