Shoulder Scapula Pain: Signs, Causes and Treatment

Shoulder Scapula Pain: Signs, Causes and Treatment

Shoulder scapula pain, also known as scapular pain, can be a debilitating issue that affects many individuals. It’s often characterized by discomfort or aching sensations in the upper back and shoulder blade region. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the causes, symptoms, treatment options, and prevention strategies for shoulder scapula pain.

Understanding the Shoulder Scapula

Understanding the shoulder and scapula (shoulder blade) anatomy and their relationship is crucial for assessing and managing shoulder problems, as well as for maintaining proper shoulder function. Let’s break down the key components and concepts involved:

  1. Shoulder Anatomy:
    • Shoulder Joint (Glenohumeral Joint): This is the main joint of the shoulder and is formed by the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) articulating with the glenoid cavity of the scapula. It provides a wide range of motion for the arm.
    • Scapulothoracic Joint: This isn’t a true joint but represents the movement between the scapula and the ribcage. The scapula moves on the thoracic wall as we perform various arm movements.
  2. Scapula Anatomy: The scapula, commonly known as the shoulder blade, is a flat, triangular bone located on the posterior (back) aspect of the thorax (ribcage). It has several key parts:
    • Glenoid Cavity: A shallow socket on the lateral edge of the scapula that forms the glenohumeral joint with the humerus.
    • Acromion: The bony projection at the top of the scapula that forms the point of the shoulder.
    • Coracoid Process: Another bony projection on the front of the scapula that serves as an attachment point for various muscles and ligaments.

Common Causes of Shoulder Scapula Pain

Shoulder scapula pain, often referred to as scapular pain or scapular region pain, can result from various underlying causes. Identifying the source of the pain is crucial for effective treatment. Here are some common causes of shoulder scapula pain:

  • Muscle Strain or Overuse: Overexertion or repetitive movements can strain the muscles around the shoulder blade and cause pain. This is common in activities that involve lifting, carrying heavy objects, or performing overhead movements.
  • Poor Posture: Slouching or maintaining improper posture over an extended period can lead to muscle imbalances and pain in the scapular region. Conditions like “Upper Crossed Syndrome” are associated with poor posture and scapular pain.
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries: Tears, inflammation, or impingement of the rotator cuff muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis) can cause pain in the shoulder and scapula area.
  • Shoulder Impingement Syndrome: This occurs when the tendons of the rotator cuff muscles or the bursa in the shoulder become pinched or compressed, resulting in pain that often radiates to the scapular region.
  • Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis): This condition involves the inflammation and tightening of the joint capsule around the shoulder, causing limited mobility and pain that can be felt in the scapular area.
  • Nerve Compression: Conditions such as thoracic outlet syndrome or cervical radiculopathy can compress nerves in the neck or shoulder, leading to referred pain in the scapula.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The diagnosis of shoulder and scapula pain involves a thorough evaluation of a patient’s symptoms, medical history, physical examination, and, in some cases, imaging studies. Here’s an overview of the typical symptoms associated with shoulder and scapula pain and the diagnostic process:

Symptoms of Shoulder Scapula Pain

The symptoms of shoulder scapula pain can vary but commonly include:

  • Pain: Patients often experience varying degrees of pain in the shoulder blade area. The pain can be sharp, dull, aching, or throbbing and may radiate to the neck, arm, or back.
  • Limited Range of Motion: Reduced ability to move the shoulder or arm due to pain or stiffness.
  • Weakness: Muscle weakness or difficulty in performing certain movements may accompany shoulder pain.
  • Clicking or Popping: Some individuals may notice clicking, popping, or grinding sensations when moving the shoulder, which can be indicative of underlying issues.
  • Numbness or Tingling: Nerve compression or referred pain can lead to sensations of numbness, tingling, or “pins and needles” in the shoulder, arm, or hand.
  • Swelling or Inflammation: Inflammation in the shoulder joint or surrounding tissues can cause localized swelling.

Diagnostic Procedures

  • Medical History: The healthcare provider will start by taking a detailed medical history, including questions about the onset of pain, the location of pain, its duration, aggravating and relieving factors, and any relevant medical conditions.
  • Physical Examination: A physical examination of the shoulder and scapular region will be conducted to assess range of motion, strength, stability, and the presence of any visible deformities or abnormalities.
  • Imaging Studies: Depending on the suspected cause of pain, various imaging studies may be ordered, including:
    • X-rays: Useful for detecting fractures, dislocations, or degenerative changes in the bones.
    • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): Provides detailed images of soft tissues, including muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. It’s helpful for diagnosing issues like rotator cuff tears or impingement.
    • CT Scan (Computed Tomography): May be used to evaluate bony structures and assess fractures or complex bone issues.
    • Ultrasound: Often used to assess soft tissue structures and the rotator cuff.

Treatment Options

The choice of treatment for shoulder and scapula pain depends on the underlying cause and the severity of the condition. Here are some common treatment options for addressing shoulder and scapula pain:

Physical Therapy

  • Physical therapists can design tailored exercise programs to improve shoulder strength, flexibility, and range of motion.
  • Therapeutic modalities such as heat, ice, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation may also be used.


  • Non-prescription pain relievers like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • In some cases, a healthcare provider may prescribe stronger pain medications or muscle relaxants.

Lifestyle Changes

Making lifestyle changes can significantly impact your shoulder and scapula health, especially if you’ve experienced pain or discomfort in these areas. Here are some lifestyle changes that can help improve shoulder and scapula health and reduce the risk of pain:

  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: Excess body weight can strain your shoulder joints and muscles. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise can alleviate stress on your shoulders.
  • Regular Exercise: Incorporate regular physical activity into your routine to strengthen the muscles around your shoulders and scapula. Focus on exercises that promote good posture, flexibility, and mobility. Consult a fitness professional or physical therapist for guidance on suitable exercises.
  • Stretching Routine: Perform regular stretching exercises to improve shoulder flexibility and reduce muscle tightness. Stretching can also help relieve tension in the neck and upper back.
  • Strengthening Exercises: Include strength-training exercises that target the muscles around the shoulder blades, such as rows, pull-ups, and shoulder shrugs. Strengthening these muscles can help maintain proper shoulder alignment and stability.

Surgical Interventions

The choice of surgical procedure depends on the underlying condition. Here are some common surgical interventions for shoulder and scapula problems:

  1. Rotator Cuff Repair:
    • Indication: For significant rotator cuff tears that do not respond to conservative treatment.
    • Procedure: The surgeon repairs the torn tendon(s) by reattaching them to the humerus bone. This can be done arthroscopically (minimally invasive) or through open surgery.
  2. Shoulder Arthroscopy:
    • Indication: Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure used to diagnose and treat a variety of shoulder conditions, including rotator cuff injuries, labral tears, and loose bodies in the joint.
    • Procedure: Small incisions are made to insert a tiny camera (arthroscope) and surgical instruments into the shoulder joint. The surgeon can then repair or remove damaged tissues.

Prevention Strategies

Preventing shoulder and scapula pain involves adopting healthy habits and practices that reduce the risk of injury and strain. Here are some effective prevention strategies:

  • Maintain Good Posture: Maintain proper posture, especially when sitting and standing. Avoid slouching or hunching your shoulders, which can lead to muscle imbalances and pain.
  • Ergonomic Workspaces: Ensure your workspace is ergonomically designed. Adjust your chair, desk, computer monitor, and keyboard to promote good posture and reduce strain on your shoulders and neck.
  • Regular Exercise: Engage in regular strength and flexibility exercises that target the muscles around the shoulder and scapular region. Consult with a fitness professional or physical therapist for a tailored exercise program.
  • Warm-Up and Stretch: Before engaging in physical activities or sports, perform warm-up exercises and stretches to prepare the shoulder muscles for movement and reduce the risk of injury.
  • Proper Lifting Techniques: When lifting heavy objects, use your legs and core muscles, not your back and shoulders. Keep the load close to your body and avoid twisting while lifting.
  • Weight Management: Maintain a healthy body weight to reduce the stress on your shoulder joints and muscles.
  • Balanced Strength Training: Ensure that your strength training routine includes exercises that target all muscle groups, including the muscles of the shoulder and scapula. Balanced strength helps prevent muscle imbalances that can lead to pain.
  • Avoid Overexertion: Pace yourself and avoid overexertion, especially during physical activities that involve repetitive arm movements or lifting.
  • Use Proper Sports Equipment: When participating in sports or physical activities, make sure you use the right equipment and protective gear. This can help reduce the risk of injuries that can cause shoulder pain.


In conclusion, shoulder scapula pain can be a debilitating condition, but with the right knowledge and strategies, it’s possible to manage and even prevent it. Remember that seeking professional medical advice is crucial if you experience persistent or severe pain.

By taking a proactive approach to your health and seeking professional guidance when needed, you can effectively manage this condition and enjoy a pain-free life.

If you’re experiencing Shoulder pain, physical therapy for shoulder pain at PhysioMantra can help: Book an online physical therapy session.