The scapula is the region between the shoulder blades. Pain in this region is common, and doctors refer to the discomfort as scapula pain.
You can also refer to it as pain below the shoulder blade. You can feel the pain both below your right or left shoulder.
People refer to shoulder blade pain as aching, sore, shooting, or dull pain in the upper part of their back, just between the shoulder blades. And while in most cases the shoulder blade muscle pain is not something to worry about, it can also prevent you from doing some regular daily tasks and activities.
With that in mind, let’s talk about the causes and how to treat/prevent pain below the right shoulder blade.
What are the causes of shoulder blade pain?
There are hundreds of possible causes for pain between your shoulder blades. But while there are many options, most of them are related to some type of physical activity or inactivity.
For example, the most common causes of pain are:
- Heavy lifting
- Poor posture
- Working at a computer for an extended period of time
- Overuse of shoulder muscles whether through exercise or work
- Sleeping the wrong way for prolonged periods of time, whether it is sleeping at an odd angle or on one side only
There are also less common causes of shoulder pain, and we will break them down.
The liver is located just under the right rib. Therefore, a disease in the liver can cause pain in the area that then radiates to the shoulder.
Being a bone disease, osteoporosis can cause the bones to become fragile and thin.
The scapula is a bone connecting upper arm bone and the collarbone. And due to bones becoming fragile, osteoporosis can also cause pain in the scapula.
Pulmonary emboli or a collapsed lung can also contribute to shoulder pain.
When a cancerous tumor spreads, bone metastases happen. As a result of the cancer spreading, your bones and shoulder area will hurt.
This is the reason why patients of cancer take pills for pain.
You will be surprised, but even some infections can cause shoulder blade pain. For example, shingles, an infection from the chickenpox virus can cause pain in the shoulder area. The difference is the pain is often a burning sensation followed by a rash.
While it is difficult and nearly impossible to fracture the scapula, it happens in some cases. Fractures to the scapula usually happen due to a car accident or a fall.
Shoulder pain due to heart conditions is more often in women. An aortic dissection, pericarditis, or a heart attack can cause pain felt in the left shoulder.
Compression of nerves in the neck which has happened due to displaced or collapsed disk sometimes results in shoulder pain.
The pain can be localized in your neck area, or in the shoulder area. In some cases, you might even experience tingling sensation and numbness in your arms.
What is the treatment?
The best treatment for scapula pain is shoulder blades stretches. We will explain that thoroughly.
There are also other factors that can help with treating shoulder blade pain.
- Certain foods can cause inflammation in your body, which will worsen your symptoms. As a general rule of thumb, avoid processed foods, and focus more on fruits and vegetables, as well as foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids
- Sometimes, all you need is rest to recover and rejuvenate your muscles, especially if the cause is overuse or an injury
- Another treatment is hot and cold compresses, applied for 15 minutes at a time, every three or four hours
- Conventional treatment involves massage and physical therapy. A massage therapist will work on the area between your shoulder blades to help you relax the muscle tissue, while physical therapy is recommended when you have injury or a compressed nerve
How to Stretch
Shoulder Stretch No.1
- Sit up straight on a chair, and put your hand up over your shoulder
- Bring your elbow back, and point it up to the ceiling
- With your left hand, pull your head forward and slightly to the left
- Hold for few seconds, and then relax
- Sit upright on the edge of a chair. Hold onto the chair with your right hand
- Turn your head to the right, and then using your left hand, pull it straight to the left. You can lean your body to feel more stretch
- Use a towel, and throw it over your left shoulder
- With your right hand, grab the towel behind the back
- Pull the towel and hence your hand up your back while keeping the shoulder relaxed
- Stand with your feet at shoulder width apart, while your chest is up and your head is back over your shoulders
- Raise the right arm over your head, and grab your right elbow using the left hand
- Pull right elbow over to the left, all while bending your trunk to the left
- Once you find a comfortable stretch, hold for 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side
- Stand in a doorway with your shoulders and elbows at 90 degrees, and hands clasping the door frame so that you stretch your muscles originating from the clavicle
- Take a step in through the door, and hold the position
- Raise your hands further up the door frame to stretch the muscles in the lower chest
- Start on the floor. Lie on your right side on your right shoulders
- Position your right shoulder in 30 degrees of flexion, which means the elbow should be about a third of the way up to shoulder level
- Bend your elbow to 90 degrees, so that your hand is pointing toward the ceiling
- Grab the right forearm, and bring the hand down towards the floor
- Repeat after holding for 15 to 30 seconds
- Stand with your right side facing a wall
- Place your hand on the wall at shoulder height
- Your elbow should be positioned straight and thumb pointing down
- Turn your body away from the wall, and try to maintain rotation of your arm
When you should see a doctor
You should see a doctor if your pain is severe, unusual, or doesn’t go away. Pain is a sign that something could be wrong. Your condition might not be serious, but if it’s bothersome in any way, you may want to get it checked out.
If your shoulder blade pain is accompanied by certain symptoms, it could mean you have a life-threatening condition that requires prompt medical attention. Seek help right away if you have pain between your shoulder blades along with the following:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- excessive sweating
- pain, swelling, or redness in your legs
- coughing up blood
- rapid or irregular heartbeat
- sudden difficulty speaking
- loss of vision
- paralysis on one side of your body
- loss of consciousness
Treatment for your shoulder blade pain will depend on the cause and severity of your condition. Recovery time will vary from person to person.
Certain medications can help relieve pain and discomfort between your shoulder blades. These may include anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB). Sometimes, steroids are given as a pill or injection to help with pain and inflammation. Muscle relaxers and even antidepressants are also prescribed for certain conditions involving the shoulder blades.