Why Do I Feel Pain Between Shoulder Blades?

Feeling pain under or near your shoulder blade, the bone at the back of your shoulder, can make it hard to move your arm and do everyday things. It can occur as a burning, sharp pain between shoulder blades or as sore and achy across your shoulder or upper back.

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Anatomy of Shoulders

Knowing a bit about the anatomy of the upper back between your shoulders can help you understand why you might feel pain.

Your upper back and shoulders often feel pain because of muscles and nerves connected to two main parts of your spine: the cervical spine in your neck and the thoracic spine in your mid-back.

The cervical spine has seven neck vertebrae, while the thoracic spine has twelve, and it’s the biggest part of your spine. This area not only protects your spinal cord but also connects to the twelve ribs.

In your thoracic region, there are many muscles, including the trapezius, rhomboids, serratus anterior, levator scapulae, and latissimus dorsi. These muscles are all linked to your shoulder or shoulder blade along your thoracic spine.

Also, muscles like the pectoralis major and minor from the front of your body attach to your upper back. Doctors often use a highway analogy to explain the back’s structures. The main highway represents your brain and spinal cord, while the smaller roads are nerves traveling throughout your body. The landscape surrounding these roads consists of your muscles and tendons.

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Potential Causes of Pain Near Shoulder Blades

Pain between your shoulder blades can happen for various reasons, including:

  • Muscle Strain: Pulling a muscle from poor posture, heavy lifting, or twisting activities can lead to pain between the shoulder blades.
  • Trauma: Injuries like shoulder joint separation or rotator cuff tears can cause shoulder pain.
  • Herniated or Bulging Discs: Disc issues in the cervical or thoracic spine can irritate nerves and cause pain.
  • Arthritis: Arthritis in the neck or ribs can cause pain between the shoulder blades.
  • Heart Attack: Women may experience pain between the shoulder blades as a symptom of a heart attack, along with other symptoms like chest pain or shortness of breath.
  • Cancer: Lung, esophageal, mesothelioma, lymphomas, and other cancers can cause referred pain between the shoulders.
  • Gallbladder Disease: Pain between the shoulder blades, along with nausea, can occur after eating fatty meals due to gallbladder issues.
  • Pinched Nerve: Conditions like myofascial pain syndrome can cause muscle spasms and pain.
  • Acid Reflux: GERD may cause pain between the shoulder blades, along with other symptoms like chest discomfort or swallowing problems.
  • Scoliosis: Severe curvature of the thoracic spine can cause pain between the shoulder blades, though it’s rare.
  • Thoracic Aorta Tear: A tear in the thoracic aorta can cause sudden, severe pain in the upper back.

Diagnosis & Treatment Options

When you visit your doctor for pain between or around your shoulder blades, they will ask you questions about your symptoms and medical history. Furthermore, you might need tests like X-rays or MRI scans to figure out what’s causing your pain.

Treatment depends on what’s causing the pain. If it’s from muscle strain, you might take over-the-counter pain meds like ibuprofen, do stretches, or use ice packs. Surgery might be needed for serious issues like a rotator cuff injury. You might need medication or lifestyle changes if it’s a heart problem or something else.

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Patient Reviews

If this surgery is a little frightening, I understand. I interviewed doctors until I was satisfied that the one I chose was right for me. The pain and restriction of movement in my left shoulder was debilitating. Dr. Michael Cusick is totally committed to his trade. Complete total reverse shoulder replacement.

Kyle Powell

Don't get me wrong there was hiccups and waiting to have surgery seemed like forever but Dr. Cusick, his office staff and the hospital staff especially has been amazing. They went above and beyond to get my surgery approved so we wouldn't have to put it off longer. Dr. Cusick keeps a positive outlook even at times...

Kathy Zenker

Excellent surgeon. Great bedside manner. Had difficulty getting insurance paperwork filled out by office staff. Dr Cusick is awesome.

Gary Sevy

Ending Note

See a doctor if you have pain between your shoulder blades or upper back that lasts a few weeks. If the pain is intense or accompanies other serious symptoms like headache, tingling, weakness, or nausea, get medical help immediately.

You can also visit Dr. Cusick at Michael C. Cusick, M.D. Our board-certified orthopedic surgeon specializes in shoulder and elbow surgery and has extensive experience in general orthopedic surgery, trauma, and joint reconstruction. Dial (713) 794-3599 to reach out.


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