Shoulder Blade Pain

Shoulder blade pain is any discomfort that occurs in the shoulder blades or scapula.


The shoulder blades otherwise known as the scapula is composed of flat triangular bones. Pain occurring in the shoulder blades is often associated with neck problems. This is because the neck joints, and the muscles and bones of the shoulder blade area share some of the nerve pathways. Pain occurring in the neck’s lower part and the upper portion of the back may sometimes be referred to the shoulder blade area. Pain in the shoulder blades is sometimes called scapular pain.

Shoulder blade pain rarely occurs in the shoulder blades itself. It may only happen because of fractures, tumors, and infections. Pain in the shoulder blades is often associated with neck and back problems, which is called referred pain. An example of which is the spine problem, this causes pain in the shoulder blades.

Causes of Shoulder Blade Pain

Problems that cause pain in the shoulder blades may not originate from the shoulder blade itself. The most common for which is the Rotator cuff injury. The shoulder is mostly dependent on its surrounding tissues. These tissues are called the rotator cuffs. The rotator cuff is composed of four muscles that hold the shoulders in place. They connect the shoulder blade, collar bone, chest, and upper arm. Problems with the rotator cuff muscles are often the cause of shoulder blade pain. The rotator cuff may be damaged because of accidents, sports, repetitive use, and wearing out.

Tears in the rotator cuff usually occur in an individual’s dominant arm. The rotator cuff may rupture because of trauma due to lifting heavy objects, stretching, or falling. This results to severe pain in the shoulder area that may radiate to the arms. This also causes muscle spasm and limited movement.

Shoulder blade pain may also be a result of fractures in the scapula, but this is very uncommon. Although fractures in the shoulder blades are rare, this can cause extreme pain and is usually accompanied by injuries such as: spinal cord damage, punctured lungs, concussions, and rib fractures. A common cause of fracture in the shoulder blades is trauma that occurs due to vehicular accidents. Other symptoms associated with shoulder blade fractures include: skin abrasions, swelling, and limited range of motion of the shoulder. Untreated shoulder blade fractures may lead to shoulder dysfunction and chronic pain.

Pancoast tumor or sulcus tumor can cause pain in the shoulder blades. Pancoast tumor is a form of lung cancer. This type of cancer usually manifests in the upper lobes of the lungs and may spread in the surrounding tissues which include the vertebrae and the ribs. This type of tumor is usually malignant. The tumor is capable of growing large and may invade its nearby structures, including the chest wall and causes destruction in the nerves in the neck and shoulders. Individuals who are fond of smoking are at high risk for this type of tumor. Other signs of this disease are back pain, shoulder pain, and chest pain.

Diagnosis of Shoulder Blade Pain

Diagnosis of shoulder blade pain begins with simple examinations. This includes medical history taking and physical examination. The physician will first examine the shoulders for problems in its nerves, muscles, and joints. Physical examination will also include: the neck or the cervical spine, thoracic spine, and the upper back. This will aid in ruling out other conditions that may cause the pain in the shoulder blade. If problems in these areas exist, movements in these areas may make the pain worse and limited.

The physician may also require an x-ray of the neck (See: neck pain relief), chest, and back for the confirmation of the diagnosis. The doctor may as well advise the patient to undergo tests such as: MRI scans and blood tests if other reasons are suspected for the cause of pain. Sudden severe pain in the shoulder blades may also indicate problems in the heart or major blood vessels. If this occurs, immediate medical attention may be needed.

Treatment of Shoulder Blade Pain

Shoulder blade pain diagnosis is important for proper treatment. However, if yet unsure of the diagnosis, pain may be managed by simple procedures such as: stretching, pain, and cold compress. The best remedy for shoulder pain is a rest. It is important to avoid vigorous activities that involve using the shoulder, including weight training and carrying heavy objects. This can give the shoulder time to heal and reduce inflammation.

The major cause of pain in the shoulder is because of inflammation. A cold compress in the inflamed area of the shoulder for at least 20 minutes, twice a day helps in reducing inflammation. Remember only not to apply the ice in the skin directly to avoid burns. The ice can be wrapped in a cloth.

Stretching for shoulder blade pain treatment is also important. Gentle stretches can loosen the shoulder up after several days of cold compress and immobility. This prepares the shoulder in getting back to its regular function.

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