Read below about shoulder blade pain, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your shoulder blade pain from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Shoulder Blade Pain Symptoms

You know how they say you don't appreciate something until it's gone? Shoulder function is one of those things. We use our shoulders all day. We use them to wash our hair in the morning, get dressed, open the car door, reach for the sugar for our coffee, and even shrug them when our boss asks where that report is he's been asking for.

But once you experience a single twinge of shoulder blade pain, it's all you can think about. All of those seemingly normal tasks become impossible to complete without wincing in pain. You may have no idea how you hurt your shoulder blade, but you know you need it fixed sooner than later.

If you've experienced shoulder pain before, the following shoulder blade pain symptoms probably sound familiar.

  • Dull and aching pain contained to the shoulder blade
  • Difficulty using affected arm(s)
  • Feeling of a pulled muscle
  • Pain in nearby muscle groups (shoulder or back pain for example)
  • Instability of the shoulder

For some, shoulder blade pain symptoms are annoying but manageable. For others, the discomfort can make everyday tasks nearly impossible. Discovering the cause of your shoulder blade pain is the first step towards relief.

Shoulder Blade Pain Causes Overview

There are several causes to consider when dealing with shoulder blade pain symptoms. Discomfort can originate from almost anywhere in the body so it's important to consider all causes instead of assuming.

Musculoskeletal shoulder blade pain causes:

  • Muscle strain: The most common cause of shoulder blade pain, muscle strains can be caused by several things, including intense workouts, heavy lifting, or even sleeping in an uncomfortable position.
  • Snapping scapula syndrome: If your discomfort is accompanied by cracking and popping noises, this muscular condition could be the cause.

Cardiovascular shoulder blade pain causes:

  • Heart attack: In some cases, especially with women, shoulder blade pain can be a sign of a heart attack. The discomfort is also related to pericarditis and aortic dissection, both requiring immediate medical attention as well.

Abdominal shoulder blade pain causes:

  • Gallstones: More likely to cause right shoulder blade pain, the presence of gallstones is a common cause of discomfort that doesn't improve with rest and time. This is due to referred pain by nerves that also affect the shoulder area.
  • Pancreatitis: This digestive disorder causes left shoulder pain and can cause extreme pain that requires medical attention.

Finding out the cause of your shoulder blade pain symptoms will make it easier to focus on a treatment that eases your discomfort and erases it from your day to day life.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Shoulder Blade Pain

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced shoulder blade pain. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Rotator Cuff Tendonitis

    Impingement syndrome is a common shoulder condition seen in aging adults. The tendons of rotator cuff muscles, whose action is to rotate the arm such such as during a tennis swing, pass in a narrow space between two bones in the shoulder. When the space becomes too narrow, which can happen as a result of an overuse injury, pain may develop as the tendons rub against the bones.

    Impingement may take weeks to months to settle.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one shoulder, dull, achy shoulder pain, shoulder pain that gets worse at night, difficulty moving the shoulder, shoulder pain from overuse
    Symptoms that always occur with rotator cuff tendonitis:
    pain in one shoulder
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Non - Specific Shoulder Pain

    The shoulder is made up of many ligaments and several bones. Shoulder pain is often not identifiable because of how complicated a joint it is.

    1-2 weeks

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    shoulder pain
    Symptoms that always occur with non-specific shoulder pain:
    shoulder pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Pinched Nerve in the Neck

    With age, disks separating the cervical vertebrae (which are the bones of your spine in your neck) lose height as well as lose water content, becoming stiffer. The vertebrae move closer together, and nerves that exit between these bones may be pinched, causing pain to travel down the nerve as it passes through the arm. The pain is usually sharp, and some people report a "pins and needles" sensation or even complete numbness.

    Majority of patients get better with time (weeks to months).

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one shoulder, spontaneous shoulder pain, pain that radiates down arm, pain in the back of the neck, severe shoulder pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis of the Shoulder)

    Adhesive Capsulitis or "Frozen shoulder" is when the shoulder is painful and loses motion because of inflammation.

    1.5 - 3 years, but 90% recover fully without treatment

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    spontaneous shoulder pain, stiff shoulder, dull, achy shoulder pain, shoulder pain that gets worse at night, difficulty moving the shoulder
    Symptoms that always occur with frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder):
    stiff shoulder
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Shoulder Blade Pain Checker

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  5. 5.Shoulder Strain

    Shoulder strain, also known as a muscle pull, is a common occurrence attributed to a damaged muscle and often is the result of heavy lifting or sports.

    With proper medical attention, this condition should fully resolve.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one shoulder, pain in the front of the shoulder, shoulder pain from overuse, shoulder pain from an injury, sports injury
    Symptoms that always occur with shoulder strain:
    pain in one shoulder
    Symptoms that never occur with shoulder strain:
    arm weakness, arm numbness
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  6. 6.Shoulder Arthritis

    Arthritis is inflammation of one or more of the joints. Pain, swelling, and stiffness are the primary symptoms of arthritis. Any joint in the body may be affected by the disease, including the shoulder joint.

    Shoulder arthritis is a chronic problem once it develops.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    spontaneous shoulder pain, shoulder pain that gets worse at night, difficulty moving the shoulder, swollen shoulder
    Symptoms that always occur with shoulder arthritis:
    spontaneous shoulder pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Myofascial Pain Syndrome

    Myofascial pain syndrome is a chronic musculoskeletal syndrome caused by trigger points within muscle. Pressure on these points causes pain in the area around the point as well as in other body parts, a phenomenon known as referred pain.

    Resolution of pain is dependent on type of treatment.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, spontaneous shoulder pain, pain in the back of the neck, tender muscle knot, general numbness
    Symptoms that always occur with myofascial pain syndrome:
    tender muscle knot
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Repetitive Strain Injury of the Shoulder ("Swimmer's Shoulder")

    Repetitive strain injury of the shoulder is caused by consistent repetitive use.

    Resolves with rest

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    shoulder pain from overuse, shoulder weakness, shoulder numbness
    Symptoms that always occur with repetitive strain injury of the shoulder ("swimmer's shoulder"):
    shoulder pain from overuse
    Symptoms that never occur with repetitive strain injury of the shoulder ("swimmer's shoulder"):
    severe shoulder pain, shoulder injury
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  9. 9.Fibromyalgia

    Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes widespread pain, tenderness, and fatigue.

    Fibromyalgia is generally a lifelong condition

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, arthralgias or myalgias, anxiety, depressed mood, headache
    Symptoms that always occur with fibromyalgia:
    arthralgias or myalgias
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Shoulder Blade Pain Treatments and Relief

Most cases of shoulder blade pain are treatable. A little bit of time and rest should do the trick. But in some cases, shoulder blade pain is a sign of a heart attack.

If the pain is sudden and you can't think of a logical explanation for it, seek immediate medical attention if you're also experiencing:

If your shoulder blade pain is due to injury or something not life-threatening, schedule an appointment with your doctor if you don't notice an improvement over the course of several days.

You can also try the following shoulder blade pain treatments and tips to have yourself feeling better quicker.

  • Exercise and stretching: Strengthening your back could help alleviate pain. Try pushups, sit-ups, and pullups. Remember to start slow if you don't exercise regularly. Light stretches can also help loosen tense muscles.
  • Therapy: Both massage and physical therapy can help with shoulder blade pain that comes and goes, especially if due to an injury or compressed nerve.
  • Medication: Over the counter anti-inflammatory medication can temporarily relieve shoulder blade pain. Steroids might also be prescribed.
  • Surgery: Shoulder blade surgery is rare but it's an option for those suffering with extreme pain.

Ninety per cent of people experiencing pain in their shoulder blade will positively respond to rest and exercise.

FAQs About Shoulder Blade Pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about shoulder blade pain.

What does a torn ligament in your shoulder feel like?

A torn ligament in the shoulder will be painful, and can and often does follow a period of exertion and strain of a muscle. Some individuals say that they hear an audible pop and then a sudden onset of pain in the setting of a complete tear. Others, in the case of a partial tear, report pain and swelling after a muscle "gives out" or after a quick and vigorous motion of the shoulder.

Can stress cause pain between the shoulder blades?

Stress has been reported to cause pain between the shoulder blades. The trapezius muscle is between the shoulder blades and tends be tensed and can be strained when someone is under chronic stress. While there is little evidence about pain between the shoulder blades as a psychosomatic manifestation of stress, it is possible.

Why do I have chronic shoulder blade pain?

It is difficult to evaluate the cause of chronic shoulder pain without physically examining the shoulder. There a few questions that may help narrow the diagnosis. Have you had trauma to the shoulder? Rotator cuff injuries are often more subtle on first appearance and may not be evident on an X-ray. If there is no evidence of an injury, it may be either referred pain or pain from a damaged nerve. The most common causes of chronic shoulder pain are strains and sprains from overuse or overexertion of a shoulder.

Why do I feel a burning sensation on my shoulder blades?

A pinched nerve, shingles (varicella zoster), or particularly tight muscles being stretched can cause a burning sensation on the shoulder blades. A pinched nerve may radiate or move from the neck or mid-back outward and shoot down the shoulder to the wrist. A shingles infection is usually one-sided, and the pain is quickly accompanied by a red bumpy rash that is extremely painful and tender to the touch.

Why does it hurt in my upper back when I breathe?

Pain in the upper back on deep inspiration can be caused by tense muscles. However, there are much more worrisome symptoms that involve chest and back pain upon deep inspiration. Pleuritic chest pain (or chest pain on deep inspiration) can be a sign of a blood clot in the lungs, a punctured lung, inflammation of the lining of the lungs, or a rib fracture.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Shoulder Blade Pain

  • Q.How would you explain the cause of your shoulder pain?
  • Q.Can you fully move your shoulders around?
  • Q.Where exactly is your shoulder pain?
  • Q.Do you feel a painful, tight knot or band in your muscle anywhere on the body?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our shoulder blade pain symptom checker to find out more.

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Shoulder Blade Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced shoulder blade pain have also experienced:

    • 10% Pain in One Shoulder
    • 4% Pain in the Back of the Neck
    • 4% Pain in One Shoulder Blade
  • People who have experienced shoulder blade pain had symptoms persist for:

    • 36% Over a Month
    • 23% Less Than a Week
    • 19% Less Than a Day
  • People who have experienced shoulder blade pain were most often matched with:

    • 42% Rotator Cuff Tendonitis
    • 42% Pinched Nerve in the Neck
    • 14% Non - Specific Shoulder Pain
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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