January 28, 2022

What’s causing my shoulder blade pain, and what can I do about it?

Shoulder

As frustrating as it can be, shoulder blade pain is very common. And for most people with a shoulder blade condition or injury, non-surgical treatment options effectively relieve their shoulder pain.

Read on for the most common causes of shoulder blade pain and discover what you can do to relieve your symptoms at home. You’ll also learn when it might be a good time to see a shoulder specialist about your pain.

Typical Causes of Shoulder Blade Pain

The shoulder blade, or scapula, is a large triangular-shaped bone in the upper back. You have one of these bones on each side of your body. They’re surrounded by a muscular system that helps you move your arms.

If an injury or condition causes those muscles to become weak or imbalanced, it can change the position of the shoulder blade. This can make it hard to move your arms and especially difficult to raise them overhead.

Disorders of the Scapula (Scapular Dyskinesis)

Scapular disorders result in a change in the normal resting position of the shoulder blade or the normal motion of the shoulder blade as the arm moves. This is called scapular dyskinesis, and it’s one of the most common causes of shoulder blade pain.

Scapular dyskinesis can usually be seen just by looking at your back. The inner border of the affected shoulder blade will look more prominent than the other one. This will be especially noticeable as you move your arm away from your body. (This is called a “winged” scapula.)

Scapular Dyskinesis Causes

  • Weakness, imbalance, tightness or detachment of the muscles that control the shoulder blade
  • Injuries to the nerves that supply the muscles
  • Injuries to the bones that support the shoulder blade or injuries within the shoulder joint

Symptoms of Scapular Dyskinesis

  • Pain or tenderness around the shoulder blade
  • Weakness in the arm
  • Difficulty raising your arm above your shoulder
  • “Crunching” or “snapping” sound with shoulder movement
  • Noticeable protrusion or “winging” of the shoulder blade
  • Drooping or forward-tilted posture on the affected side

Other Causes of Shoulder Pain

It can sometimes be difficult to tell if your pain is coming from the scapula or some other part of the shoulder. So it’s essential to be aware of some other common shoulder pain causes, including:

Shoulder Blade Pain Treatments

Shoulder blade pain will sometimes improve with at-home treatments, such as:

  • Improved posture. While doing your everyday activities, remember to adjust your posture. Pull your shoulder blades back and together, and bend your elbows down and back.
  • Balanced exercise routine. When exercising your upper back, make sure your activities are balanced. For example: With every set of “presses” you do, you should also do one set of “flys” and two sets of “rows.” (And don’t forget to always stretch!)
  • Regular heat therapy. A hot bath or a heating pad can sometimes help alleviate shoulder blade pain by loosening tight muscles.

If shoulder blade pain continues even after trying these remedies and lifestyle changes, it’s important to see a shoulder doctor. They can pinpoint the exact cause of your pain and provide appropriate treatment options.

Physical Therapy for Shoulder Blade Pain

Typically, shoulder blade pain will improve with pain management and physical therapy. A physical therapist can provide you with a customized exercise program to specifically target what is causing the pain in your shoulder.

Physical therapy for shoulder blade pain will typically focus on:

  • Strengthening the muscles that move the shoulder blade
  • Stretching tight muscles
  • Limiting scapular motion

Shoulder Blade Pain Surgical Treatments

Most people who have general shoulder blade pain due to muscle weakness or tightness will not need surgery.

However, if a joint injury causes your shoulder blade pain, a specialist may recommend a procedure to repair or reconstruct the injured tissues.

Find out what’s really causing your shoulder pain

If your shoulder blade pain causes you to miss out on normal day-to-day activities, we can help. Request an appointment online or call OrthoIndy at 317.802.2000 to book an appointment with one of our shoulder specialists.

If your shoulder injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our OrthoIndy Urgent Care locations for immediate care.

No referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists for rehabilitation and physical therapy for shoulder blade pain.

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