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Shoulder Blade Pain

Updated on January 18, 2013

Shoulder pain is like any other pain and can cause restricted movement and the inability to undertake activities one would usually do. Pain of any sort is unpleasant and is the body’s way of letting you now there is a problem. Shoulder blade pain may be treated by a Doctor, Osteopath or Chiropractor The cause of any pain should always be identified in order for the appropriate pain management and treatment regime to put in place. Your health care professional may advise you to have either an X-ray, MRI or ultrasound to try to identify the cause.

The shoulder blade is known as the scapula and is a triangular shaped bone, supported by muscles, ligaments, tendons and nerves. The shoulder blade is located on the upper right and left side of the back with the spine in the centre of the back. Shoulder blade pain may be an immediate sharp pain caused by an identifiable injury or a more gradual increase in pain.

Shoulder blade pain can be due to injury to the surrounding ligaments, tendons and muscles, which is quite often the case. It may also stem from other nearby areas such as the spine where a disc may be ruptured or pinched nerves. Occasionally, shoulder blade pain may be caused by a fracture to the scapular, infection of the bone or tumor. If the pain evolves from a site other than where it is being felt, it is known as ‘referred pain’.

Types of pain

The nature of the pain felt may vary from one individual to the next. There are different types of pain such as acute, throbbing, burning, cramping, stabbing, numbness or weakness. When you visit your health care professional they will ask you to describe the type of pain. Sometimes more than one type of pain can be felt. You may also be asked how long you have had experienced the pain and the type of movement that exacerbates the shoulder blade pain.

Pain is very subjective and a ‘pain score chart’ may be used to rate the pain. Pain score charts are especially good for identifying pain in children or adults with special needs.

Once your health professional has gleaned a history from you they will want to examine the affected area. It is wise to wear clothing that can be removed easily. They will be observing things such as trauma to the skin, dislocation of the shoulder, colour of the skin and any other forms of pain or numbness that are felt in the surrounding areas.

It is always worth noting that there is pain sometimes felt as shoulder blade pain that can be associated with a myocardial infarction (heart attack). If you have any of the following symptoms associated with your shoulder blade pain you should immediately call the emergency services.

Chest tightness

Central chest pain

Pain radiating to the left shoulder, left arm and/or left jaw

Central crushing pain, as though someone is sitting on your chest, or sometimes described as a tight band around the chest

Pain similar to indigestion

If you are not sure always get it checked out as soon as possible, chest pain should always be investigated as soon as possible, that does mean calling the emergency services if you are in doubt.

It is always wise to listen to the body’s signal to you that something is not quite right. If you persist with the pain and continue to mobilize as usual it is possible you may do further damage to the affected area. Some shoulder blade pain may be caused by a twist or sprain or bruising and may mend itself. However, it is best not to leave it too long, usually if the shoulder blade pain is caused by bruising or a sprain it will start to resolve itself over a few days if there is no other injury.
Always seek medical advice before you have any treatment or therapy from any other source.

Shoulder blade pain causes

Left shoulder pain may be caused by a number of things; some are more common than others.

  • Arthritis or muscle strain/tears can be some of the more common causes. There is however more serious complications associated with left shoulder blade pain. These should not be ignored. Any type of pain should be investigated and then a treatment regime can be managed by the patient and the health care provider.
  • Most causes for shoulder blade pain is caused by injury to the soft tissues. This may include the surrounding muscles, tendons and ligaments.
  • Degenerative arthritis of the spine may cause the discs between the vertebrae of the spine to herniate and pinch the nerves causing pain.
  • Other conditions involving the spinal cord, heart and lungs may cause pain in the shoulder.
  • Fractured collarbones will most certainly cause shoulder pain
  • Bursitis– the cushioning between the joints and muscles is called the bursae and they become stiff, sore and swollen if the area has experienced some trauma.
  • Broken shoulder blade – a fracture to the shoulder blade would be painful, and probably on result if a considerable amount of force is experienced.
  • Rotator cuff – This involves tendons that support the shoulder. The tendons may be damaged when lifting, repetitive action over a considerable amount of time, or throwing, playing tennis etc.,
  • Shoulder A-C separation – the clavicle (collar bone) and shoulder blade (scapula) are connected by ligaments and if these are stretched or torn, will cause considerable pain.
  • Tendinitis – When the tendons around the shoulder become swollen they can cause pain.
  • Gall bladder disease – This can be the cause of ‘referred pain’ in the right shoulder.

The Basics of Recovering from Strains and Bruises

  • Minor injury such as bruising and strains may be treated with heat or ice and some regular pain relieve as indicated by your health care provider. In these situations it is usually advisable to restrict movement until the bruising/sprain has had time to heal. You may benefit from a sling to support the shoulder and prevent use whilst recovery takes place.
  • It is advisable not to use the affected area and to temporarily stop physical activity until the pain has stopped and the shoulder can be moved and rotated freely as before.
  • You may be able to introduce a gentle exercise regime to speed up the healing process and strengthen the muscles in the area under the supervision of a health care professional.

Referred Pain

If your shoulder blade pain has been identified as ‘referred pain’ it means that the cause of the pain is actually occurring somewhere else in the body, even though you may be experiencing it in your shoulder. For this reason, it is important the the nature and cause of the pain is identified and correctly treated. There would be no point treating shoulder blade pain when the underlying cause is not known and lies somewhere else in the body.

Usually, Radiologists will identify the cause of the problem using MRI, X Ray or Ultrasound to the area.

For some types of acute shoulder pain individuals may be offered a Cortisone injection into the shoulder which can have very good results.

In more serious cases surgery may be required for shoulder reconstruction

Any pain that cannot be relieved with ice or heat packs and regular ‘over the counter’ medication after a few days should always be investigated by your health care provider. Most causes can be managed easily. Lifestyle changes may have to be made in some cases depending on the nature and cause of the pain.


Note: The guide is not meant to be fully comprehensive and is meant for information only. The author makes no guarantee, either expressed or implied, regarding the efficacy or use for any reason of the information contained within this article.


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      Nadia 3 years ago

      Could you write about Phycsis so I can pass Science class?