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Pain In Shoulder Blade – Causes And Treatment

Updated on January 30, 2014

A triangular-shaped bone which joins the collarbone to the arm bone is known as the shoulder blade. It is medically referred to as the scapula.

It is important to note that pain in shoulder blade is different from pain in the shoulders. Several muscles and tissues are interconnected with the shoulder. The soft tissues which enclose the shoulder are called ‘rotator cuff.’ They consist of four muscles which link to the shoulder blade and the collarbone. In addition to the rotator cuff tendons, a bag of fluid called bursa is also present. It helps the muscles to glide smoothly during movement or extension. Abnormalities of the rotator cuff or bursa, whether minor or major, are considered as the most common causes of pain in shoulder blade.

Shoulder blade pain may be minor, or it may be caused due to severe underlying conditions. Hence, all patients must consult a doctor whenever they experience pain in their shoulder blade.

Symptoms Accompanying Pain in Shoulder Blade

Some of the signs and symptoms which may accompany shoulder blade pain are listed below:

  • One of the most prevalent symptoms of pain in shoulder blade is inflammation, swelling, and pain of the surrounding areas.
  • The pain may also restrict the range of motion or hamper free shoulder movement.
  • There may be discoloration or changes in skin color. Blue or whitish spots may occur on the arm which is an indication of injury or trauma to the arteries and veins.
  • Other associated symptoms include deformity, numbness of the arm, reddening, etc.

The symptoms, including the shoulder blade pain, are usually not serious and often disappear after a couple of days. However, as it can also signify some serious existing disorders its best to visit a doctor for proper diagnosis and relevant treatment.

Causes of Pain in Shoulder Blade

Some of the causes of shoulder blade pain are listed below:

  • Rotator cuff tendinitis: Increased wear and tear of the bone arch that is present adjacent to the shoulder blade can lead to obstruction and extra strain on the soft tissues. This in turn causes a condition called rotator cuff tendinitis, i.e. inflammation of the rotator cuff tendons. About 30 percent of shoulder blade pain cases are caused by this condition. Symptoms include pain and difficulties in movement of the shoulder, particularly with regards to lifting the hand. Untreated cases can cause the rotator cuff to experience tearing.
  • Bursitis: Inflammation and pain at the site of the bursa is known as bursitis. It results in swelling and redness of the area. The shoulder joint may also experience pain and tenderness. The initial stage is characterized by difficulties in movement of arm, and increase in pain during sleep. It is called acute bursitis. Untreated cases can aggravate the condition resulting in the next stage called chronic bursitis.
  • Calcific tendinitis: It is characterized by the presence of calcium deposits in the tendons of the rotator cuff. About 20 percent of adults experience such calcium deposits without eliciting any discomfort or other symptoms. However, patients falling in the age group between 30 and 60 years, particularly females, are more likely to elicit discomfort and difficulties in arm movements as well as intense pain. The shoulder pain also tends to intensify during night. Excessive deposition of calcium can eventually cause problems of the bursa.
  • Acromioclavicular joint problems: The acromioclavicular joint is located between the shoulder blade and collarbone. Individuals affected by abnormalities of this joint will elicit pain in neck and shoulder blade. The condition is generally indicative of cervical nerve root irritation, which in turn can result in symptoms such as headaches emanating at the back of head and a stiff neck.
  • Adhesive capsulitis: A frozen shoulder is medically known as adhesive capsulitis. It is caused due to inflammation of the socket joint and the bone-ball of the shoulder and the upper arm, which in turn can occur due to calcific tendinitis, forearm fractures, and prolonged arm immobilization. Patients will usually experience intense pain when moving the affected arm. Women in the age group of 40 to 60 years are more likely to suffer from this condition, particularly on the non-dominant arm.
  • Stomach abnormalities:Shoulder blade pain can also be a sign of problems of the stomach or the chest. Patients with lung conditions may also experience pain in shoulder blade during respiration. In such a situation, affected individuals (particularly smokers) must immediately seek medical attention.
  • Inflammation of gallbladder: Another cause of pain in shoulder blade is occurrence of gall stones or gallbladder inflammation. The condition may also be caused due to liver associated abnormalities or duodenum problems.
  • Other causes: Shoulder blade pain may also be caused due to a variety of other causes such as rheumatoid arthritis, incorrect posture, osteoporosis, arthritis, osteoarthritis, and other bone diseases. Sudden pain in shoulder blade which persists for some time may also indicate a heart attack.

Treatment of Pain in Shoulder Blade

Treatment of pain in shoulder blade pain is aimed at diagnosing the causes, managing the symptoms, and preventing the onset of complications. It is important to consult a doctor whenever you experience shoulder blade pain. This is because the underlying causes may be minor or major. Minor causes of pain in shoulder blade can be treated with home remedies, while major causes are treated as per the underlying cause.

  • Minor injury or trauma to the shoulder blade area can be treated with the application of an ice pack or cool compressors. It will help in alleviating the pain.
  • Fatigue and exhaustion caused due to a hectic lifestyle can be overcome with yoga, meditation, and exercises.
  • It is also important to eat a healthy diet. The muscles in the body can be strengthened via intake of carbohydrates and proteins. It will aid in repair of damaged tissues as well as prevent their extensive wear and tear.
  • Extreme pain in shoulder blade can be reduced via an injection of a mixture of local anesthetic and corticosteroids.
  • Bursitis or rotator cuff tendinitis can be initially treated with lots of rest and anti-inflammatory medications that do not have steroids.
  • The range of arm movement and its flexibility can also be enhanced via varied physical therapies.

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    • medicalhub profile image

      medicalhub 3 years ago

      I am sorry I could not reply to you when you left me a comment. Hope you are condition is fine now. How are you doing?

    • medicalhub profile image

      medicalhub 3 years ago

      I am sorry I could not get back to you earlier. Is your condition okay?

    • profile image

      Mary J 3 years ago

      I went to Dr for pain in left shoulder blade that hurts when I take a deep breath. Dr says nothing is wrong I have had xrays and ct scan and some kind of nuclear test for blood clot in lungs they were all negative. I do have an unrepaired torn rotator cuff on same sid. the pain in my shoulder blade goes away when I lay down for about 30 min but then my arm Left with rotator cuff tearing hurts so bad I have to get up. What can be wrong?

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      Rosa 3 years ago

      I am have pain on the right scapula reason why I do no know