Experiencing pain between your shoulders blades or your upper back area?
- Does it hurt to stretch or take a deep breath?
- Wondering what could be causing this pain?
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Pain between the shoulders could be caused by a number of things. It could be bone related or muscle related. In this article we are going to help you discover what might be causing your pain, what you can do about relieving the pain between your shoulders and hopefully, prevent it from happening in the future.
Symptoms of Pain in the Shoulder Blades or Upper Back
You may be having pain symptoms like a sharp pain between your shoulder blades, or a more subtle problem like having difficulty putting your chin to your chest or feeling discomfort between your shoulder blades when you try. The pain may be central in the middle of your back, off to the left side or right side of the spine or in the “shoulder blade” area. Some sufferers have reported pain sensations like “stabbing,” “a big knot,” “a hot knife” or a “deep ache” in their back.
Causes of Pain between the Shoulder Blades
There are a host of problems that can cause pain in your upper back. They can be temporary, minor problems that cause a little pain, shooting pains or there could be a very serious problem going on.
Some of the minor things that can cause pain problems are:
- Natural changes as you age creating weaker muscles and softer bones
- Bone spurs
- Softening or minor tears in tendons and cartilage
- Muscle injury or strain by twisting or bending the wrong way
- A pinched nerve in your back or neck
More serious causes of pain between the shoulders:
- Joint instability
- Collar bone fracture
- Upper arm fracture
- Heart problems like a heart attack or fluid around the heart
- Slipped disc
- Diseases such as lung infection or shingles
Helpful Definitions of Health Conditions
Arthritis is an Inflammation of the joint that causes swelling, stiffness and pain. Osteoarthritis is due to wear and tear on the joints over a period of years or due to an injury. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that also causes inflammation of the joints and it can start at a very early age.
Inflammation of the fluid filled sack that surrounds the joints in your shoulder is called Bursitis. These sacks normally provide the cushioning between the bones inside the joint.
That cord that attaches muscle to bone is called a tendon and tendonitis is when that becomes inflamed. This generally occurs as a result of wear and tear over the years, but it can also happen from an injury. Tennis elbow is tendonitis.
An actual break or crack in a bone is called a bone fracture. The bones of the shoulder include the clavicle (collar bone), scapula (shoulder blade) and the humerus (upper arm). A fracture of any of these bones is quite common and you might not realize you have a small fracture in one of those bones.
The joint does not stay firmly in its socket sometimes and might possibly slip out of position. If you have ever suffered a dislocated shoulder, partial or complete, it may have weakened the surrounding muscles and tendons. If these muscles and tendons did not gain back their full strength then the shoulder joint may be left unstable on a long term basis.
An actual tear in the tendon is usually caused from an injury, but can also be from natural changes due to aging.
A small outgrowth of bone is called a bone spur. These bone spurs can result from arthritis, tendonitis or any kind of inflammatory illness involving bones and joints.
How a Doctor Diagnoses Upper Back Pain
If you are unsure of the cause of the pain between your shoulders then you should see your doctor. Aside from a hands-on physical examination, your doctor might order one or more tests to help come up with a diagnosis. Some of the diagnostic tests your physician might order are:
A regular x-ray provides a good look at your skeleton and can detect such things as fractures, bone spurs and slipped discs.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging allows a doctor to examine nerves, tendons and ligaments.
CT Scan (computed tomography)
A CT or CAT scan gives greater detailed pictures of bones and body organs. They are almost like a 3-D image since the pictures are taken in “slices.”
An Arthrogram involves the injection of a dye, water or air in to your joint to provide a clearer look at the soft tissues in your shoulder.
This test involves the insertion of a small fiber-optic camera allowing the doctor to see inside the joints. You would likely receive a local anesthetic for this procedure.
Treatment for Pain between the Shoulders
Making changes in your rest and activity habits are sometimes required to help get rid of the pain. This is definitely the first treatment for relief of pain between your shoulders. Your body will require rest and abstinence from whatever activities that irritate and make the condition worse. Sometimes, if stress is a big factor then some mindfulness training will teach you a way to relax, meditate and reduce stress. When you are feeling less stress then your muscles loosen up and the pain starts to go away.
Simple range of motion exercises and muscle stretches of the neck can help relieve some of your pain.
It would be worth your while to see a licensed massage therapist regarding exercises for increasing strength and flexibility in your shoulders.
Self massage gear
Hand held, wooden massage tools are also extremely helpful in loosening muscles and reducing upper back pain.
You need to be mindful of how you sit, stand and improve your posture. If possible, try using an ergonomically correct chair. A proper pillow will help you maintain a good sleeping posture and is well worth any initial cost.For more information, see our article on how to select the proper pillow. As well a proper mattress for people with back pain can have a large impact on reducing back pain. A proper position while you sleep is very important, also. An average person spends eight hours per night sleeping. That is third of your lifetime!
Hot or cold compresses are often recommended to reduce pain. You start with a cold pack for an initial injury and then use it off and on for the first 48 hours. After that, you can move to a hot compress. Leave it on for about 15 minutes every 4 hours for either of the compresses.
You can see a Chiropractor for massage or a licensed/registered massage therapist. It is highly recommended that you use a professional for a muscle injury and not a friend. A friend’s massage is well meaning, but might make the injury worse.
You might get relief from simple anti-inflammatory medications such as Ibuprofen or the doctor might prescribe steroids via pill form or injection. If rest and exercise do not work, your doctor might recommend surgery. It may involve removal of scar tissue, repair of tendons or perhaps a complete reconstruction of the affected shoulder.
How to Prevent a Recurrence of Pain between the Shoulders
There is very little you can do about the aging process, but staying physically active could help prevent muscle weakness. Regular exercise provides better blood flow to the muscles, improves strength and flexibility. Just make sure do you warm up stretches first. Stretches are very important so that you don’t cause a recurrence of the shoulder pain. Swimming is another great way to increase strength and flexibility in the shoulders without over stressing your joints. If you are up for a great workout on a regular basis, take up tennis or racquetball. Just be sure to not overdo it and always stretch before any sport activity. Back to home page