The prevalence of back pain has grown dramatically over the past years, as more and more patients come into chiropractic clinics to report experiencing an upper back discomfort that causes them a pain between their shoulder blades. While strained muscles and bad posture might be two of the most common causes of back pain, they are not always the causes behind the burning ache or stabbing sensation that might be bothering you.
In most cases, back pain between shoulder blades originates from other organs, hence requiring immediate medical attention to properly address the underlying cause of the discomfort. The following material will help you understand what is causing back pain between shoulder blades, the symptoms you might experience, and a couple of treatment options that might help cure it.
Causes of Back Pain Between Shoulder Blades
1. A Spinal Dilemma
There are many potential causes of back pain between shoulder blades, and a great percentage of them might originate from spinal issues. The first spinal-related cause your chiropractor will likely consider is swollenness of the facet joints, which provide the flexibility of the spine, hence they are necessary to carry out many kinds of movements – for example, bends and turns. When used too much or too hard, facet joints might end up damaged or swollen, causing aches in the upper back, between your shoulder blades.
Herniated discs can also cause major pain in the back, and not seeing a doctor on time can have long-term effects on the patient. Spinal discs are fluid-filled pads located between the vertebrae in the spinal column that act as shock absorbers. During childhood, spinal discs are filled with gel, which begins to solidify as you get older. By the middle age, the disks will be completely inflexible, similar to hard rubber, which makes them more prone to injury. When you are stressed or injured, a disc’s inner material might swell outward, pushing through the outer shell, and pressing against surrounding nerves, which will render the area and make it more prone to further injury.
2. Acid Reflux
Many people who experience acid reflux complain about pain in their upper back, between their shoulder blades. Acid reflux is a condition that causes the valve that holds food and stomach acids in the stomach to weaken, allowing the acid to flow back into the esophagus. When this happens, the patient might experience burning and pain in the chest after eating. There is a good chance that the pain may radiate into the back between the shoulder blades, which is most likely to happen at night, when you are sleeping. If your chiropractor identifies acid reflux as the underlying cause of your upper back pain between shoulder blades, you can expect to treat it using either over-the-counter acid neutralizers, which should reduce the acidity in your stomach, and hence prevent burning and pain, or more powerful prescription medication depending on the severity of the condition.
3. Gallbladder Disease
Very few people consider gallbladder disease the cause behind the aches between shoulder blades. The gallbladder is a small organ located in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen that aids digestion. When the organ becomes diseased, it causes not only poor digestion, but also pain. The gall bladder disease occurs mostly in people over the age of 40, and especially in those who suffer from weight issues. Common symptoms of this condition include pain on the right side of the body, usually between shoulder blades, continuous burping, nausea, vomiting, and gas.
4. Heart Attack
Most people think of classic movie scenes when it comes to the symptoms of a heart attack, in which a person grips his chest, falls to the floors, and is unable to breathe. However, most heart attacks are signaled in the weeks before they occur, with symptoms that include severe fatigue, pressure in the abdomen or chest, nausea, dizziness – and back pain between shoulder blades. Women, in particular, might experience the symptoms a long time before the heart attack occurs. People who experience aches between shoulder blades should consider seeing a cardiologist if the issue does not disappear in a few days, so they can prevent a potential heart attack on time.
5. Biliary Colic
Biliary colic is another medical condition that might be causing back pain between shoulder blades, and it typically originates from a gallstone blocking a bile duct, which causes a sharp back pain that radiates to the right shoulder. Biliary colic might manifest after consuming a fatty meal, and it usually starts with an episode of sharp, intense soreness near the abdomen, radiating to the upper back region. Sometimes, the pain might be accompanied by vomiting and nausea.
Symptoms of Back Pain Between Shoulder Blades
Knowing whether you experience back pain between shoulder blades and not any other type of back pain can help your chiropractor identify the underlying cause of your discomfort. In most cases, patients report acute short and sharp bursts of pain between shoulder blades, which can last for weeks or even months. Another symptom is the pain that originates from between your shoulder blades, and radiating to the arms or neck. Sharp stabbing pains and burning aches are quite common with this condition, and they usually linger once they appear. Taking breaths and putting your chin on your chest might become sore, and stretching your muscles between the shoulder blades may be painful.
As for treating back pain between shoulder blades, there are several types of treatments available, which should be used depending on the cause behind this condition.
1. Treatments for Swollen Facet Joints
If swollen facet joints are the underlying cause behind your back pain between shoulder blades, undergoing a “nerve blocking” procedure might be necessary. Steroid injections will be involved during the procedure, so that the soreness will subside. If the condition is not serious, your chiropractor will likely prescribe you some muscle relaxants and pain killers to alleviate the pain. Maintaining proper posture and avoiding sudden movement will be required during the healing process, as they can contribute to treating the swollenness of the facet joints.
2. Treatments for Herniated Discs
Treating herniated discs is quite similar to curing swollen facet joints. Spine-enhancing exercises and proper posture will be enough to solve the issue if your case is not severe – but if it is, pain medications and anti-inflammatory injections might be included to lessen the pain. Surgery is reserved for severe cases of herniated discs, especially due to the fact that it is also the riskiest option.
3. Treatments for Biliary Colic
Patients who develop biliary colic need to undergo a treatment process that involves four types of medication: antibiotics, NSAIDs, anti-nausea pills, and spasm fighters. Cleansing the gallbladder and bile duct is also necessary to completely treat biliary colic and back pain between shoulder blades, and it is usually performed through oral dissolution therapy – a treatment option that is not as quick as a surgery-type intervention, but that will still help cure the disease.
Home Remedies to Temporarily Alleviate Upper Back Pain
When the pain you are experiencing is unbearable, there are a few simple solutions that might help alleviate it temporarily – except from pain-killers and other prescription drugs, which are not always effective.
1. Warm Up
If spasms and muscle pain bother you, one option you have is warming them up. You can use a microwaveable wheat bag, a warm moist towel, or a hot water bottle to apply the heat between shoulder blades, where the pain is. In conjunction with a mild pain-killer, the ache should disappear soon.
2. Massage the Area
Relaxing the muscular tension between your shoulders can help relieve the pain between your shoulder blades as well. Hand-held massage machines or massage chairs will be good, but you might also ask a loved one to carefully massage the area that hurts.
Your treatment greatly depends upon the diagnosis of your back pain. Consult your physician to help you guide through the right practitioner. If however, you want to try out alternative healing options, do check out our top 20 recommendations for healing back pain.
In case you have pain in your lower back, check out our guide on lower back pain.