What are the Causes of Pain between the Shoulder Blades?

interscapular pain

With an increase in the use of smartphones and laptops in recent decades, it has become common to have little or no regular exercise. Moreover, a constantly poor posture can be observed in most people who are working on their digital devices. These behavioral modifications can lead to multiple health conditions, the most common of which is back pain which can be of many types depending upon its location and intensity.

The pain between the shoulders or, as it is also called, interscapular pain is one of such discomforts which negatively affect the quality of life of many people. This pain can be mild to severe based on its cause. Let us look at the possible causes of pain between the shoulder blades and their management.

What is interscapular pain?

Shoulder blades are the bulgings on the back near the arms. The bone of each shoulder blade is called the scapula. Thus the area between two shoulder blades is termed as interscapular area and its pain is called interscapular pain.

Symptoms of pain between the shoulder blades

The symptoms of interscapular pain may include:

  • Mild to moderate pain surrounding the muscles of the scapulae
  • The feeling of heaviness in the arms
  • Restriction of movement of the arms
  • Modified posture
  • Projection of a scapula

Causes of interscapular pain

There are multiple causes of the pain one experiences between the shoulders. These include:

– Muscle strain

Muscle strain is the most common cause of pain between the shoulders. It can be caused due to:

  • Pulling of muscle during exercise, especially heavy lifting
  • Constantly poor posture
  • A strain during sleep

– Muscular injury

An injury or trauma to the muscles present between the two shoulder blades can be a cause of moderate to severe pain. Some of the injuries which cause such pain include:

  • Dislocation of the shoulder or a rib
  • Herniation of a disc
  • Fracture of the spine
  • Tearing of the rotator cuff

In addition, compression or damage of a nerve due to a muscular injury can also be the reason behind the pain.

– Muscle or bone diseases

Muscle or bone-related diseases resulting in pain in the interscapular area include:

  • Osteoarthritis i.e. damage to the bones and joints due to autoimmune causes
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Fibromyalgia i.e. chronic condition resulting in pain and tenderness in the body’s muscles
  • Spinal stenosis i.e. narrowing or shrinking of the spinal cord
  • Myofascial pain syndrome i.e. chronic condition responsible for pain in the musculoskeletal system

 – Miscellaneous causes

Some other causes of interscapular muscle pain are:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or heartburn
  • Shingles i.e. a rash on the face as well as the body which causes itching and pain
  • Gallstones
  • Scapulothoracic bursitis i.e. swelling of the bursa which is the sac-filled cushion around the bones and muscles
  • Lung cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Mesothelioma i.e. cancer of mesothelial tissue
  • Bone cancer

Is interscapular pain dangerous?

Usually, the pain between the shoulders is a temporary occurrence and subsides automatically with some rest. However, in some cases, the pain may be extremely severe and require emergency assistance as it is an indication of a serious health condition. These conditions include:

  • Myocardial infarction

Myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack, can be the cause of interscapular pain. In this condition, the pain is usually sharp and extreme and is not only confined to the interscapular area but extends toward the left shoulder and lower jaw. Medical help should be acquired immediately in such cases.

  • Pulmonary embolism

An embolus is a blood clot formed within the body which can travel with the blood toward the different blood vessels. Once in a narrower vein, an embolus has the tendency to block it and completely restrict the blood flow. If this happens in a blood vessel of the lungs, the condition is called pulmonary embolism. The condition is characterized by pain in the shoulders as well as between them, shortness of breath, and, in some cases, a complete loss of consciousness. Pulmonary embolism can be fatal so it is necessary to seek medical help immediately.

  • Aortic tearing

Aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body which works by taking blood out of the heart and supplying it to the rest of the body. In some cases, the aortic wall can actually tear and cause severe pain in the back. It is important to see your doctor immediately in this case as well.

Management and treatment of interscapular pain

A man stretching

Stretching muscles can help in reducing the pain between shoulders

To treat the mild to moderate pain between the two shoulders, certain home remedies can be helpful. These include:

  • Taking rest by lying straight on the floor
  • Stretching of the muscles
  • Doing certain exercises designed to relieve muscular pain such as sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, etc.
  • Yoga
  • Hot or cold therapy
  • Diet i.e. foods with higher omega-3 content can be helpful
  • Taking a massage

If the pain does not subside, certain medications can be recommended by your physician:

  • A pain-relieving over-the-counter (OTC) drug e.g. ibuprofen
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Corticosteroids

If the pain is severe and long-lasting, your physician may want to run some tests to find out the actual cause of back pain. These include:

  • MRI scan
  • CT scan
  • X-rays

Once diagnosed, treatment options can be analyzed based on the severity of the condition. Surgical therapy can also be recommended.

Conclusion

Back pain or pain between the shoulder blades is a common occurrence. There are multiple reasons behind it which range from strains and minor injuries to severe health issues such as heart attack etc. Although it is easy to treat interscapular pain in most cases, some conditions may require special care. Maintaining a good posture, taking regular exercise, and eating a balanced diet can certainly help with the prevention as well.

uzma e1714761913269

PhD Scholar (Pharmaceutics), MPhil (Pharmaceutics), Pharm D, B. Sc.

Uzma Zafar is a dedicated and highly motivated pharmaceutical professional currently pursuing her PhD in Pharmaceutics at the Punjab University College of Pharmacy, University of the Punjab. With a comprehensive academic and research background, Uzma has consistently excelled in her studies, securing first division throughout her educational journey.

Uzma’s passion for the pharmaceutical field is evident from her active engagement during her Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D) program, where she not only mastered industrial techniques and clinical case studies but also delved into marketing strategies and management skills.

Throughout her career, Uzma has actively contributed to the pharmaceutical sciences, with specific research on suspension formulation and Hepatitis C risk factors and side effects. Additionally, Uzma has lent her expertise to review and fact-check articles for the Health Supply 770 blog, ensuring the accuracy and reliability of the information presented.

As she continues her PhD, expected to complete in 2025, Uzma is eager to contribute further to the field by combining her deep knowledge of pharmaceutics with real-world applications to meet global professional standards and challenges.