May 26, 2023

Back Pain Between Shoulder Blades

Back pain is one of the most common types of recurring or chronic pain. Over 44% of adults over the age of 45 report back pain each year. Back pain can interrupt daily activities, interfere with work and make it difficult to sleep comfortably. For many people, back pain occurs in the upper back between the shoulder blades.

Pain in the upper back is less common than pain in the neck or lower spine. This is because the spine in the area between the shoulder blades doesn’t have to bend as much as the upper and lower sections. However, upper back pain between the shoulder blades can occur. The pain might develop suddenly after an accident or injury. This is called acute pain, and it may resolve after treatment. Chronic pain last for a long time and may grow worse over time.

5 Common Causes of Back Pain Between Shoulder Blades

There are a variety of reasons that you may have back pain between your shoulder blades. Treatment for the condition depends on what is causing the pain. Some sources of pain can be resolved with stretching or physical therapy, while more serious conditions may require surgery.

Common causes of upper back pain include:

·Soft tissue injuries: one of the most common reasons for upper back pain between the shoulder blades is an injury to the muscles or ligaments in the area. Injuries may happen after a single incident, such as a fall or over-exterior during physical activity. Injuries can also result from repetitive motion injuries, which can often occur due to work-related movements. Standing or sitting with improper posture can also lead to pain in the upper back.

·Spinal fractures: Injuries to the bones in the back can cause significant pain. Spinal fractures can develop as the result of a traumatic injury such as a car accident. They can also develop over time. Compression fractures or stress fractures of the spine can develop as a result of underlying conditions such as osteoporosis.

·Arthritis: Osteoarthritis, more commonly called arthritis, is pain caused by the deterioration of the cartilage between bones in a joint. Without the protective layer of cartilage, bones scrape against each other painfully. Arthritis can affect any joint, including the joints in the neck and spine. Age is the most common risk factor for arthritis, though it can also develop as a result of repetitive motion injuries.


·Degenerative disk disease: The bones in the spine are cushioned by pads of soft tissue filled with a jelly-like substance. These pads are called disks. Disks can become displaced and bulge outward, pushing painfully into nerves. Disks can also tear, and the jelly-like material can leak and irritate nerves, causing pain. Degenerative disk disease can be the result of an injury, or it can develop over time.

·Pressure on nerves: If there is unusual pressure on a nerve in your upper back, it can lead to pain. Pinched nerves can arise from sudden movements or repetitive motion injuries. Pain can also come from spinal stenosis, where the column around the spinal cord narrows and puts pressure on the nerves.

Other Causes of Back Pain Between Shoulder Blades

In some cases, pain in the upper back can be a symptom of an underlying health condition. When this happens, your doctor will diagnose and treat the condition that is causing back pain. They may also offer suggestions to manage the discomfort during treatment.

Some conditions that lead to upper back pain between the shoulders include:

·Spinal deformities: Problems with the structure of the spine, such as congenital spinal malformations or conditions like scoliosis, can lead to upper back pain.

·Gallbladder disease: Gallbladder disease can cause pain that starts under the ribcage and radiates to the chest and upper back.

·Cancer: Cancer can cause pain in the upper back. That can occur when a tumor grows on the spine and puts pressure on the nerves. Cancer that originates elsewhere in the body and spreads to the spine can also lead to pain.

·Chronic health conditions: Some health conditions, such as fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis, can cause pain in the upper back.


Relief Options for Back Pain Between Shoulder Blades

If you have mild or moderate pain, you can try various home care options for relieving the discomfort. For muscle strains or other injuries, you can use ice to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Be sure to wrap ice in a towel or cloth to prevent ice from damaging your skin. Muscle spasms or pain from pinched nerves may feel better if you apply heat. Soaking in a warm bath or shower or using a heating pad with a safety cover might be helpful.

Over-the-counter pain medicines such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can reduce pain and inflammation. Check with your doctor to make sure you can safely take pain medicine. You can also try using a topical analgesic cream or ointment to reduce pain between your shoulder blades.

Physical therapy and professionally administered massage can ease some upper back pain. Talk to your doctor about finding a massage therapist or physical therapist trained in managing upper back pain.

When to See a Doctor for Back Pain Between the Shoulder Blades

Back pain that begins suddenly and is accompanied by symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath or pain in the arms and jaw may be a sign of a heart attack, especially for women. This is a medical emergency. Call 911 immediately if you suspect you may be having a heart attack.

If you develop new back pain after an injury or accident, you should call your doctor right away. You should also talk to your doctor if:

·You have new upper back pain that doesn’t get better in a week.

·Existing back pain starts getting worse.

·Upper back pain causes numbness or tingling in the legs or buttocks.

In addition, if you have upper back pain and also develop symptoms such as unexplained fever, weight loss or bowel problems, contact your doctor. These could be symptoms of an underlying health condition.

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, any activities that could be causing upper back pain between the shoulders and any other health issues you may be having. You may need imaging tests such as an X-ray, MRI or CT scan to diagnose the cause of your pain. In some cases, you may also need blood tests to check for other health conditions.

The doctors at Healthcare Associates of Texas are experienced in diagnosing and managing upper back pain. Providers at all of our locations can discuss your concerns and help you get the treatment you need to resolve upper back pain between your shoulder blades. Contact us today to make an appointment.


1.”Back, Lower Limb, and Upper Limb Pain Among U.S. Adults, 2019.” NCHS Data Brief No. 415. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. July 2021.

2.”Upper Back Pain.” Cleveland Clinic. Last reviewed 4/26/2022.

3.”Upper & Middle Back Pain (Thoracic).” New York Presbyterian Hospital. No date.

4.”Gallbladder Disease.” Johns Hopkins Medicine. No date.

5.”Warning Signs of a Heart Attack.” American Heart Association. Last reviewed December 5, 2022.

The information featured in this site is general in nature. The site provides health information designed to complement your personal health management. It does not provide medical advice or health services and is not meant to replace professional advice or imply coverage of specific clinical services or products. The inclusion of links to other web sites does not imply any endorsement of the material on such websites.

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Posted in: Pain Management