Please note: while not common, pain between your shoulder blades can be an indication of a heart attack or an impending heart attack, and this symptom is more common among women than it is among men. If a pain between your shoulder blades comes on suddenly (even if it comes and goes) and/or is accompanied by tightness or pressure in your arms, chest, or jaw, shortness of breath, breaking out in a cold sweat, weakness, nausea, or dizziness / lightheadedness, call 911 immediately.
Do you have pain between your shoulder blades? For some people, it may be clear that a certain event injured a muscle or your spine alignment. In other cases, you may be at a loss to diagnose the problem. This may be because the pain is “referred” from a different area of your body – something that is not uncommon among patients experiencing pain between their shoulder blades.
When something is wrong in one area of your body but you experience pain in a completely separate area, we call this referred pain. It can happen for a number of reasons: nerve connections, muscles pulling oddly on other muscles, tendons, and ligaments in remote areas of the body, etc. Referred pain can make diagnosis difficult and therefore make solving the actual problem difficult.
In fact, seven of the top causes of pain between the shoulder blades almost all involve referred pain. Doctors of chiropractic medicine are experienced at detecting referred pain because they are trained to look at the body as an interconnected series of systems. In other words, as we all learned as children, “the hip bone’s connected to the….leg bone…the leg bone’s connected to the…knee bone…” – and so on. So chiropractors know that pain in the knee, for instance, might actually be a signal that something is wrong in the hip. And the same is true of pain between shoulder blades. Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of pain between the shoulder blades:
1. Heart Attack
As we mentioned in the preface, a heart attack or impending heart attack can cause pain between the shoulder blades. This is nowhere near the most common cause of pain between the shoulder blades, but do take any sudden and unusual / unexplained pain in your chest, upper back, and arms seriously.
2. Gallbladder Disease
Your gallbladder sits near the top of your stomach but if your gallbladder is inflamer or you have developed gallstones, it’s not unheard of to experience pain between your shoulder blades. When the source of the pain between your shoulder blades is an inflamed gallbladder, it may accompany gastrointestinal distress and will often be triggered by large or rich meals. If you suspect you are suffering from gallbladder disease, you should contact your physician.
3. Diaphragm Inflammation
Your diaphragm sits beneath your lungs and separates your chest cavity (where your lungs and heart are) from your abdomen (where your stomach, gallbladder, pancreas, etc. are). Your diaphragm assists your lungs: it helps you breath. As you read this, slowly take a deep breath and notice how the muscles in your back are engaged. You’ll probably observe that your upper back muscles feel as if they are expanding. If your diaphragm is inflamed, it may cause the muscles in your upper back to move differently, which may eventually cause pain in these muscles. Anytime you have difficulty breathing, it should be considered a medical emergency. Call 911 or go to the emergency room right away. It may be something as benign as diaphragm inflammation, which can be easily treated by a physician, but if it is something more serious – like a heart attack – you want to make sure you seek treatment as soon as possible.
4. Poor Posture
As you read this, take note of your posture. Are you slumped in a cozy chair, reading from your laptop? Are you sitting at a desk with your shoulders hunched forward? Even if your posture isn’t perfect right now, you might be feeling perfectly comfortable. But that won’t last. Your body is meant to be aligned in a certain way. When we force our bodies to take on different shapes for long periods of time on a regular basis, our muscles, tendons, and ligaments begin to pull on our spine in unnatural ways. When your spine is misaligned, it can compress nerves that may radiate pain into your legs, arms, hands, or neck, or may even cause a headache. And a certainly common place to experience pain due to a misaligned spine and tired muscles is between your shoulder blades.
5. Herniated Disc
Herniated discs, sometimes referred to as “slipped discs,” are most common in the lower back area. But that doesn’t mean they can’t happen in the upper back, where they can cause pain between your shoulder blades. The pain may be sharp, or burning and throbbing. The pain may have come on suddenly as the result of an injury or sudden jerky movement, or may build up over time.
6. Spinal Stenosis
Most people are familiar with spinal stenosis – the narrowing of the area in the middle of the vertebrae where your nerves are – in the lower back but it’s almost just as common for spinal stenosis to develop in your cervical (neck and shoulder) area. If you are suffering from a stiff neck, with difficulty bending your head from side to side or from front to back, and you are also experiencing pain between your shoulder blades, it may be due to cervical spinal stenosis.
7. Cervical Spondylosis / Osteoarthritis
Although spondulosis and osteoarthritis are actually difference medical diagnoses, they are often used interchangeably. This may be partly because it is difficult to tell the difference between the two. In either case, the terms refer to degeneration and/or inflammation of the vertebrae and/or discs. Both are more common in the lower back, like spinal stenosis, both can also occur in the neck and shoulder (cervical) area. Both may feel like a pinched nerve in your neck or upper back or between your shoulder blades. If you are experiencing stiffness along with pain between the shoulder blades, it is more likely you are suffering from osteoarthritis.
How Chiropractic Can Help With Pain Between the Shoulder Blades
Whether your pain between the shoulder blades is referred pain or is actually a symptom of something wrong in that particular place, chiropractic may be able to help. Chiropractic care focuses on helping your body heal itself without medication and without surgery. Proper spine alignment allows your nerves to operate correctly throughout the rest of your body. Furthermore, when muscles are tight, they may unevenly pull on the spine or other areas of the body, which can create stress on joints and pain. Chiropractic can also help keep muscles in good health.
If you are experiencing pain between the shoulder blades and you think chiropractic may be able to help, call us today at 773.451.9739 to arrange a screening with one of our doctors.