Shoulder Blade Muscles

The shoulder blades or the scapulae as they are medically termed are the muscles present in the upper back. These muscles aretriangular in shape and flex when there is movement involving the back and arms. The shoulder blade plays a key role in moving the shoulders, which is possible due to the presence of these shoulder blade muscles.

What Are the Muscles in the Shoulder Blade?

Like every other muscle in the body, shoulder blade muscles are tissues which contract and relax based on the activity of the body. The shoulder blade is a flat bone on the thoracic wall. This bone has three groups of muscles attached to it. They are as follows:

1. The Extrinsic Muscles

These belong to the second group of shoulder blade muscles. They include the triceps, biceps and deltoid muscles. These muscles originate from the torso and attach to the clavicle, scapula or humerus. The deltoid muscle gets its name from the Greek letter delta which is how the muscle is shaped.

Function: Like the intrinsic muscles, the extrinsic muscles are in control of certain activities of shoulder joint.

2. The Intrinsic Muscles

The intrinsic muscles originate in the scapula or calvicle and attach to the humerus, the shoulder bone. These muscles are the infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis and supraspinatus. These muscles along with humeral abduction are also the muscles of the rotator cuff.

Function: They control the external and internal rotation of shoulder joint.

3. Third Group

This group of muscles includes levator scapulae, serratus anterior, rhomboid and trapezius muscles which attach to the inferior, medial and superior borders of the scapula.

Function: These muscles essentially stabilize the rotation of the scapula.

What Causes Pain in Shoulder Blade Muscles?

There can be many reasons for pain in the shoulder blade muscles, which can range from poor posture to lung cancer. Getting it examined is the key to finding out the exact cause of the pain. Some of the causes are:

1. Poor Position

The body posture is very important as the muscles in the body contract and relax based on the room available for their movement. Certain postures don't sit well with these muscles. Activities like driving for too long, sitting still at workplace, holding an object for far too long, sleeping on the sides and lifting weights cause pain in the shoulder blade muscles. This is because the muscles are left in the contracted state for too long and the muscles being locked in place take time to relax. In case of weight lifting, the muscles can be strained.

2. Flu or Cold

One of the most common symptoms of cold or flu is body aches. The shoulder blade muscles also ache in this process but the pain is temporary. A hot compress can relieve shoulders of this pain.

3. Bursitis

Small sacs filled with fluid are called bursae which are located between the bones and the shoulder blade muscles. These bursae provide a cushioning effect during muscle contraction and relaxation. If there is a swelling in these fluid filled sacs, a person experiences significant amount of muscle pain.

4. Torn Rotator Cuff

The rotator cuff provides movement for the shoulder. In some people, this cuff is overused and when strained, there is severe pain experienced in the shoulders. This should blade muscle pain is inescapable as all the movements in the shoulders are based on the rotator cuff.

5. Compressed Nerve

There are instances when shoulder blade muscles' nerves are pinched or compressed, causing shoulder pain. This condition can be relieved with medications like topical ointments, medications or liquid pain relievers. If the pain persists, people are advised to go for physiotherapy.

6. Other Causes

  • Gallbladder. Patients with issues in their gallbladder will feel the pain radiate from the gallbladder to their shoulders, especially the shoulder blades.
  • Inflammation: Certain inflammations in the organs can cause the pain to radiate to shoulder blade muscles. Such inflammations can occur in the pericardium, pleura or pancreas.
  • Severe diseases: People are advised to take pain in the shoulder blades seriously as this could also mean severe illness like a heart attack, a diseased liver, breast cancer, etc. Besides, lung related issues like pneumonia and pulmonary embolism can also radiate the pain to shoulder blade muscles.

How to Deal With Painful Shoulder Blade Muscles

Like it has been mentioned before, these muscles are like any other muscles in the body. Their strain contractions can cause the pain which can be relieved with the following home remedies or medical treatments:

1. Home Remedies

  • Rest is one of the easiest things to do when in pain. The muscles will automatically go back to their normal state when they are not strained which means there should be plenty of rest involved.
  • Hot and cold compresses: In case of an inflammation, a cold compress everyday works wonders on relieving the pain. A cold pack can be placed on the shoulder blade three times a day for 15 minutes each to relax the muscles.
  • Yoga and exercise: The best way to relax strained shoulder blade muscles is to stretch them properly. Doing yoga and certain low intensity exercises can diminish the pain.
  • Massage has great effect on alleviating muscle pain and relaxing the body by soothing knotted muscles and reducing muscle stress.

2. Medical Treatment

  • Medications: If the pain is unbearable, certain medications like liquid relievers and topical ointments can be used.
  • Sling: Some people are advised to wear slings to restrict shoulder movements, offer some stability and allow should blade muscles to heal fast.
  • Other treatment: If none of the home remedies or the medications work, it is important to know if there is an underlying cause for the pain in the shoulder blade muscles. It is best to get them checked to eliminate any underlying medical conditions. 
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