Why Do My Shoulder Blades Hurt?  

shoulder blade pain on woman
shoulder blade pain on woman

Are you suffering from shoulder blade pain and unsure what has caused it? 

If you’ve landed on this article the answer is most likely yes, and we know that it can make your everyday life difficult. 

You probably already know this so let’s get to what might be causing it. 

Your shoulder is one of the most important joints in your body, you suddenly realize how important it is when your ability to move it is restricted. 

The shoulder blade or scapular is a large triangular-shaped bone that lies in the upper back. 

The bone is supported by a complex system of muscles which makes injury or pain to the area a fairly common occurrence. 

Shoulder blade pain can be caused by a variety of reasons and severity and it is important to know what is causing the pain.

The most common cause of shoulder blade pain is from muscle strains. 

If you’re fairly active, lifting a lot of weights or playing impact sports you’ll know several people who have been impacted by shoulder blade pain. 

This can often be easily treated by a range of exercises by your physical therapist. 

In most cases your shoulder blade pain is nothing to worry about but in some cases it can be a more serious condition. 

Sharp and sudden pain across the shoulder and shoulder blade can be a sign of heart complications which need to be seen to with immediate effect. 

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What Is Causing My Shoulder Blade Pain?

Painful shoulder shown on skeleton

There’s a whole host of causes which could be leading to your shoulder blade pain. 

For instance it could be something minor like a muscle sprain, something long term like arthritis or something that needs immediate attention such as a heart attack. 

Muscle Strain Or Tear

These are by far the most common reasons people experience pain in their shoulder blades. 

Muscle strains or tears can happen at any time and can vary in severity of the injury. 

You should be fairly aware if you have strained any muscles in your shoulder as the pain often originates from short term overuse of the muscles. 

Strains will often come from lifting heavy objects, sleeping in an uncomfortable position, playing sports or simply from working at a computer for long periods. 

Strains and tears are most common with people who train with weights regularly or who are involved in high impact sports. 

Shoulder Injuries 

shoulder injury of woman after working out

If you’ve previously had shoulder injuries pain can always reoccur. 

Fractures and dislocations to the shoulder will often result in the joint being weaker and more susceptible to further damage. 

If you have had a serious shoulder injury in the past it may be worth visiting your doctor so they can check you over to see if there are any issues. 

Poor Posture 

Shoulder blade pain is often linked with back pain due to them sharing muscle groups and nervous systems. 

So what you may find is that it is actually your back problems which are causing pain in your shoulder blades. 

If this is the case the most common cause of this will be having poor posture. 

Poor posture is the root of many Americans’ back and neck problems and it could well be the case for you. 

Slouching in your chairs or walking with an arched back may seem like it’s more comfortable but it’s putting your back under so much stress. 

The next time you’re sitting down at the office just think about how you are sitting. 

Poor posture can affect the spinal column which in turn can cause further problems across the body. Most notably neck and shoulder pain.  


Arthritis Concept word cloud

Arthritis in the shoulder can be a fairly common cause of your pain particularly as you get older. 

This can often be caused by general wear and tear, constant use at work, aging, previous injury or playing high impact sports over a number of years. 

Arthritis often develops slowly over time so it is difficult to diagnose the condition early on. 

The most common type of arthritis in the shoulder is osteoarthritis which is the wear and tear of the joint. 

Symptoms can include pain, stiffness, swelling and difficulty with mobility in the shoulder itself. 

If you are feeling the effects of arthritis it is important to seek help from a physical therapist so they can look to improve the quality of movement in your shoulder. 

Heart Conditions 

Shoulder blade pain can sometimes be related to serious heart conditions that require immediate emergency care. 

They will often be accompanied with serious and sudden pain in the shoulder and chest region. 

If you are experiencing shoulder blade pain along with chest pain and shortness of breath. 

Other sharp and sudden and sharp pains in the shoulder blades could be a symptom of an aortic tear or pulmonary embolism. 

If you think you have any of these symptoms you need to seek emergency medical treatment. 

What Can I Do To Stop My Shoulder Blade Pain?

Arthritis Concept word cloud

We’d always recommend the help of a trained physical therapist to aid you in your recovery. 

However there are a few measures you can take to reduce the likelihood of further injury and reduce your pain. 

One easy resolution is applying hot and cold packs on the affected muscle can help reduce the pain from your injury. 

This is often a well practiced remedy when it comes to muscle injuries as it offers rapid pain relief, as long as the injury is not too severe. 

Once you’ve tried the hot and cold therapy it may be best to rest your upper back and shoulders from any activity. 

Try to rest for a day or two and avoid doing anything that may aggravate or cause further pain to your shoulder blade. 

Make sure you don’t rest for too long though as you don’t want to make the shoulder blade stiffen up, people often complain that leaving the upper back area to rest for too long can result in further pain once you try to start and move things again. 

The next step for you here is to slowly start exercising your shoulder blades and back. 

We recommend working with a physical therapist on this but below are some exercises to help reduce your pain. 

Exercises For Shoulder Blade Pain

shoulder exercises

Exercise is important for the recovery of any injury you pick up and the shoulder blade is no different. 

Just make sure you give your shoulder sufficient time to rest first. 

Depending on the severity of the pain or injury it is sometimes best to work with a trained physical therapist, particularly in the early stages of recovery. 

Like mentioned, your shoulder pain might well be coming from your back, so often back and shoulder exercises are recommended to aid your recovery. 

If you want to have a go at home try these simple exercises which should ease some of your shoulder blade pain. 

Arm Circles 

This is a shoulder stretching exercise which is as easy as they come. 

You might find that with your pain you struggle to complete full circles so take it easy at first.

All you need to do is swing your arms round in big circles but make sure your arms are straight. 

After a couple of reps try to switch direction so your shoulder can fully stretch out. 

Shoulder Roll

Like the arm circles make sure you start the shoulder rolls slowly.

Stand tall and keep your arms relaxed, any movement should come from your shoulder blades. 

All you need to do is shrug your shoulders up and then back down in a circular motion. 

Shoulder Blade Squeeze

The shoulder blade squeeze aim is to improve your posture and increase your shoulder movement. 

You can either do this sitting down or standing up. 

Make sure your shoulders are relaxed and not shrugged and you simply need to squeeze your shoulder blades together. 

Hold the position for a few seconds then repeat around 8-12 times. 


shoulder pain help from a specialist physical therapist

Stretching is great to improve mobility and pain relief to your body. 

You might find that yoga classes may interest you as they will be able to teach you new stretching techniques that may benefit you. 

For shoulder blade pain the best stretches you can do are tricep stretches and shoulder stretches. 

Stretching daily is vital to regaining the movement and control within your shoulder blades. 

Can Physical Therapy Help My Pain?

Physical therapist diagnosing patient with shoulder pain

Yes physical therapy can help you out in a number of ways. 

Even if your doctor hasn’t referred you to a physical therapist we’d be happy to help, just give us a call. 

We’ll be able to check your range of motion and build you a tailor made plan of your treatment. 

We aim to restore your mobility and get to the root of what is causing your pain. 

Here at Intecore Physical Therapy we want to get to know what works for you so we can help you get better. 

We take the time to understand your situation and then we work on giving you the best advice and treatment to help your shoulder blade pain. 

We have a specialist team of physical therapists just waiting for you to pop in and say hello. 

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us, we can offer you a free 20 minute discovery visit where we will be happy to see you. 

Andrew Vertson