Pain between the shoulder blades, often referred to as interscapular pain, is fairly common in adults, especially as they age. Pain between shoulder blades typically presents as aching, dull, sore, or shooting pain in the upper part of the back between the shoulder blades. Most of the time, shoulder blade pain isn’t anything to worry about. But in some cases, it can be a sign of a more serious condition.
When the area between your shoulders becomes painful, your entire life can be difficult. It may be hard to perform basic activities, like pulling groceries out of your car or your child out of their car seat. You may have trouble sleeping or working. This article breaks down pain between shoulder blades, explaining what it is, what causes it, and how you can treat it.
What Causes Pain Between the Shoulder Blades?
An injury to a muscle or tendon is one of the most common reasons for pain between the shoulder blades, but injuries to other parts of your body, such as rotator cuff tears or spine fractures, can also be a cause. Here, I’ll list some of the other common causes of pain between the shoulder blades.
How someone sits or stands can cause pain between the shoulder blades. Spending prolonged amounts of time with poor posture may cause your spine to undergo structural changes that eventually cause pain underneath the shoulder blade. Hunching your back, tilting your head down, or sitting to one side—while working behind a desk or reading from a cell phone, for example—can weaken your muscles and place pressure on spinal discs, muscles, and ligaments. This imbalance, when chronic, can contribute to upper back pain.
Muscle overuse can lead to muscle strains and ligament sprains, which can cause pain between the shoulder blades. Painting a ceiling, helping a friend move furniture, or participating in a softball league are all examples of activities that can put your upper back and shoulders through more work than they’re used to doing.
Stress causes muscles in the body to become tense. The neck and shoulders are common areas of tension, which can cause pain between the shoulder blades. Stress can also cause other pains, such as headaches, if the shoulder muscles are tense for a long time. Addressing any possible causes of stress, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly can all reduce stress-induced back pain.
A herniated disc in the cervical or thoracic spine, also referred to as degenerative disc disease, can lead to intense back pain. This can cause pain between the shoulder blades. A disc herniation can cause pain and may inflame a nearby nerve root that radiates pain down into the shoulder, arm, and/or hand. Other symptoms of a herniated disc include numbness, tingling, and a pain in one or both arms.
Injury to muscles in the upper back can cause pain between the shoulder blades. If you lift an object that is too heavy or with improper posture, you can place undue pressure on your upper back. Heavy lifting, especially above your head, can cause injury to your upper back and shoulders, inflaming the muscles and causing pain.
Lifting objects overhead that are too heavy can strain muscles or sprain ligaments, which could be a cause of pain in the upper back. If the pain is severe and interfering with your daily life, you should speak to a doctor immediately.
Treatment for Pain Between Shoulder Blades
There are numerous ways to treat pain between shoulder blades. If you’re suffering from persistent or chronic pain between your shoulder blades, you may need to alter your daily routine.
Repetitive movements are responsible for many cases of shoulder blade pain. If you engage in a hobby that involves a lot of repetitive shoulder movements, you might consider diversifying your leisure activities to give your shoulders a rest. If your job requires you to perform repetitive movements or put a lot of pressure on your shoulders, see if it’s possible to take some time off from work to recover.
Gently stretching the muscles in the upper back can help ease pain related to poor posture. You can try rolling the shoulders forward and backward to reduce stiffness, or linking the hands behind the back and gently pulling the arms downward.
Heat and/or cold therapy is a common form of pain relief. Typically, cold therapy is best after an acute injury, whereas hot therapy is more effective for chronic pains like those caused by arthritis. Always talk to your doctor to see what would work best for you.
When Is Back Pain Dangerous?
If your shoulder blade pain is accompanied by certain symptoms, it could mean you have a life-threatening condition that requires prompt medical attention. If pain is persistent and causes disruption to your mobility or daily activities, it is a good idea to discuss your symptoms with your doctor.
Shoulder blade pain is sometimes a symptom of heart attack, especially among women. Other signs, such as chest pain and shortness of breath, may also be present. You should seek emergency medical treatment if you experience these symptoms.
If shoulder blade pain is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention right away:
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling or redness of the legs and feet
- Rapid heartbeat
- Impaired vision
- Loss of consciousness
- Difficulty speaking
In most cases, pain between the shoulder blades is a result of muscle tension and strain. Practicing good posture, changing your sitting and standing positions frequently, and avoiding heavy lifting can also help prevent upper back pain. Your doctor can help you determine the cause of shoulder blade pain and help you find the best treatment options.
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