Shoulder blade pain is a condition that can affect many people and it can be difficult to determine the exact cause of the pain. Most often, the cause of shoulder blade pain can be something as simple as muscle tension. However, sometimes pain in (or between) the shoulder blades can be caused by a serious health problem. Therefore, it should never be ignored.

Symptoms of shoulder blade pain

In order to better understand what can cause pain, it is important to know a little more about the shoulder blades.

The shoulder blades are 2 triangular shaped bones that are attached to the clavicle and the arms . The medical name for shoulder blades is scapula. They are part of the upper back region, which also contains the thoracic spine. This is the part of the spine that supports the rib cage.

The back and spine are very complex, containing many bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, and nerves. In addition, the upper back area also protects many vital organs, such as the heart. That is why it can be difficult to find the exact cause of pain.

Shoulder blade pain can be felt in one or both shoulders. Although more often than not the pain is caused by damage to the scapula, the pain can also be referred pain. This is where the pain originates in another part of the body and is felt in another location.

For example, some organ conditions only cause pain in the right shoulder blade, while others cause pain in the left shoulder blade.

There are different types of pain that are associated with the shoulders and upper back. However, this article only refers to pain that affects the shoulder blades (scapula).

Causes of shoulder blade pain

There can be many reasons why you have shoulder blade pain. Most of the time it is nothing to worry about because the cause can be simple muscle tension. Sometimes shoulder blade pain can indicate a serious condition of the heart, lung, or other organs.

Here are some of the possible causes of shoulder blade pain:

Muscle strain

Muscle strain is one of the most common reasons for shoulder blade pain. There are muscles around the scapula that move and support it. Very often doing repetitive work can strain these muscles and cause pain under the shoulder blades. Starting a new exercise regimen could also put additional strain on the muscles around your shoulder blades.

Sometimes even just sleeping in the wrong position can cause us to wake up in the morning with a sharp pain in or between the shoulder blades.

Because our shoulder blades are connected to the way we use our arms, it is not surprising that working conditions can also cause chronic shoulder blade pain. Research published in the Journal of Back and Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation showed that excessive tension in the scapula muscles is a reason for shoulder pain in many workers in the textile industry.

Therefore, it is important to try to avoid doing repetitive work for long periods of time without a break. At the end of the article, you can find some useful tips on how to check your posture.

If you find that you have pain in your shoulders after sleeping, you can try sleeping in a different position. To reduce back pain, it is recommended that if you sleep on your side, you should bring your legs slightly towards your chest and put a pillow between them. Or, if you prefer to sleep on your back, a pillow can be placed under the knees and a small rolled towel can be placed under the lower back.

Discopathy as a cause of shoulder blade pain

Disc disease can be divided into two types:

  • Disc degenerative
  • Herniated (slipped) disc

Degenerative disc disease usually occurs with age and is when the discs in our spine lose fluid in them and break down. That makes less room in the spaces between the vertebrae in the spine and can put pressure on the nerves.

A herniated disc is when the jelly-like fluid in the disc pushes out and presses on a nerve. Both conditions can cause shoulder blade pain. For example, a study published in the Journal of Orthopedic Surgery found that scapula pain can be caused by the nerves in the neck being irritated.


Any trauma to a bone causes pain. A scapula fracture is quite rare, as it involves a great deal of force, like being in a car accident. Sometimes a scapula fracture can occur if a person falls on an outstretched arm.

A scapula fracture can lead to life-threatening injuries and a person should seek emergency treatment immediately. The reason is because scapula fractures are often associated with serious and potentially life-threatening injuries.

Arthritis causes shoulder blade pain

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a form of degenerative joint disease that causes a variety of symptoms such as pain, inflammation, abnormal bone growth, disfigured cartilage, and loss of movement. While patients can get OA in any joint, it is most commonly seen in the knee, back and neck, hips, and fingers and toes.

Osteoarthritis can be a reason for shoulder blade pain . Very often, people suffering from arthritis also suffer from inflammation in the joint between the clavicle and the tip of the shoulder blade or in the joint where the arm meets the scapula.

There are many ways that arthritis sufferers can naturally relieve their pain:

Consume gelatin to reduce osteoarthritis pain. Sesame seeds and turmeric extract can also help with osteoarthritis pain.


Osteoporosis makes bones brittle, and while a fracture of the shoulder blade is rare, it can happen if there is a fall. Because the bones are already brittle, it may not take a lot of force to fracture the shoulder blade.

It is recommended that you see your doctor immediately if you have a fall and damage to your shoulder. Early treatment can speed recovery.

Heart disease

Most people associate heart conditions (such as heart attacks) with chest pain. However, serious heart problems can also affect the shoulders. In these cases, you may feel pain in your left shoulder blade. This is an example of referred pain.

Heart attacks often cause chest pain and discomfort in both men and women. However, the American Heart Association says that many women can experience a chest heart attack without any pressure. A study published by The Canadian Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing said that women experience heart pain differently than men. Some of the symptoms are extreme fatigue, shoulder blade pain, and shortness of breath.

A study of women’s symptoms of what they feel before a heart attack found that nearly half of them had experienced shoulder and back pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, and chest pain.

Lung cancer

In rare cases, pain in the right or left shoulder can be caused by a Pancoast tumor. It grows in the upper part of the lungs and one of its first symptoms is pain in the shoulder blade, arm and shoulder area. The pain associated with this is usually constant and severe.

Lung cancer expert Dr. Lynne Eldridge says that if you have shoulder blade pain, which is always worse at night, only occurs when you rest, and is not related to loss of activity, then it is best to consult a doctor to be calm.

Sometimes pain can be a sign of bone metastases where cancer has spread to the bones. However, it is important to remember that this is only one of the symptoms so it is not necessary to worry if you have pain, just go to the doctor to rule out this possibility. Make sure you are aware of the other lung cancer warning signs as well.

Breast cancer

Breast cancer is one of the most common forms of disease in the world, affecting both men and women. One of the signs of breast cancer is precisely shoulder blade pain.

Generally, patients feel pain in the upper back between the shoulder blades before any other signs of breast cancer develop.


Fibromyalgia is a condition that is associated with chronic pain in muscles and tissues in various parts of the body. Fibromyalgia symptoms also include fatigue and disrupted sleep patterns. However, one of the symptoms of fibromyalgia is pain in the upper back between the shoulder blades.

Abdominal conditions that can cause shoulder blade pain

Sometimes referred pain can be felt in the shoulder blades when there are conditions that affect other organs of the body.


Along with severe pain in the upper right abdomen, gallstones can also cause pain in the right shoulder and pain between the shoulder blades.

Liver disease and cancer

Symptoms of liver disease are usually pain or discomfort in the upper right abdomen and the skin appears yellowish, as well as other symptoms. However, in addition to these symptoms, liver disease can cause referred pain in the right shoulder blade.


Pancreatitis is a disease in which the pancreas becomes inflamed. One of the symptoms of pancreatitis is pain under the left shoulder blade. As with the other abdominal conditions, pancreatitis will have more symptoms than simple shoulder blade pain.

Treatment for shoulder blade pain

Treatment of pain in the shoulder blades will always depend on what is causing the pain. If it is caused by muscle injuries (which is what happens most of the time), then the pain should go away with rest. If the pain is related to a more serious condition, then your doctor will advise you on the best course of treatment.

Good posture for a healthy back

Since most shoulder blade pain is associated with muscle tension, it is important to ensure that you have good posture. How can this be verified? To check your posture, you can do this:

  • Stand with your back against a wall
  • Head, shoulders and buttocks must touch the wall
  • You should be able to pass your hand through the small curve in the lumbar region

When this is done, you will notice that there is an imaginary straight line from the ears to the ankles. This is the best posture to avoid putting extra strain on your back muscles.

If you have to sit at a desk all day, make sure your back is as straight as possible and put a little support on your lower back. The chair should be high enough so that your elbows are at a 90 degree angle. Your feet should be flat on the ground with your knees at a 90-degree angle.

Since shoulder blade pain can be caused by a stiff neck, you can do this 60-second exercise:

  1. Depending on which side of the neck the pain is on, use that hand to apply pressure to the affected area. Use good pressure, but not too much pressure that causes severe pain.
  2. Turn your head in the opposite direction of pain and push your chin towards your armpit.
  3. Return your head to the starting position and repeat 15-20 times.

Doing this exercise will not take long and will relieve neck pain. It can also help relieve shoulder blade pain.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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