Pain Between the Shoulder Blades

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
August 05, 2019
Muscular man with hands behind head --- Image by © Bernd Vogel/Corbis

Pain between the shoulder blades probably is caused by poor posture and can be relieved with massage or stretching. But sometimes it’s more serious.

Pain between the shoulder blades — technically called interscapular pain — is common and usually caused by muscle strain. The important muscles in that area are the rhomboids and middle and lower trapezius. Your pain may begin in those muscles, or may come from somewhere else and be transmitted to that area by nerves.

It’s important to get this sort of pain checked out because it has many possible causes. Part of the esophagus, heart, and lungs lie in that spot as well as the thoracic spine, and any of them could be causing the trouble. If you also feel short of breath, or dizzy or simply feel that something serious is going on, call 911.


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Common causes of interscapular pain

Many people lean forward while sitting or standing and strain their backs. Lifting heavy weights, twisting while playing a game like golf or tennis, or a bad mattress can all strain these muscles. You might have injured your shoulder in a fall or another trauma.

Sometimes the problem began in your neck. For example, a deteriorating disk could send pain to the interscapular area. Notice whether your pain changes if you move your neck. Arthritis in your neck or ribs, or a trapped nerve, can cause pain between the shoulder blades.

The pain might be related to acid reflux, especially if you also have chest pain, hoarseness, and difficulty swallowing.

You might have a curvature in your thoracic spine or a fracture caused by osteoporosis that creates pain between the shoulder blades.

Especially in the elderly, interscapular pain may be caused by shingles, a virus in the nerve roots. Pain can arrive before you see a rash, but pain from shingles usually concentrates on one side of the body.

Women who have an epidural for labor or for a C-section sometimes undergo intense interscapular pain.

When you should get immediate help

Especially in women, this kind of pain can indicate a heart attack. Notice if you also have pain in your chest, or are short of breath or dizzy.

If you feel a sudden sharp and tearing pain, you may have had a tear and leaking in your heart, called a thoracic aorta rupture or aortic dissection.

A blood clot in your legs may travel to your lungs and cause a sharp sudden pain between the shoulder blades. This is most likely if you have been traveling a long time by car or plane or lying in bed, are pregnant, or have recently had surgery.

You might have gallbladder disease. This kind of pain is usually stabbing. You might also feel pain in the upper right side of your abdomen, often after eating a heavy meal.

Even if the pain isn’t sharp or sudden, but you find it’s persistent and unlike what you’ve known before, see a doctor. Very rarely, interscapular pain is caused by a cancer that has spread to the bones in the neck or is pressing on a nerve. The cancer could have begun in your lungs, esophagus, liver, or breast.

How to relieve muscle strain

Often when the area between your shoulder blades is stiff, tight, or even painful, specific muscles have become perpetually clenched. If you find the precise source of the pain, called a trigger point, and press on it, you may coax the muscle to relax. You can learn to massage yourself or show someone else how to, with step-by-step instructions here.

If you’re massaging yourself, place a tennis ball or massage ball under your back, lying on a carpet. You’ll need to slowly and carefully roll it over each muscle, checking for the most tender points. When you hit the most painful area, linger and roll a bit more. You’ll need to work on the painful muscles every day until they are no longer a problem.


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August 05, 2019

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN