Shoulder Blade Pain: Causes and Treatment

Shoulder Blade Pain: Causes and Treatment

What is causing the pain in my shoulder blade?

Shoulder blade pain has become a common experience, with causes varying from simple strains to severe conditions, including liver problems or heart attacks. However, it can be challenging to identify the cause of shoulder blade pain. And that’s why people with shoulder blade pain have to learn the possible reasons for the pain, and the various precautions to take. 

Fortunately, this article will be a guide to some of the causes of pain around your shoulder blades, and what steps you can take to treat each problem. 


The shoulder blades are basically the triangular bones found on the back of your shoulders and are medically called scapulae. 

Each shoulder blade joins your upper arm bone to your collarbone and consists of three groups of muscles connected to it. Typically, these muscles help in moving your shoulder joint. 

Furthermore, the shoulder comprises a wide range of motion. The muscles joining the shoulder blade enable your shoulder movement up or down, and sideways. Since the shoulder can move in very many ways, it’s easy for it to injure, and this can result in shoulder blade pain. More often than not, shoulder blade pain is not, unfortunately, as simple as injury-related pain. Sometimes, the cause of this shoulder pain is due to pain from a nearby distressed organ. 

What Are the Causes?

Generally speaking, there are numerous potential causes when it comes to shoulder blade pain.  Sometimes a person might be able to determine what exactly is causing their pain. Some of the causes that might be obvious to a person include:

  •  Strain from lifting a bulky object
  •  Sleeping in an odd or uncomfortable position
  •  Trauma from a fall, hit, or accident


However, in some cases, the cause of the pain might be more challenging to figure out. And some conditions can result in referred pain, which targets your shoulder blades but is because of an issue in another 

  •   Liver problems
  •  Gallbladder disease
  •   A slipped disk in the back
  •   Issues in the back
  •  Heart attack, especially in women
  •   Lung cancer
  •   Lung disease

Some causes are also more likely to cause pain in a single shoulder only. 

For instance, a heart attack has a higher chance of causing pain in your left shoulder blade. On the other hand, gallbladder disease has a higher chance of causing pain in your right shoulder blade. In comparison, a strain might occur in any of the shoulder blades based on where the injury occurred. 

The causes might fit into a few categories. Below you’ll find some of the reasons:

Bone and joint problems

There are a few potential bones or joint issues that can result in shoulder blade pain. Since the shoulder blade is basically a bone, you can experience a fracture. But, this is an unlikely occurrence since, in most cases, it needs an accident, a fall, or a similar direct injury to your shoulder blade. 

Generally, as a person ages, degenerative conditions might lead to shoulder blade pain. And some of these conditions are:

  •  Frozen shoulder
  •  Fibromyalgia
  •  Spinal stenosis
  •  Scoliosis
  •  Osteoporosis
  •   Arthritis


Most specifically, an arthritis type known as ankylosing spondylitis is very common among individuals aged 20-40. It’s a form of arthritis that usually affects the spine; however, it can also cause inflammation and pain to surround areas. 

Also, certain cancers might bring about pain in the shoulder blades and shoulders. The most common cancers that might result in shoulder blade pain are colon cancer, breast cancer, and lung cancer. 


Musculoskeletal causes

In general, it’s very common for an individual to experience a musculoskeletal problem that brings about shoulder blade pain. Rotator cuff problems, sleeping awkwardly, strains, and overuse all fall into this category. In most cases, these issues are related to pain in the muscle groups close to the shoulders, including specific arm muscles. 



Pulmonary causes

Some lung conditions might also lead to referred pain in your shoulder blades. Some examples of these lung conditions are:

  •   Collapsed lung
  •   Clots running from the legs to the lungs
  •  Cancer that spreads on the top of your lungs


Cardiac muscles

Heart-related issues are one of the more severe causes of shoulder blade pain. According to healthcare professionals, localized pain in your left shoulder might be a sign of a heart attack, especially in women. 

So, if you’re a woman experiencing pain in your shoulder blade that can’t be explained by a musculoskeletal issue, it’s prudent that you seek immediate medical attention.

Below are other conditions that might cause pain in your shoulder blade:

  •   Inflammation of the lining of your heart
  •   A tear in your aorta


Abdominal causes

Certain conditions occur in your abdomen that might bring about pain in your shoulder blade: 

  •   Liver disease
  •   Pancreatitis
  •   Peptic ulcer disease
  •   Nerve pain
  •   Surgery


Pain in one side of your neck

In most cases, isolated pain in your right or left shoulder of your neck is a result of muscle injury or strain. The activities below could play a part in the pain on one side of your neck: 

  •  Poor sleeping position. As aforementioned, awkward sleeping can lead to neck pain, and this is more common for people who prefer sleeping on their stomachs. Also, using an unsupportive mattress or too many pillows can result in issues. 
  •  Bad posture. With poor posture, you can strain the muscles that are in and around your neck and might also result in an uneven spreading of weight, and this could cause pain on one specific side.
  •  Whiplash. Usually, pain from neck sprains is due to muscle or ligament damage. Although whiplash is generally associated with being in a car accident, the other common causes are riding a rollercoaster and doing a vigorous sporting activity. 


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A doctor must examine a person to figure out what exactly is causing the pain in the shoulder blade. Standard diagnosis begins with an interview whereby the medical specialist will try to work out if there’s any simple cause for the pain. 

After the doctor has excluded simple reasons, they might perform specific assessments. 

Some of these tests might include:

  •  Radiological studies of the back and chest using a CAT or MRI scan
  •  Blood work that examines for liver function
  •  Abdominal tests, including endoscopy
  •  Heart tests, including a stress test or an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)



Treatment relies mainly on the exact reason for the pain. For simple reasons like sleeping poorly, strain, or overuse, an individual might be able to try a variety of treatments from home. 

These might include: 

  • Massages, including self-massaging with tools such as PSO-RITE, or the new PRO-SPINE.
  •  Stretching. 
  •  Ointments and medicated rubs
  •  Pain relief medications like ibuprofen, which you can either buy online or over-the-counter
  •  Ice
  •  Rest
  •  There are also many products at that can help in releasing your psoas muscles

If there’s an underlying disorder, then treatment depends on treating the underlying cause. For instance, cancer might need chemotherapy, radiation, or other therapies. 

On the other hand, heart conditions might require medications that target heart issues. 

Once you know and understand the cause for your shoulder blade pain, there’s a higher chance the treatment will be more effective. 

However, if treatment isn’t working, you must talk to your doctor to figure out if their treatment needs adjusting or changing. 

When Should You See A Doctor?


Mostly, a person can trace back their shoulder blade pain from a seemingly harmless accident, like a recent fall or a duration when they lifted a lot of weight. 

It might be less evident to an individual who slept poorly; however, warning signs include having recently changed mattresses or sleeping on a particular side for too long. 

If you’re out there and can’t explain the reason for pain in your shoulder blade, you should visit your doctor. Also, women should be especially wary of any pain in their left shoulder blade since it might be a sign of a heart attack, which means they should consult a doctor as soon as possible. 

Sometimes a person might want to see a doctor when they have a strain since the doctor might be in a position to recommend additional treatment. 

Some of the symptoms that indicate a need for prompt attention include:

  •  Loss of consciousness
  •  Excessive sweating
  •  Paralysis on one side of your body
  •  Vision problems
  •  Fever
  •  Coughing of blood
  •  Swelling, pain, or redness in the legs
  •  Lightheadedness
  •  Sudden difficulty speaking
  •  Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  •  Shortness of breath
  •  Chest pain


Typically, preventable shoulder blade pain is associated with overuse and trauma. Steps to take might include:

  •  Changing sleeping positions
  •   Easing into your new workout routines
  •   Wearing a seatbelt in your car
  •   Avoiding potential falling risks

Other ways of prevention include:

  •  Stretching
  •  Getting moderate exercise
  •  Eating a balanced diet that’s nutrients-rich


For simple reasons, an individual may have a full recovery with little medical intervention. And in these situations, it will most likely take some days or weeks for an individual to have complete symptom relief.

If the pain is because of an underlying cause, the recovery time and the length of treatment will vary greatly. 

It’s essential to know the reason to create an effective treatment plan that will address the underlying problems.

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