What Can Cause Shoulder Blade Pain?
Shoulder blade pain is a common condition that affects office workers, manual laborers, athletes, and weight lifters. Many times pain in the shoulder blade can be caused by a problem with the muscles in your upper back which is also called the thoracic spine. Shoulder blade pain can also occur due to problem at with the spine itself. However, a little-known fact is that pain in the shoulder blade may be referred pain from the neck. Often times people fail treatment for their shoulder blade pain because the root cause of the pain (which can be the neck) was not treated. In this article we’ll cover the different possible causes of shoulder blade pain.
- Upper Back/Thoracic Spine
The upper back (which can also be referred to as the thoracic spine) is the part of the spine that runs down from our neck between the shoulder blades. The upper back plays a roll in the ability to maintain good posture, move the neck, throw a ball, and lift objects at overhead. Good mobility in the thoracic spine is necessary in order to move the arms, upper back, and neck without difficulty. When there is a loss of mobility in the thoracic spine then pain can set it. Some of the common signs of pain related to the upper back include:
- Pain with prolonged sitting postures
- Pain with overhead lifting
- Pain with twisting your back side to side
If the pain is caused by the upper back region it may feel tight, sharp or a dull ache. Normally the pain can begin as stiffens and gradually worsen into a sharp sensation if left untreated. This type of pain is usually felt on one side between the spine and the shoulder blade. It can be hard to pinpoint on yourself where the pain is coming from as it may be coming from the muscles in that region or the spine itself. If you feel pain with moving that area of your upper back in certain ways then the pain may be due to a restriction at the thoracic spine.
- Referred Pain from the Neck
In order to determine the root cause of the shoulder blade pain sometimes areas AWAY from the site of the actual pain need to be considered. For instance, it has been well documented that the neck can actually refer pain down into the shoulder blade region. There have been studies conducted that have shown that certain parts of the neck when pressed upon can refer pain into the shoulder blade region. It is important for any case of shoulder blade pain that the neck be assessed as the possible root cause. Common signs of shoulder blade pain that comes from the neck includes:
- Pain reproduced with moving the neck
- Pain with prolonged looking down
- Multiple sites of pain including top of the shoulder, neck, and shoulder blade
Pain in the shoulder blade pain from the neck can be described as a burning or tingling sensation. Often time people will get a massage to the area because it feels as if the muscles in that region have been “pulled”. Unfortunately, the relief from the massage usually does not last long because it does not address the underlying root cause of the pain.
A simple way to decipher whether or not your shoulder blade pain is to move to turn your head side to side and look up then down. If this reproduces some of the pain that you feel in shoulder blade region then there is a possibility that the pain you are experience could be coming from the neck.
- Poor Posture and Muscle Weakness
Modern desk jobs and increased use of technology have led to greater demands being placed on our upper back and shoulder blade region. Larger amounts of stress are placed on the shoulder blade muscles and upper back as sitting becomes the majority position during the day. When muscles get overworked they then become “fatigued” and tighten up because they are no longer able to perform their job well. This will give the sensation that your shoulder blade region feels “tight” causing you to “stretch” the area out. However typically the underlying root case of the pain is from a “weakness” in key shoulder blade muscles and not a true tightness. Some common signs of this pain include:
- Pain that increases with sitting as the day progresses.
- Pain that is relieved with laying down
- One sided pain that feels tight or dull ache.
People that experience shoulder blade pain associated with weak muscles typically report they do not notice their symptoms as much during their off days or on the weekend. If the shoulder blade pain occurs during certain lifting or sporting activities and not during rest periods then that can also be a sign indicating muscle weakness. This is because during the “down time” or “off time” the muscles are not placed under as much stress and thus do not get “overworked”. Below is an exercise that can be worked on to improve muscle endurance in your shoulder blades. Start with your elbows and arms up against the table and then slide your arms up the wall. Then return back to start position. Perform in a slow and controlled manner until you feel fatigue in the upper back/shoulder blade region.