Scapula Pain – How to Relieve Pain in Shoulder Blades

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 causes of shoulder blade pain?

infographic with shoulder blade muscles

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 extended period of time
  • Exercise
  • 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.

Disc disease

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.

Heart conditions

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.

Fractures

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.

Shingles

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.

Bone metastases

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.

Lung conditions

Pulmonary emboli or a collapsed lung can also contribute to shoulder pain.

Osteoporosis

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.

Liver disease

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.

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 streches
Photo: boudybuilding.com

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

Shoulder Stretch No.2

  • 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

Shoulder Stretch No.3

  • 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

Shoulder Stretch No.4

  • 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

Shoulder Stretch No.5

  • 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

Shoulder Stretch No.6

  • 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

Shoulder Stretch No.7

  • 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 should you see a doctor

As mentioned previously, pain in the shoulder blades area is usually a result of overusing muscles or strain. Rest and stretching helps in most cases.

However, sometimes, stretching does not provide shoulder blade pain relief. If that is the case, and your pain is severe, unusual, and doesn’t go away, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

In this case, the pain is just a symptom that something is not working properly. You might not be suffering from a severe and serious condition, but it is always better to play it safe.

Here are some other symptoms that are a red alert for seeing a doctor:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Chest pain
  • Pain and swelling in your legs
  • Loss of vision
  • Sudden difficulty speaking
  • Fever
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Irregular heartbeat
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