back painPain in your shoulder blade may be a minor problem that resolves itself. But sometimes, it’s a sign of something serious. Below, we look at the various causes of shoulder blade pain.

Pain in the region of your shoulder blade (scapula) can be due to a number of causes. Doctors refer to it as interscapular pain. Your shoulder blades (scapulae) are the triangular-shaped bones in your upper back that stick out. They have many functions – one of which is to support pivotal movements of the shoulder.

Shoulder blade pain can feel like an ache, dullness, soreness, or a shooting pain into the upper part of your back between your shoulder blades. Which shoulder blade is affected is an important question, as some conditions are more likely to affect the left shoulder blade, and others more likely to affect the right.

In most cases, shoulder blade pain isn’t anything to worry about but sometimes, it can be a sign of a more serious condition.


Causes of Shoulder Blade Pain 

There are many possible causes of shoulder blade pain:

  1. Injury to a muscle or tendon is a common reason for this type of pain. Strains can occur due to:
    • heavy lifting
    • poor posture
    • working at a computer for long periods of time
    • exercise
    • sleeping in an awkward position (especially prolonged sleeping on one side)
    • Other injuries such as rotator cuff tears, spine fractures or snapping scapula syndrome can also lead to pain between your shoulder blades. Snapping scapula syndrome is notable for having symptoms of cracking and popping (crepitus) along the inner side of the shoulder blade. Many people with this syndrome also have instability of their shoulder.


  1. Degenerative disc disease, a herniated or bulging disc in the spine, or compression of nerves in the neck by collapsed or displaced discs can result in referred pain to the shoulder blades.  Scoliosis or spinal stenosis (narrowing of your spinal cord), can also cause shoulder blade pain.


  1. Osteoarthritis in the joints around your neck, spine, or ribs. Arthritis may result in pain in the shoulder blades in more than one way. The scapula may be directly involved, or you may experience referred pain from arthritis in other regions such as your spine, shoulder, or ribs. Fibromyalgia can also cause shoulder blade pain.


  1. Shingles


  1. Myofascial pain syndrome


  1. Some cancers, such as breast cancerlung canceresophageal cancercolon cancer, prostate cancer, and liver cancer cause bone metastases to the shoulder blades which results in pain.


  1. Gallstones may cause referred pain in the right shoulder. It is often accompanied by nausea.


  1. Peptic ulcer and liver disease often cause referred pain in the right shoulder blade.


  1. Pancreatitistends to cause pain in the left shoulder blade.


  1. Acid reflux


  1. Heart attack, especially among women. Heart conditions are more likely to cause referred pain to the left shoulder blade. Other signs, such as chest pain and shortness of breath may also be present. You should seek emergency medical treatment if you experience these symptoms.


  1. Thoracic aorta rupture or aortic dissection occurs when you have a tear or rupture in the inner layer of the large blood vessel that branches off your heart. This can cause sharp, severe pain in your upper middle back. If this happens, call your emergency services immediately as an aortic tear is a medical emergency.


  1. Pulmonary embolism is another serious condition that can cause shoulder blade pain. You may feel a sudden, sharp pain in your shoulder blades if a blood clot in your legs breaks off and travel to your lungs. Shortness of breath is also a symptom of pulmonary embolism. Seek medical help right away if you think you have a pulmonary embolism.


As can be seen above, there are many causes of shoulder blade pain. It can occur due to injury or strain but it can sometimes be a sign of a more serious condition. You should always speak with your doctor who can rule out the various causes of shoulder blade pain, and arrive at a correct diagnosis.