Back pain can be a chronic problem and can occur anywhere along the delicate structures of the spinal column. However, pain in the back can often originate in other organs. If you have back pain between the shoulder blades it can indicate a number of different medical problems that should be carefully investigated by your physician.
Causes of Pain Between Shoulder Blades
The nerves radiate from the spinal column throughout the trunk of the body. Frequently, medical problems in other areas of the body can radiate into the back along nerve pathways. Though it may feel like a back problem, the cause may originate elsewhere, such as injury to the ribs, which then radiates to the back. When people experience this type of discomfort, they should carefully review their activities and other health problems to ensure that they get proper treatment.
Muscle and Joint Problems
If you experience sudden pain in the back between the shoulder blades, you should first review your recent activities to determine if you have sprained muscles in the area. Moving heavy objects, sports activities, new exercise routines that involve extreme stretches and other movements can affect shoulder muscles and back muscles that are not accustomed to being used.
The pectoralis muscles that are located on the sides of the body may be affected and radiate into the back. Use the R.I.C.E. method to manage the discomfort, that is, rest, icing the area, compression of the muscles and elevation to allow the muscle strain to heal. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen can be helpful in controlling pain and inflammation. Then, build up muscle strength gradually to avoid damaging muscle tissue. If pain continues after home care, talk to your doctor about further measures. Sometimes, physical therapy is necessary to help build muscle strength in the upper back.
Rotator cuff problems in the shoulder can radiate into the back and may require surgery to remove damaged tissue in the joint.
Frozen shoulder may also cause pain to radiate into the back between the shoulder blades. This condition occurs when the muscles and ligaments in the shoulder joint become inflamed and swollen, causing the shoulder to freeze into a locked position. Anti-inflammatory medications can help to resolve the condition.
Discs are fluid-filled pads that help to cushion the individual, stacked bones that make up the spine. These discs can become damaged by disease or injury and can “bulge” or herniate out of position, causing pain around that area of the spine.
Herniated discs in the neck or upper spine can cause pain in the back between the shoulder blades that is continuous and annoying. It can prevent easy movement of the arms and upper back.
Orthopedics is the medical specialty that deals with problems of the bones, joints and spine. The orthopedist can detect the problem through x-rays and MRI scans and determine the best course of treatment for your problem. Surgery is sometimes necessary to remove part of the damaged disc to relieve pain.
Acid reflux is a condition in which the valve that usually holds food and stomach acids in the stomach becomes weakened and allows the digestive acids to flow back into the esophagus, causing burning sensations or pain in the chest after eating.
This sharp pain can also radiate into the back between the shoulder blades, especially when sleeping at night. Depending on the severity of the problem, your doctor may suggest over-the-counter acid neutralizers or more powerful prescription medications to control the reflux condition.
Chronic acid reflex problems can develop into gastroesophageal reflex disease, which can cause scarring of the esophagus and may lead to esophageal cancer.
The gallbladder is a small organ in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. It aids in digestion of food. This organ can become diseased and cause problems of pain and poor digestion of food.
Gallbladder disease tends to affect people who are over the age of 40 and those who are overweight. Gallbladder problems may cause pain on the right side of the body, in the ribs or stabbing into the back between the shoulder blades. These attacks can cause severe and sudden pain that is both frightening and disabling. Pain may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, gas and continuous burping.
Most people think of the classic scene in movies when thinking of heart attack symptoms. The person grips his chest, falls to the floor and cannot breath. However, heart attacks can give warning symptoms in the weeks before they occur that can include a nagging pain in the back between the shoulder blades, severe fatigue, pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden breathlessness, nausea or dizziness.
Women, in particular, may not experience the classic heart attack symptoms. They are more likely to feel pain or pressure that radiates into the back between the shoulder blades. Any unusual pain of this nature should prompt the person to seek medical care to ensure that a heart issue is not the cause of the problem. In this case, it is better to be safe than sorry you didn’t heed the symptoms of an impending heart attack.
Pain in the back between the shoulders blades is often an early symptom of esophageal cancer or lung cancer. Liver cancer may also cause this type of radiated pain in the back.
Many times, the correct diagnosis is missed. It may be attributed to a bad mattress, acid reflux, muscle strain around the ribs or other cause. However, further diagnostic tests may indicate one or more tumors that press on nerves leading to the back.
If ordinary remedies do not resolve your back pain between the shoulder blades, consult with your doctor about further testing to ensure that a more serious problem is not at fault. MRI or CT scans are used to find masses within the chest and abdominal cavities. The physician will then take a biopsy of the tissues to determine the type of cancer and extent of the disease. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are generally used to treat these types of cancers.