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Chiropractic Care for Shoulder Blade Pain

Published Date: 
September 9, 2022
A chiropractor is treating a woman's shoulder blade pain.

Can you use chiropractic care for shoulder blade pain? Yes, it’s safe, effective, and great for managing chronic pain.

Why You Should See a Chiropractor for Shoulder Blade Pain

The shoulder blades, or scapula, are the triangular-shaped bones in the upper back. They attach to the upper arms and help support the shoulder joints. The scapula also has many small muscles and ligaments that allow it to move.

Shoulder blade pain, especially when it’s severe, can cause many problems with movement and comfort. It’s important to determine the cause and treat it as quickly as possible.

What should you know about shoulder blade pain?

What Causes Pain in the Shoulder Blades?

Many different things might cause shoulder blade pain. For example:

Over-Training or Excessive Heavy Lifting

Too much exercise or heavy lifting can cause shoulder blade pain because the muscles and tendons around the shoulder blades can become strained or inflamed. 

Additionally, the shoulder joint may become irritated, which can also lead to pain. 

Treatment for shoulder blade pain caused by too much exercise or heavy lifting typically includes rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain medication. More severe cases may require physical therapy or steroid injections. Surgery is rarely needed. 

Poor Posture 

Bad posture is one of the most common causes of shoulder blade pain. 

When you have poor posture, your shoulders tend to round forward, and your head juts out in front of your body, putting a lot of strain on the muscles and joints in your upper back and neck, leading to pain and stiffness. Often, this pain will radiate from your upper back into your shoulder blades.

One of the best ways to correct poor posture is to strengthen the muscles in your upper back. This will help pull your shoulders back into alignment and take the pressure off of your neck and spine. Exercises like rows, chin-ups, and lat pull-downs are great for strengthening the upper back.

In addition to strengthening the muscles in your upper back, you also have to stretch your chest muscles to help open your chest and prevent your shoulders from rounding forward. A simple stretch you can do at home is the doorway stretch. Stand in a doorway with your arms at 90-degree angles and lean forward until you feel a stretch in your chest.

Sleeping in a Bad Position

One of the most common causes of shoulder blade pain is sleeping in an awkward or uncomfortable position, which can cause the muscles and tissues around the shoulder blades to become strained, leading to pain and discomfort. Sometimes, shoulder blade pain can also be caused by a pinched nerve.

When sleeping, try to keep your head and neck in line with your spine and avoid sleeping on your stomach if possible.


Arthritis is a condition that causes inflammation in the joints. It can lead to pain and stiffness in the affected joints. Shoulder blade pain is a common symptom of arthritis, particularly in people who have osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

Arthritis can affect any joint in the body, including the shoulder joint. When arthritis affects the shoulder blades, it can cause pain, stiffness, and inflammation. It may be chronic pain, or it may come and go. It may be worse at certain times, such as when using the affected shoulder or when the weather is cold or damp.

Two main types of arthritis can affect the shoulder blades: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It occurs when the cartilage that cushions the joints breaks down and can happen due to age, injury, or other factors. Osteoarthritis can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling in the affected joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that can affect the joints, including the shoulder blades. In people with rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks the tissues around the joints, causing inflammation, pain, and stiffness.

Arthritis that affects the shoulder blades might also be caused by:

  • Degenerative joint disease
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Ankylosing spondylitis

Pressure or Pinching of the Dorsal Scapular Nerve

Pinching of the dorsal scapular nerve can cause shoulder blade pain for a few reasons: 

  • Nerve inflammation and/or pinching
  • Weakened or dysfunctional muscle(s) in the affected area 
  • Compression of the nerve from pinching

Treatment for shoulder blade pain caused by a pinched dorsal scapular nerve will involve conservative measures such as rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medication. In more severe cases, physical therapy or surgery may be necessary.

Scapular Shift

One of the most common causes of shoulder blade pain is the scapular shift, when the shoulder blades move out of alignment with the rest of the spine. It can happen due to several factors, including poor posture, shoulder muscle imbalances, or an injury.

When the shoulder blades shift out of alignment, it puts pressure on the nerves that run through the area, causing pain, numbness, or tingling in the shoulder blades or down the arms. In severe cases, it can also lead to problems with movement and coordination. 

Treatment for scapular shift usually involves physical therapy and exercises to help improve posture and muscle balance. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to correct the alignment of the shoulder blades.

How Does Scapular Shift Happen?

A scapular shift is usually caused by:

  • Poor posture
  • Muscle imbalances
  • Injury

Winged Scapula

A winged scapula is a condition that can cause pain in the shoulder blade region. Winging of the scapula is caused by a misalignment of the shoulder blade, which causes it to protrude out from the back. It can lead to pain, discomfort, and difficulty moving the arm. Treatment for this condition usually involves correcting the underlying cause, such as poor posture or muscle imbalance. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to correct the problem.

What causes winging of the scapula?

Several things can cause a winged scapula. Poor posture is one of the most common causes. When the shoulders are hunched forward, it strains the muscles and tendons that attach the shoulder blade to the spine, causing the shoulder blade to protrude outward, which is referred to as winging.

Muscle imbalance is another common cause of winged scapula. It occurs when the muscles that attach the shoulder blade to the spine are stronger on one side than the other and can cause the shoulder blade to rotate and protrude outward.

In some cases, winged scapula can be caused by an injury or a birth defect. This condition is more common in people who have had a previous shoulder injury. It is also more common in people born with abnormalities of the shoulder blade or muscles.

How Does a Chiropractor Treat Shoulder Blade Pain?

There are several things a chiropractor does to treat shoulder blade pain, beginning with a diagnosis and exam, which helps them verify the problem is coming from the dorsal scapular nerve. They’ll conduct a test to pinpoint acute shoulder pains and, from there, offer chiropractic treatment options that include:

  • Targeted stretching and strengthening exercises
  • Chiropractic adjustment of the shoulder blades
  • Manual therapy


If you’re experiencing shoulder blade pain that doesn’t resolve in a day or so, speak to your doctor. They can rule out any serious problems and help you determine the best possible shoulder pain treatment for you.

Dr. Darren Faherty D.C.

In 2004, Dr. Darren Faherty graduated with a Bachelors of Science degree in Biology from UWEC - University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. Dr. Darren continued education at the highly esteemed University of Western States (formerly Western States Chiropractic College) where he obtained his chiropractic degree in 2007. He has been helping people recover from injuries and return to their normal lifestyles ever since.

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