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6 Possible Causes of Pain Between the Shoulder Blades

Published: 11:50 am, Fri May 31, 2024

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Pain between the shoulder blades is a frequent complaint that can arise from a variety of factors, some minor and others more serious. 

While muscular strain or poor posture are popular causes of pain between the shoulder blades, it's important to be aware of other potential causes to ensure you receive proper diagnosis and treatment.

This post looks into possible causes of pain between the shoulder blades and how you can relieve them. 

6 Potential Reasons for Pain Between Your Shoulder Blades

Here are 6 potential reasons why you feel pain between your shoulder blades:

Muscle Strain

Muscle strain is a common cause of pain between the shoulders. It can be a result of overuse, injury, or poor posture. Poor posture, in particular, can lead to overuse injuries in the upper back.

Examples of poor posture that can cause this type of pain include slouching and rounding your shoulders forward while sitting at a computer.

Occupations that require repetitive motions, such as dentistry and hobbies like volleyball, can also lead to overuse injuries.

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux, also known as heartburn, is a condition that causes a burning sensation in the chest. It can also cause pain between the shoulder blades.

Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach.

This can happen due to a number of factors, including eating certain foods, caffeine, or alcohol.

Gallbladder Infection

Gallbladder infection is an inflammation of the gallbladder, a small organ located under the liver.

Gallstones, which are hardened deposits of cholesterol and other substances, can block the bile duct and cause pain.

Pain from a gallbladder infection is usually felt in the upper right part of the abdomen, but it can also radiate to the back, between the shoulder blades.

Heart Attack

A heart attack is a medical emergency that occurs when blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked.

Heart attacks can cause chest pain, but they can also cause pain in other parts of the upper body, including the shoulder blades, neck, jaw, and arms.

Pain between the shoulder blades is a more uncommon symptom of a heart attack, but it is important to be aware of it.

Aortic Dissection 

Aortic dissection is a serious medical condition that occurs when a tear forms in the inner layer of the aorta, the largest artery in the body.

Aortic dissection can cause sudden, severe chest pain that may radiate to the back or neck. It can also cause other symptoms, such as sweating, shortness of breath, and nausea.

Pericarditis

Pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium, the sac that surrounds the heart. Pericarditis can cause sharp, stabbing chest pain that worsens with deep breaths or lying down.

It can also cause pain in other parts of the upper body, including the shoulder blades.

6 Ways to Stop Pain Between the Shoulder Blade

Pain between the shoulder blades can be disturbing, but you can take the following steps to find relief.

Exercise for Relief and Strength

Regular exercise is a powerful tool for managing pain between the shoulder blades. It strengthens the muscles that support your posture and improves flexibility, reducing strain and tension.

Here are a few exercises to get you started:

  • Shoulder Blade Squeezes: Sit or stand tall and pinch your shoulder blades together for a few seconds, then release. Repeat 10-15 times. This strengthens the muscles that stabilize your shoulder blades.
  • Cat-Cow Stretch: Get on all fours with your hands shoulder-width apart and knees hip-width apart. As you inhale, arch your back and look up (cow pose). As you exhale, round your back and tuck your chin (cat pose). Repeat 10-15 times. This improves flexibility in your spine and upper back.
  • Arm Circles: Stand tall with arms outstretched to your sides. Make small circles forward for 10 repetitions, then switch directions and make 10 circles backward. This loosens tight muscles in your shoulders and upper back.

Heat or Ice Therapy

Applying heat or ice can provide temporary pain relief. Use a heating pad or warm compress on low heat for 15-20 minutes at a time.

Alternatively, apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel for 15-20 minutes. Alternate between heat and ice throughout the day.

Maintain Good Posture

Poor posture

is a major culprit for upper back pain. Be mindful of your posture throughout the day, keeping your shoulders back and down and your spine straight.

When sitting, use a supportive chair and avoid hunching over your desk.

Stretch Regularly

Stretching helps loosen tight muscles that can contribute to pain. In addition to the Cat-Cow exercise mentioned earlier, try these stretches:


  • Doorway Chest Opener: Stand in a doorway with your forearms on either side of the doorframe. Lean forward gently, feeling a stretch in your chest and shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Lateral Neck Stretch:Sit or stand tall and gently tilt your head to one side, bringing your ear towards your shoulder. Use your hand on your head to provide a slight stretch, but avoid forcing it. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Massage Therapy

A massage therapist can help loosen tight muscles and improve blood flow to the area, promoting healing and pain relief.

Listen to Your Body

If pain persists or worsens, don't hesitate to seek professional medical advice. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent further complications.

person receiving a massage

Seeing a Doctor for Pain Between Your Shoulder Blades

Don't hesitate to schedule a doctor's appointment for persistent or unusual shoulder blade pain. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent complications.

However, if you experience any of these red flags alongside your shoulder blade pain, seek immediate medical attention:

  • Severe Difficulty Breathing: When difficulty breathing is accompanied by chest pain, this could be a sign of a heart attack or pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung) and requires emergency care—every minute counts in this situation.
  • Lightheadedness or Dizziness: This can result from a drop in blood pressure or dehydration, but it's crucial to rule out more serious conditions like internal bleeding.

How Physical Therapy Can Help You Reclaim Peak Performance

Shoulder pain between the shoulder blades (interscapular pain) can be frustrating if you're an athlete trying to get back to your best. But physical therapy can be your secret weapon for regaining peak performance and preventing future setbacks.

Here's how:

Sport-Specific Strategies

A personal physical therapist (PT) familiar with your sport can tailor a treatment plan that addresses the specific demands placed on your body.

Whether it's throwing mechanics for a baseball pitcher or explosive sprints for a track athlete, they'll help you move efficiently and powerfully again.

Movement Optimization

Physical therapy focuses on identifying movement dysfunction that might be contributing to your pain.

By correcting these imbalances, you'll not only feel better but also potentially improve your overall athletic performance.

Strength and Power Restoration

Injuries can lead to muscle weakness and decreased power output.

A physical therapist will design a program that progressively strengthens the muscles that support your shoulder blades. This will help you regain the strength and explosiveness you need to improve your sport performance.

Scar Tissue Management

If your pain is from a previous injury, physical therapists can use manual therapy techniques to address scar tissue that might be limiting your range of motion or causing pain.

Injury Prevention Education

Physical therapy isn't just about fixing the current issue. A good PT will equip you with the knowledge and tools to prevent future injuries.

They'll teach you proper warm-up and cool-down routines and exercises you can incorporate into your training to maintain strong, resilient muscles.

Remember, getting back to top form requires a holistic approach. Physical therapy, combined with proper training and nutrition, can be the key to achieving peak athletic performance. 

Wrapping Up

If you are experiencing pain between your shoulder blades, it's important to consult a doctor to determine the underlying cause and get appropriate treatment.

Get in touch with our sports medicine doctors and spine doctors at Lancaster Orthopedic Group for a thorough evaluation of your condition and personalized treatment options. They'll thoroughly evaluate and tailor your treatment options according to the source of pain and your goals.

Call us at 717-560-4200 to book an appointment and begin your journey toward achieving strong, pain-free shoulders!

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