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Shoulder Blade Pain

Shoulder Blade Pain

Shoulder blade pain can seriously impact your daily life. The shoulder blades, also called scapulae, connect the upper arm to the collarbone and ribs. When you experience discomfort in or around the scapulae, it can make normal activities like reaching, lifting, and exercising difficult and painful. But what to do for shoulder blade pain?

Fortunately, there are many possible explanations for shoulder blade pain as well as home remedies and professional treatment options to find relief. If you want a customized treatment plan for your shoulder blade pain, you can contact Physical Therapy Advantage in Aurora.

What Causes Aches and Discomfort in the Shoulder Blades?

The shoulder blades are intricate structures that work in concert with the joints, tendons, and muscles surrounding them to allow free and painless movement of the arms and upper body. 

There are a number of possible causes explaining pain in and around the scapulae. Let’s take a look at what causes shoulder blade pain:

Muscle Strains and Sprains

Repetitive overhead motions from sports like swimming, tennis, baseball, and weightlifting can overwork the shoulder and upper back muscles, leading to painful strains and sprains. The ligaments around the shoulder joint can also become damaged. It also includes right shoulder blade pain when breathing.

Pinched Nerves

A pinched or compressed nerve in the neck or upper back can radiate symptoms into the shoulder blades and upper extremities. Common causes include herniated discs, bone spurs, poor posture, and muscle tension constricting the nerve. Pinched nerves also cause pain in the left shoulder blade when taking deep breaths.


Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis affecting the joints connecting the scapula to the ribs and spine can contribute to shoulder blade discomfort and restricted mobility. The inflammation impacts a range of motion. Moreover, arthritis can be a cause of shoulder blade pain when turning head.

Frozen Shoulder

Also termed adhesive capsulitis, a frozen shoulder occurs when the connective tissue capsule around the shoulder thickens and tightens up, severely limiting movement and causing chronic stiffness and aching.


While less common, fractures of the shoulder bones, collarbone, and ribs due to injury or trauma can lead to pain around the scapulae, that is often acute and severe.

Poor Posture

Slumping, hunching, and rounded shoulders strain the upper back muscles and alter shoulder blade positioning, resulting in postural shoulder pain and fatigue. You can also feel pain in the shoulder blade when breathing.


Inflammation of the bursa sacs between the shoulder blades and ribcage causes irritation and pain, especially with overhead reaching motions.

Referred Pain

In some cases, shoulder blade discomfort is referred from another source like the heart, lungs, or digestive tract. Other symptoms often accompany these types of pain in the shoulder blade.

If your shoulder blade pain when breathing persists or worsens, it is important to see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis rather than self-treating. Prompt medical attention is key for certain serious conditions causing shoulder pain. So, this is all about what causes pain in the shoulder blade.

Treating Common Sources of Shoulder Blade Discomfort

Shoulder blade discomfort often stems from common sources that can be initially managed at home. Let’s take a look at how to relieve shoulder blade pain.

For muscle strains and sprains, rest and ice are essential, alongside over-the-counter pain medication. Gradual reintroduction of motion and gentle stretches is advised, with the use of slings or braces for severe cases. 

Pinched nerves may benefit from anti-inflammatory medication, heat application, chiropractic adjustments, and ergonomic changes. Frozen shoulder discomfort can be alleviated with prescribed anti-inflammatories, exercises, and Shoulder Therapy Aurora, progressing to steroid injections or surgery if necessary.

Arthritis-related pain can be managed with anti-inflammatory medication, topical creams, and temperature therapies. Fractures require immobilization, pain medication, and subsequent physical therapy. Poor posture correction involves exercises, braces, and mindfulness throughout daily activities. Bursitis responds to anti-inflammatory medication, ice, and avoidance of aggravating motions, with steroid injections or surgery for persistent cases.

While home care is vital, persistent or worsening symptoms necessitate medical attention. Doctors can provide accurate diagnoses and prescribe suitable treatments, including medication, therapy, or referrals for optimal pain under shoulder blade relief and recovery.

Home Remedies to Alleviate Shoulder Blade Discomfort 

In tandem with medical intervention, these self-care strategies relieve shoulder blade pain. In this section, we will take a look at how to relieve upper back pain between shoulder blades.

Rest is crucial, necessitating avoidance of strenuous activities, overhead reaching, and lifting to facilitate tissue healing. Ice packs, applied for 10-15 minutes a few times daily with a thin towel, reduce inflammation and ease localized shoulder pain. 

Heat therapy, utilizing a heating pad, warm compress, or warm shower, relaxes shoulder muscles and enhances blood flow before gentle stretching. Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium, coupled with acetaminophen and topical creams, provide additional pain relief. It is also good for left shoulder blade pain when breathing.

Posture correction involves rolling shoulders back and down throughout the day, with doorway stretches to realign hunched shoulders. Supportive braces offer stability but should be used cautiously to avoid long-term reliance. Massage, either by someone else or using a tennis ball against a wall for self-massage, can be beneficial. 

Targeted stretches and light exercises, like isometric wall push-ups, help maintain shoulder strength once the initial pain subsides. Patience and the avoidance of symptom-aggravating activities are essential in home remedies. If muscle pain in shoulder blade persists beyond a few weeks, seeking follow-up with a doctor for further guidance is recommended.

When to Consider Seeing a Physical Therapist 

If home treatment does not provide adequate relief for shoulder blade pain, consulting a physical therapist can help. Let’s take a look at what to do for a pain in the shoulder blade.

Physical therapists are movement specialists who treat muscle, joint, and nerve issues through exercises, hands-on therapy, modalities, and patient education. 

Seeing a physical therapist is advisable for shoulder blade muscle pain if you have:

  • Limited shoulder mobility that is not improving with home stretching
  • Noticeable weakness or impaired function in the shoulder and arm
  • Persistent, severe shoulder pain lasting over a month
  • Frequent shoulder dislocations or subluxations
  • Pain radiating down the arm past the elbow
  • Tingling, burning, or numbness in the arm and hand
  • Grating, clicking, or popping in the shoulder joint 

A physical therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation, checking shoulder mobility, strength, range of motion, and surrounding tissue. They can pinpoint limitations or weaknesses contributing to poor shoulder mechanics and improper scapular motion that result in pain.

Your PT will design a customized treatment plan that may include:

  • Specialized shoulder mobilization techniques
  • Soft tissue massage and myofascial release
  • Joint manipulation to improve restricted motion
  • Therapeutic exercises to strengthen weak muscles and stabilize the shoulder
  • Modalities like heat, ice, ultrasound, TENS, LASER, and traction 
  • Braces, taping, and postural correction
  • Dry needling, cupping, and other manual techniques

You will attend PT sessions 1-2 times per week with home exercises prescribed to continue progress. If pain and limitations persist after completing Aurora Physical Therapy, your therapist may recommend further medical testing or referral to an orthopedic specialist.

When Surgery May Be Necessary for Shoulder Pain?

In most cases, shoulder blade pain can be treated successfully without surgery through conservative home remedies, medication, injections, and physical therapy. 

However, certain situations may warrant surgical intervention if other treatments fail to provide adequate pain relief and improved function. If you are wondering is shoulder blade pain a sign of cancer, then you should know that it can be a sign of lung cancer in some cases.

Shoulder surgery may be considered for:

  • Severely torn rotator cuff tendons
  • Repeated shoulder dislocations
  • Frozen shoulder that has not improved with at least 6 months of conservative treatment
  • Severe osteoarthritis with significant joint damage
  • Large calcium deposits cause stiffness and impaired motion
  • Fractures or bone deformities that have not properly healed

Common shoulder surgeries include:

Arthroscopic Surgery

Small incisions allow the surgeon to insert a camera and tools to remove frayed tissue, smooth rough cartilage, and release adhesions and scar tissue.

Open Shoulder Repair

A larger incision enables the surgeon to fully see the joint space and surgically reconstruct damaged tissues like torn rotator cuffs or labrums.

Total Shoulder Replacement

The upper arm bone head is replaced with a metal ball, and the socket is resurfaced with polyethylene plastic to recreate the gliding joint surfaces. 

Reverse Total Shoulder Replacement

The socket and metal ball are switched to improve function for patients with torn rotator cuffs.

Fracture Repair

Pins, screws, and plates are used to internally set complex shoulder bone fractures that have failed to heal properly over time.

Rehabilitation post-surgery is crucial, often taking many months of physical therapy to regain optimal shoulder mobility and strength. Discuss risks/benefits thoroughly with your orthopedic surgeon before considering shoulder surgery.

Choosing Physical Therapy Advantage for Your Shoulder Pain Recovery

For persistent shoulder and shoulder blade pain, trust the expertise of Physical Therapy Advantage in Aurora. With over a decade of service, our skilled physical therapists offer specialized assessments and personalized treatment plans. We diagnose limitations using manual techniques, addressing mobility, strength, and function.

Our state-of-the-art facility employs advanced methods such as manual shoulder mobilization, custom strengthening regimens, soft tissue massage, and posture retraining. From sports medicine to post-operative rehabilitation, we provide comprehensive care. Customized home exercises support ongoing progress. Our mission is to ensure lasting relief, enabling you to resume daily activities free from shoulder pain.


Don’t let shoulder blade pain interfere with your quality of life. The expert physical therapists at Physical Therapy Advantage have the clinical experience to accurately assess your shoulder joint dysfunction and design a tailored, evidence-based treatment plan. We blend manual therapy, targeted exercises, pain relief modalities, and patient education to achieve optimal shoulder health.  

If you are fed up with shoulder and upper back pain that has not gotten better with rest and home care, contact us today to schedule an initial evaluation! We have two convenient Aurora locations and accept most major insurance plans. Let the knowledgeable PTs at Physical Therapy Advantage get you back to painless shoulder mobility and function.

COVID-19 Update: Due to the continued COVID-19 concerns we wanted to update everyone on our current policies. We are still considered to be an essential healthcare provider, but as of January 1, 2023...