Shoulder Blade Disorders

The shoulder blade, also known as the scapula, is a flat triangular bone located on the upper back. Several different muscles surround the shoulder blades and are all involved in helping you move your arm and shoulders.
Disorders that affect the shoulder blade can therefore cause dysfunction in your arms and shoulders. There can also be pain, discomfort, and muscle weakness. Shoulder blade disorders also sometimes lead to a misalignment of the scapula and the shoulder joint. If the alignment of the shoulder joint is not maintained properly, it can lead to injury over time.

A man with a frozen shoulder

The symptoms of shoulder blade disorders will vary depending on the exact issue the patient is facing. Some commonly encountered symptoms include:

  • Pain in the shoulder blade area
  • Discomfort or difficulty with shoulder and arm movements
  • Weakness in the arm or shoulder
  • A noticeable crunching or snapping sound when you move your shoulder
  • A drooped or tilted posture on the affected side


Causes and Risk Factors

The shoulder blade is a complex structure and several factors can contribute to a shoulder blade disorder. Most notably, weaknesses or imbalances in strength of the muscles around the shoulder blade can lead to abnormal movement and dysfunction.
Poor posture places stress on the muscles and joints around the shoulder blades and increases the risk of developing issues. Trauma or injury to the area can also lead to various shoulder blade disorders.
Nerve impingement is another cause of shoulder blade disorders as compression or irritation of nerves in the neck or upper back region can lead to pain and dysfunction of the scapula.



Diagnosing shoulder blade disorders requires a full assessment of your shoulder blades. This means testing your range of motion, muscle strength and evaluating shoulder blade mechanics and function. Information about your medical history will also be considered when making the diagnosis.
Imaging tests such as X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans will be useful in visualising the shoulder blades and surrounding structures to identify abnormalities, tissue damage, or fractures that may be causing problems.



Surgical intervention for shoulder blade disorders is only required if there is an injury to the shoulder joint, the patient is not responding to conservative treatment methods, or if the issue is severe.
In all other cases, conservative treatments that include physical therapy, medication to alleviate pain and inflammation, rest, and activity modification is usually enough to treat the disorder. Education on proper posture may also be provided to help with recovery.



Frequently Asked Question (FAQ)


1) When should you see a doctor about shoulder blade issues?

If you experience severe pain, significant decrease in your ability to move your shoulder, numbness or tingling, or progressive weakness, you should seek medical attention immediately. These are all warning signs that sometime may be wrong with your shoulder blades.
If you have experienced a traumatic injury and then developed symptoms, it is also important to visit a doctor for a proper assessment. Lastly, persistent symptoms of pain and discomfort that don’t get better with time can mean medical attention is required.
2) Can shoulder blade disorders be prevented?

Maintaining good posture, staying physically active, and addressing any muscle imbalances are all good ways of avoiding shoulder blade disorders. It can also be beneficial to practise good technique and proper body mechanics during sports or physical activity. Stretching before and after exercise is also recommended.

3) How long does recovery take after a shoulder blade disorder?
Milder cases of shoulder blade disorder should take anywhere between a few weeks to a few months for recovery through physical therapy. More severe cases, or instances where surgery is required will need several months or longer for a full recovery.