Back pain between the shoulder blades affects up to 15% of adults each year. The medical term for discomfort in this area is interscapular pain, as it occurs in the region between the shoulder blades known as the interscapular space. While it’s common, that doesn’t make it any less disruptive to most people’s daily life.
No worries, this guide has your back (pun intended). You’ll learn how doctors diagnose the problem and the various treatment options available, from home remedies to medical procedures. We’ll also provide tips on posture and stretches to help prevent and reduce pain.
Clearing Doubts Regarding Back Pain Between the Shoulder Blades
Back pain is one of the most common medical complaints, and discomfort between the shoulder blades is a frequent problem. This area of the upper back is medically known as the interscapular region.
Interscapular pain can feel like an ache, stabbing sensation, tightness, or burning between your shoulder blades. It may be sharp when you move your arms or turn your head. The pain may also spread across your upper back or radiate into your shoulders and neck.
What Causes Pain Between the Shoulder Blades?
There are many possible causes of middle and upper back pain between your shoulder blades:
Poor posture may contribute to pain. After all, slouching and having rounded shoulders strain the muscles between the shoulder blades, including the trapezius and rhomboids. Poor posture misaligns the spine and puts added pressure on the discs, joints, and nerves.
Overuse from repetitive arm movements or lifting heavy objects can overwork and fatigue the muscles supporting the shoulder blades. Reaching overhead, throwing, swimming, rowing, and exercising with poor form are common activities that cause muscle strain.
Osteoarthritis can affect the small facet joints and discs. Inflammation from spinal arthritis leads to back stiffness and tenderness between the shoulder blades.
Myofascial Pain Syndrome
Myofascial trigger points are irritated knots in muscle tissue that cause tightness and spasms. Trigger points in the shoulder and neck muscles often refer to pain in the upper back.
Contact sports or weightlifting can lead to strains, sprains, or fractures in the spine, ribs, and shoulder blades causing upper back pain.
Less common causes include gallbladder issues, pancreatitis, lung conditions, tumors, and spine fractures. Heart attacks can sometimes cause upper back pain as well, especially in women. Always see your doctor if you’re unsure of the cause of your back pain.
When to See a Doctor
If the pain between your shoulder blades is moderate, try home remedies first to find relief. But if it is very intense or continues for more than a couple of weeks, it’s best to see your doctor for an evaluation. It’s especially important to do so if you experience:
- Severe pain that doesn’t improve with rest
- Persistent pain that interferes with sleep or daily activities
- Weakness or numbness in the arms or legs
- Unexplained weight loss along with back pain
- Interscapular pain with chest tightness or shortness of breath
These symptoms could indicate a more serious problem that requires medical evaluation. Seek prompt emergency care for sudden, stabbing upper back pain combined with chest pain, sweating, nausea, or lightheadedness as this may indicate a heart attack or other urgent condition.
How Doctors Diagnose Interscapular Back Pain
During your appointment, the doctor will ask about your symptoms, including when the pain started and what makes it worse or better. Be prepared to describe the exact location of the discomfort and if it radiates.
Your physician will physically examine your neck, shoulders, and back checking your range of motion, balance, reflexes, and muscle strength. They will palpate areas looking for tightness or tenderness.
If an underlying condition is suspected, the doctor might order imaging tests such as:
- X-ray to evaluate bones and joints
- MRI to assess soft tissues including discs and nerves
- CT scan to get a more detailed view of spine anatomy
You may also need blood tests to check for autoimmune conditions or infections. Women over 50 might need a bone density scan to check for osteoporosis. Your doctor will tailor diagnostic tests based on your symptoms and health history.
How to Find Relief from Pain Between the Shoulder Blades
Here are some effective ways to get relief from middle and upper back discomfort between the shoulder blades at home:
- Apply ice packs or heat pads to relax tight muscles. Use ice for the first few days to reduce inflammation then switch to heat.
- Take over-the-counter pain medication such as NSAIDs or acetaminophen. Topical pain relieving creams containing menthol or capsaicin can provide added relief. Acetaminophen is safer for long-term use.
- Perform gentle shoulder blade squeezes and back stretches to improve the mobility of the thoracic spine. Avoid sudden twisting movements.
- Use posture-correcting braces or kinesiology tape if you hunch over frequently. Set reminders to stand up straight.
- Get a therapeutic massage to release muscle knots and trigger points around the shoulder blades.
- Adjust your sleep position by lying on your side with a pillow between your knees or using a contoured cervical pillow.
- Reduce stress through relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and yoga which can release muscle tension.
With consistent home treatment, symptoms often start improving within a few days to a couple of weeks. But if your middle back pain persists or worsens, your doctor may recommend:
- Prescription medication such as muscle relaxants or steroids to reduce inflammation.
- Physical therapy involving stretches, exercises, ultrasound, and manual spinal mobilization.
- Chiropractic adjustments to improve spinal alignment and mobility.
- Steroid injections called nerve blocks administered into the spine around inflamed nerves.
- Surgery like laminectomy or discectomy for severe spinal stenosis pinching nerves.
Preventing Upper Back Pain Between the Shoulder Blades
You can reduce your chances of developing middle back discomfort between the shoulders by:
- Maintaining proper posture when sitting and standing. Refrain from slouching or hunching over.
- Stretching the chest, shoulders, and upper back muscles regularly.
- Sleeping on your side or back using a supportive mattress. Avoid stomach sleeping.
- Losing excess weight to reduce strain on the spine and muscles.
- Exercising with good form. Build upper back strength through rowing exercises using resistance bands.
- Avoiding lifting heavy objects above shoulder height. Bend knees and keep loads close to your body when lifting.
- Making ergonomic adjustments at your workstation with a supportive chair and raised monitors.
- Adopting relaxation techniques.
- Quitting smoking as it’s linked to accelerated spinal degeneration.
The Best Remedy for Your Back Pain May Just Be a Call Away
If you’re suffering from ongoing upper back and shoulder blade pain, finding an effective treatment plan is crucial for reducing your discomfort. On Kaly, you can connect with top-rated family physicians and specialists who can properly evaluate your symptoms and get you on the road to lasting relief.
Kaly allows you to read verified reviews from real patients to find a doctor who specializes in treating back pain and understands your needs. Schedule a telemedicine visit through Kaly’s secure platform when it’s difficult to get to the office.
Don’t let frustrating interscapular pain hold you back. Pay the right physician a visit now!