Shoulder blade pain is a condition which can affect many people and it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the pain. More often than not, the cause of shoulder blade pain can be something as simple as muscle strain. However, sometimes pain in (or between) the shoulder blades can be caused by a serious health issue. Therefore, you should never ignore it.
Shoulder Blade Pain Symptoms
In order to understand better what can cause the pain, it is important to know a little more about the shoulder blades.Advertisement
Your shoulder blades are 2 triangular shaped bones which are attached to your collarbone and your arms. The medical name for the shoulder blade is scapula (plural scapulae). They form part of the upper back region, which also contains the thoracic spine. This is the part of the spine that supports the rib cage.
The back and spine are very complex because they contain many bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, and nerves. In addition, your upper back area also protects many vital organs, like your heart. That is the reason why it can be difficult to find the exact cause of the pain.
Shoulder blade pain can be felt in just one or both shoulder blades. Although more often than not the pain is caused by damage to the scapula, the pain could also be referred pain. This is where the pain originates somewhere else in the body and is felt in another location.
For example, some organ conditions only cause right shoulder blade pain whereas others cause pain in the left shoulder blade.
There are different types of pain that are associated with the shoulders and upper back. However, this article only refers to pain affecting the shoulder blades (the scapulae).
Causes of Shoulder Blade Pain
There can be many reasons why you have pain in the shoulder blade. Most of the time there is nothing to worry about because the cause can be a simple muscle strain. Sometimes, shoulder blade pain can indicate a serious heart, lung, or other organ condition.
Here are some of the possible causes of the pain:
Muscle strain is one of the most common reasons of a pain in your shoulder blades. There are muscles around the scapulae which move and support them. Very often doing repetitive work can strain these muscles and cause pain under the shoulder blades. Starting a new exercise regime could also put an extra strain on the muscles around your shoulder blades.Advertisement
Sometimes, even just sleeping in the wrong position can make you wake up in the morning with a shoulder pain or you may have pain between the shoulder blades.
Because our shoulder blades are connected with how we use our arms, it isn’t surprising that working conditions can also cause chronic shoulder blade pain. Research published in the Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation showed that excessive strain on the scapular muscles is a reason for shoulder pain in many workers in the textile industry.1
So, it is important to try to avoid doing repetitive work for long periods of time without a break. At the end of the article, you can find some helpful tips on how to check your posture.
If you find that you have pain in your shoulder blades after sleeping, you can try to sleep in a different position. To reduce back pain, the Mayo Clinic recommends that if you sleep on your side, you should draw your legs up slightly towards your chest and put a pillow between them. Or, if you prefer to sleep on your back, you can put a pillow under your knees and a small rolled-up towel under the small of your back.2
For more information please read my article about the best and worst sleeping positions for your health.
Disc disease can be broken down into two types:
- Degenerative disc
- Herniated (slipped) disc
Degenerative disc disease usually happens with age and it is when the discs in our spine lose fluid in them and break down. That causes less space in the spaces between the vertebrae in the spine and can press on nerves.
A herniated disc is when the gel-like fluid in the disc pushes out and presses on a nerve. Both of these conditions can cause pain in the shoulder blades. For example, a study published in the Journal of Orthopedic Surgery found that shoulder blade pain can be caused by the nerves in the neck being irritated.3
Any trauma to a bone will cause pain. A fracture to the scapula is quite rare because it involves a great deal of force, like being in a car accident. Sometimes, a shoulder bone fracture can happen if a person falls on an outstretched arm.
Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Melinda Ratini on WebMD says that a fracture to the shoulder blade can result in life-threatening injuries and a person should seek emergency treatment immediately.4 The reason is because shoulder blade fractures are often associated with severe, potentially life-threatening injuries.Advertisement
Osteoarthritis (OA) is a form of degenerative joint disease which causes a variety of symptoms such as pain, swelling, abnormal bone growth, disfigured cartilage and loss of motion. While sufferers can contract OA in any joint, it is most commonly noticed in the knee, back and neck, hips, fingers and toes.
Osteoarthritis can be a reason to have pain in the shoulder blade. Very often, people who suffer from arthritis also suffer from inflammation in the joint between the collar bone and tip of the shoulder blade or in the joint where the arm joins the shoulder blade.
There are many ways that arthritis suffers can ease their pain naturally:
- You can use gelatin to reduce osteoarthritis pain
- Sesame seeds and turmeric extract can also help with osteoarthritis pain
You can also read about other natural treatment options in my article: the best natural remedies for arthritis.
Osteoporosis causes brittle bones, and while it is rare to fracture your scapula, it can happen if you fall. Because the bones are already brittle, it may not take a lot of force to fracture your shoulder blade.
Dr. David Zelman on WebMD recommends that you see your doctor right away if you have a fall and hurt your shoulder. Early treatment can speed up recovery.5
For more information please read my article about the 4 steps to prevent osteoporosis.
Most people associate heart conditions (like heart attacks) with pains in the chest. However, serious heart problems can also affect the shoulders. In these cases, you may feel pain in your left shoulder blade. This is one example of referred pain.
Heart attacks usually cause chest pains and discomfort in both men and women. However, the American Heart Association says that many women can experience a heart attack without any chest pressure.6 A study published by The Canadian Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing said that women experience cardiac pain differently than men. Some of the symptoms are extreme fatigue, pain in the shoulder blades, and shortness of breath.7
One study into the symptoms women felt before a heart attack found that nearly half of them had experienced pain in the shoulder blades and back, shortness of breath, fatigue, and chest pains.8
Read this related article: 80% of Heart Attacks Could Be Avoided by Doing These 5 Easy Things
On rare occasions, a pain in the right or left shoulder blade can be caused by a Pancoast tumor. This grows at the top of the lung and one of its first symptoms is a pain in the shoulder blades, arm, and shoulder area.9 The pain associated with this is usually constant and severe.Advertisement
Dr. Lynne Eldridge, a lung cancer expert, says that if you have shoulder blade pain that is always worse at night, happens only when you rest, and isn’t connected with the loss of activity, then it is better to see a doctor to put your mind at rest.10
Sometimes the pain can be a sign of bone metastases where cancer has spread to the bone. However, it is important to remember that this is just one of the symptoms so you don’t need to become hysteric if you have such a pain, just see a doctor to rule out this possibility. Make sure you are also aware of the other warning signs of lung cancer.
Breast cancer is one of the most common form of the disease in the world that affects both men and women. I’ve already mentioned that there are 5 unconventional signs of breast cancer and one of them is shoulder blade pain.
Patients typically feel back pain in the upper back between the shoulder blades before any other sign of breast cancer reveals itself.
Fibromyalgia is a condition which is associated with chronic muscle and tissue pain in various parts of the body. The symptoms of fibromyalgia also include fatigue and disrupted sleep patterns. However, one of the symptoms of fibromyalgia is pain in the upper back between the shoulder blades.11
Abdominal Conditions Can Cause shoulder Blade Pain
Sometimes, referred pain can be felt in the shoulder blades when there are conditions affecting other organs in the body.
The Mayo Clinic reports that along with intense pain in your right upper abdomen, gallstones can also cause pain in your right shoulder and pain between your shoulder blades.12
Liver Disease and Cancer
The symptoms of liver disease are usually pain or discomfort in the right upper abdomen and the skin looks yellowish as well as other symptoms. However, along with these symptoms, liver disease can cause referred pain in the right shoulder blade.13
Make sure to avoid these 5 common habits that can cause liver damage.
Pancreatitis is a disease in which the pancreas becomes inflamed.Advertisement
One of the symptoms of pancreatitis is a pain below the left shoulder blade. As with the other abdominal conditions, pancreatitis will have more symptoms than just pain in the shoulder.14
According to Drugs.com, pancreatitis can also cause pain just under your ribs in the middle of your body and radiate to your chest, back or side. The chest pains from pancreatitis can occur in the right side or left side of your chest. You may also experience nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and bloating.
Treatment of Shoulder Blade Pain
Treatment of pain in shoulder blades will always depend on what is causing the pain. If it is caused by muscle strains (which most shoulder blade pain is caused by) then the pain should go away by resting. If the pain is related to a more serious condition, then your doctor will advise on the best course of treatment.
Good Posture for a Healthy Back
Because most shoulder blade pain is associated with muscle strain, it is important to make sure that you always have good posture. How can you check this? To check your posture, you can do this:
- Stand with your back against a wall
- Your head, shoulders, and buttocks should be touching the wall
- You should be able to slide your hand through the small curve in your lower back
When you do that, you will notice that there is an imaginary straight line from your ears to your ankles. This is the best posture to avoid putting extra strain on the muscles in your back (such as the latissimus dorsi,or the rhomboids).
If you have to sit at a desk all day, make sure that your back is as straight as possible and you have a small support at your lower back. The chair should be high enough so that your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Your feet should be flat on the ground with your knees at a 90-degree angle.
To find some easy exercises on how to improve your posture, read my article: the best exercises to improve your posture.
Because pain in the shoulder blade can be caused by a stiff neck, you can do this exercise in 60 seconds to ease a stiff neck:
- Depending on which side of your neck the pain is on, use that hand to press into the affected area. Use good pressure, but not too much that you get severe pain.
- Turn your head in the opposite direction of the pain and push your chin towards your armpit.
- Return your head to the starting position and repeat 15-20 times.
Doing that exercise won’t take you very long and you will ease the pain in your neck. It may also help to relieve pain in your shoulder blade.