What Causes Pain Between Your Shoulder Blades?

Are you experiencing discomfort between shoulder blades and worry it might be something serious? Interscapular pain, aching in the upper back between the shoulder blades, can be a result of many conditions. The typical cause is muscle strain or tension, but it can also be an indication that there is something worse going on. You should see your doctor as there is the possibility that it can be a sign of lung cancer or a heart attack.

What Causes Pain Between Shoulder Blades?

1. Bad Posture

Do you tend to slouch, neglecting to sit up straight? Whether you realize it or not, you are putting a lot of strain on the muscles in your back. When you have bad posture, your muscles feel stressed and fatigued, becoming inflamed by the unbalanced weight. The displacement can cause extreme discomfort between your shoulder blades.

2. Herniated Discs

Suffering a herniated disc can cause pain between your shoulder blades. The condition occurs when a vertebrae disk has broken down and the cervical disc within is damaged. This causes the pain to radiate upward, instead of just concentrating on the lower back. Common cause of a herniated disc is a physical injury or certain diseases.

3. Impending Heart Attack

A sign of an impending heart attack is upper back pain. The indicator is more common in women than men, and is not always reliable. However, if the pain is sudden, spreads from chest to arms and then to the back and shoulders, it should be considered a predication of a heart attack. If you are experiencing this type of pain between shoulder blades, you should get evaluated right away.

4. Spinal Stenosis

The condition spinal stenosis happens when areas of your spinal cord become extremely narrow. It most commonly occurs in the upper region of the neck or lower areas of the backbone. The pain can radiate all the way to your legs. Untreated, it can become quite serious and it may take surgery to fix the problem.

5. Osteoarthritis

If you are experiencing stiffness in your upper back and pain around your shoulders, you may be suffering from osteoarthritis. Another indication of the condition is the pain worsening upon waking and at night. It is important to not confuse the pain with fatigue. Unusual pain should always be examined.

6. Muscle Strain

Muscle strain is the most common culprit of upper back pain between the shoulders. It can be caused by excess lifting, bad posture, prolonged standing, poor sleep or extending sitting. Sports, like tennis and golf, can cause you to twist incorrectly and cause pain.

7. Acid Reflux

Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) has many symptoms, including hoarseness, chest pain, swallowing difficulty and pain between shoulder blades. If left untreated, this condition can lead to esophageal cancer. GERD is also related to pain of the stomach, throat and pancreas.

8. Pulmonary Embolism

When clots form in your legs and pieces break off, they can travel to other parts of your body. If they travel to your lungs, it can result in a pulmonary embolism. This condition can cause shortness of breath, upper back and shoulder pain and extreme shortness of breath.

9. Gallbladder Disease

Gallbladder disease is a condition that commonly affects people who are overweight. While the small organ that helps with digestion is located in the abdomen, it can cause pain in the upper back when diseased. The attacks can be debilitating, causing stabbing pain between your shoulder blades and around the rib cage.

10. Heart Attack

When someone suffers from a heart attack in the movies, the person clutches his chest and falls to the ground. In real life, a heart attack is not always so evident. Often a pending attack gives warning through pressure in the chest, nausea, abrupt dizziness, unexplained breathlessness and an irritating pain in the upper back. For some reason, women are more prone to suffering from pain around their shoulder blades when a heart attack is pending. Any type of pain of these types that cannot be explained should be evaluated right away by a medical professional, even if it means going to the emergency room.

Exercises That Help

If you have upper back discomfort and pain between shoulder blades, you can try doing stretches and exercises to strengthen the muscles in this area. It is important to start slowly to reduce your risk of injury. You can add more upper back moves and exercises as you progress and the pain is more tolerable. Begin with one or two of the following that can easily be done at home, adding more when you can:

  • Pectorals stretch – Position yourself in a doorway with both hands above your head on the doorframe. Lean slowly forward until you experience a stretch in area in front of your shoulders. Hold the position for 15 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
  • Thoracic stretch – Start sitting on a mat. With your legs in front of you, stretch them out straight. While holding your thighs about mid-point, draw your head towards your belly button, curling your neck. Hold for 15 seconds. Slowly release. Repeat the movements 3 times.
  • Scapular squeeze – Stand with your arms on your sides. Tighten your shoulder blades, squeezing them together. Hold in place for 5 seconds. Slowly release. Repeat 15 times for 2 sets.
  • Yoga cat – Pain between shoulder blades can be relieved by doing the yoga cat movement. Start by kneeling on your hands and knees, with hands lined up below the shoulders, knees below hips. While exhaling, slowly arch your back. When your back is rounded, inhale and tighten your abdominal muscles. Hold the position for 10 seconds, repeating 10 times.
  • Lying knee twist – Lie down on your back with your legs stretched out. Bend your left knee and then move it across your body to the right side. Hold the position for 20 seconds. Move back to the original position and then repeat with right leg and knee.

There are several other exercises and stretches that may help with upper back pain and discomfort. The best thing to do is try different movements and see which ones bring you the most relief. Remember it takes time to alleviate this type of pain. Give your efforts a chance to pay off.

When to See a Doctor

If you are having pain that is constant, severe and just doesn't feel right, you should visit your doctor right away. Pain is a strong indication that there is something wrong. While it may end up being nothing serious, if it does not go away or bothers you, you should get it check anyway.

If the pain between shoulder blades is accompanied by specific signs and symptoms, it could mean you need immediate and prompt medical treatment. Seek immediate assistance if you experience upper back pain with any of these symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Breathlessness or shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Sweating excessively
  • Swelling or pain in legs
  • Lightheadedness
  • Vision loss
  • Irregular or fast heartbeat
  • Unconsciousness
  • Paralysis of body on one side
  • Sudden onset of speaking difficulty
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