Scapula Pain: The Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

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Scapula PainRepetitive motion use of your upper back can result in a sharp or throbbing pain of one, or both of your shoulder blades, termed as the scapula.

There are several major bone, muscle, and tissue groups that form in this region.

Injury or damage to any one of these connections can lead to scapular pain. We will discuss how to treat scapula pain with home remedies, depending on the cause,

Scapula pain is not to be confused with shoulder pain, despite the physical connection of the two. Pain in the shoulder blade does not mean you will suffer pain in the shoulder region. The scapula is the triangle-shaped bones in your upper back and is protected by a group of 17 muscles. These muscles allow for movements such as upward and downward rotation, elevation, depression, protraction, and retraction movements, as well as anterior and posterior tipping. Physical problems with one of the scapula muscles can hinder movement.

What Causes Scapula Pain?

The bones, muscles, joints, tendons, and tissue located in the upper back that serve the scapula can become inflamed, damaged, or affected by disease. This can lead to mild to severe shoulder blade pain. Pain stemming from the scapula may also be caused indirectly by back and cervical issues.

Bone

Due to the protection it receives, the scapula bones are not easily fractured as other bones in the body. It is thought of all bone fractures that occur, only one percent affect only the scapula. It would take a great impact such as an auto accident or a direct forceful hit to the shoulder blade to directly injure it.

Muscle

A common cause of scapula pain is the straining of a muscle which can lead to muscle spasms. This can be brought on with repetitive motion of the hands, improper posture for prolonged periods of time, physical exercise overexertion, or damage to the muscle. The pain may be caused by myositis, a muscle tumor, or even a tear in the muscle. Depending on the severity of the injury, it can last for up to several weeks. Shoulder blade pain can be felt if there is injury to the rotator cuff muscles.

Joints

The joints connected to your shoulder blades can be affected by inflammation similar to the arthritis commonly seen in other locations of the body. The joints can also become torn, dislocated, suffer an injury, or be exposed to infection. The scapula joint pain may be a result of the condition known as “frozen shoulder.”

Tendons

Throughout our body, our muscles are attached to our bones by tendons. When these tendons are torn by the overstretching of the muscle, it can result in pain. If there is injury or damage to the tendons linking our biceps to the scapula, the pain radiates around the shoulder blades.

Tissue

Damage to any of the connecting tissue that forms our muscles, tendons, and joints can result in scapula pain. This can happen with contact sports, accidental falls, or any direct hit. The soft tissue injury may result in excruciating pain but does not affect the muscles, tendons, and joints. A prime example of this is pressure, or bed sores, which occur from prolonged pressure onto the surface of the skin. It is very common over the scapula region, as bedridden patients often lie on their backs. A related pain is myofascial pain. It is felt just below the right shoulder blade, but acts as a phantom pain, as the muscle tissue injury is located elsewhere on the body.

Related Issues

At times, scapula pain can be caused by issues not directly physically linked to the region. Some of these conditions include heart attack, respiratory problems, gallbladder issues, and fibromyalgia.

Scapula Pain Diagnosis

To pinpoint the cause and receive a proper diagnosis, a medical professional will discuss your medical history and do a physical exam. You can expect one or more of the following tests, depending on your discussion.

1. Blood work test

Various laboratory tests of your blood will search for any signs of problems in your liver, detection of any arthritis, or other major health issues.

2. Heart test

An electrocardiogram, EKG, or a stress test may be performed to determine the condition of your heart.

3. Radiological test

Non-evasive tests may be done centering on the chest region. These may include a chest x-ray, a computed tomography, CT scan, or even a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test. If you have a history with any form of cancer, you may also have a PET scan, known as a positron emission tomography.

4. Abdominal test

Aside from your physical exam, you may need to have an endoscopy to look closely at any issues within your stomach and small intestine.

Scapula Pain Treatment

Once you have a diagnosis, if the issue is not a major health disorder or disease, you can treat the pain in the comfort of your own home.

1. Rest

Scapula pain caused by the straining of a muscle, such as with repetitive motion, can be easily treated by avoiding use of the muscle. You can use ice and heat packs to relieve the pain and swelling.

2. Maintain proper posture

Sometimes the pain near or on the shoulder blade region is caused by not sitting properly or laying in bed at an unfamiliar angle. Sit and walk with back straight, shoulders relaxed, and head up, looking straight. At nighttime, sleep with your head and body aligned.

3. Exercise

When you have scapula pain, there are various stretching exercises to help alleviate the symptoms. Try by lifting arms straight in front of you at shoulder height. Round your shoulders as in the motion of hugging. Hold for eight to 10 seconds and release. Repeat exercise as needed.

Our back takes on a lot of work and pressure every day and for the most part, our upper back is a strong force in our body. When the muscles, tissues, joints, and tendons in the region of our shoulder blades become injured or damaged, we can experience pain. This scapula pain can be caused by movement, disease, trauma, and even prolonged pressure. If the pain is not linked to a serious health condition, you can easily treat symptoms with a few simple exercises and lifestyle changes.


Sources:

“Scapula Pain, Causes of Pain in the Shoulder Blade,” Healthhype; http://www.healthhype.com/scapula-pain-causes-of-pain-in-the-shoulder-blade.html, last accessed March 8, 2017.

“Shoulder Blade Pain,” MD-Health; http://www.md-health.com/Shoulder-Blade-Pain.html, last accessed March 8, 2017.

Eldridge, L., “Shoulder Blade Pain,” Verywell, November 11, 2016; https://www.verywell.com/shoulder-blade-pain-possible-causes-and-diagnosis-2248942, last accessed March 8, 2017

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