Pinched Nerve in the Shoulder Blade: Guide to Symptoms, Causes and Pain Relief
If you are experiencing pain between your shoulder blades, then you may have a pinched nerve in the shoulder blade.
We guide you through the common causes and how you can start relieving and treating your pain.
A pinched nerve happens when a nearby structure presses on or irritates the nerve. When this happens in the shoulder blade, you may experience numbness and pain spanning from the shoulder and down the arm. Either way, it’s not exactly a walk in the park nor is it fun.
Ideally, you probably want to squash this problem as soon as possible. At Injurymap, we understand how frustrating pain can be, which is why we’ve outlined the symptoms, causes, and treatment options below regarding a pinched nerve in the shoulder blade.
- What Does a Pinched Nerve in the Shoulder Blade Feel Like?
- Common Causes of Pinched Nerves in the Shoulder Blade
- Recovery Time
- Treatment and Relief
- Red Flags
Usually, a pinched nerve in the shoulder blade will cause pain and numbness at the shoulder joint. This typically only impacts one shoulder. This pain may feel like more of a sharp pain as opposed to a dull ache. include:
- Neck pain, especially when you move your neck.
- Reduced strength of the muscles in the shoulder, arms, or hands.
- Numbness and tingling in the fingers, hands, or shoulder.
- Pain when moving your shoulder.
In some cases, you may also experience headaches. Be aware that the headache may be caused by something other than the pinched nerve and not the pinched nerve itself. An example of this involves tight or spastic muscles pulling on tendons, the part of muscles that attach to bone, at the head causing headaches to happen.
Why are you potentially experiencing a pinched nerve in the shoulder blade? In the most basic sense, a pinched nerve is due to compression caused by another structure or force. The pressure will be caused by either a bone, the spinal disks, or swelling from a cervical or shoulder blade injury or other condition.
More specifically, a structure is pressing on the nerve in or near the cervical spine, the region of the spine that makes up your neck. From the cervical spine, various nerves branch out, allowing signals to be passed from your brain to your shoulders, arms, and hands and vice versa. This allows you to move your arms and hands, as well as perceive sensory information, such as touching a textured fabric with your fingers.
1. Spinal Dikc Degeneration
The spine is made up of bones called vertebrae. In between these bones, sit shock-absorbing disks that also allow you to twist and bend your torso. As you age, these gel-like disks can become worn down. Consequently, the bones move closer together, which may pinch nearby nerves. Further, bone growths, called bone spurs, may happen when this degeneration occurs, which may also place pressure on a nerve.
2. Herniated Disk
Many problems can arise with these disks located in the spine. the disks can slip out of place or rupture, where the inner part of the disk protrudes past the outer layer. As a result, they may press on a nerve inducing pain, especially when bending or lifting objects.
3. Injury or Direct Trauma
A sports injury or an injury obtained from a car accident can also cause a pinched nerve in the shoulder blade. For instance, a motor vehicle accident may result in a whiplash injury that can impact the nerves in the neck and shoulder blade region. An injury may also create swelling or inflammation in the area that can press on the nerve, again, leading to pain.
Arthritis refers to conditions that impact the joints. The most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is caused by the protective cartilage at a joint being worn down. Rheumatoid arthritis happens when the body’s own immune system attacks the tissue at a joint. Both may result in inflammation which may then compress a nerve. This can happen anywhere in the body, including the neck and shoulder blades.
Surprisingly, many pinched nerves gradually get better with time. Usually, they will go away on their own and without treatment within a few days or weeks. However, treatment can accelerate pain relief, as well as ensure it doesn’t happen again. Further, if your pain doesn’t appear to be getting better, treatment can help.
For a pinched nerve, rest of the shoulder and neck is almost always recommended. This prevents further irritation and pain. Yet, starting treatment, especially doing exercises, will help you with managing your pain and getting back to your regular activities.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAIDs - commonly known as painkillers - can help you manage your initial pain and inflammation. Examples include ibuprofen and naproxen. It’s important to note that this is only a temporary fix. Experts do not recommend taking NSAIDs for longer than 10-14 days due to their adverse health effects causing gastrointestinal issues.
In some instances, wearing a neck brace can help avoid further aggravation. This gives your body time to rest and heal. Braces or tapping should not be worn for long durations as this could potentially limit function and recovery down the road. Braces are frequently used in cases where a bone has been broken, such as the collarbone or shoulder blade.
Exercises will help your body heal, as well as prevent future incidents of a pinched nerve in the shoulder blade from happening. Strengthening exercises help support and stabilize the area, as well as maintain good postural alignment. You can get an injury from having a poor posture since it leads to strain and stress on the upper back muscles and shoulders. In turn, this may tug at certain parts of the spine compressing a nerve. Stretches can further help improve and maintain function and range of motion. Examples of exercises to get you started include the ones below.
Best shoulder exercises
Stretch Between Shoulder Blades
Pistol/Shoulder Blade Pinch Exercise
Seek out immediate medical attention if you experience severe and sudden pain, severe weakness, an inability to move your limb or hands, or if you experience a loss of bladder or bowel function. In rare and severe cases, surgical intervention, although not ideal, may be required. Your doctor or healthcare professional will advise you if this is necessary.
A pinched nerve in the shoulder blade is entirely treatable and it may even go away on its own. The best thing you can do is work on strengthening the area where the pinched nerve occurred so that it doesn’t happen again. If you are in severe pain, call your doctor or the local emergency service.
At Injurymap, we believe movement and exercise is key when it comes to avoiding pain or discomfort. Our app allows you to use exercise as treatment within the comfort of your own home. These exercises can help you manage your pain and ultimately, eliminate it. Take full control of your recovery and rehabilitation with the Injurymap app. Pain doesn’t have to be your normal. Start feeling better today!
About the author
Krista Bugden has worked as a Rehab Exercise Expert at a physiotherapist clinic in Ottawa, Canada for the past 4 years. She has an Honours Bachelor Degree in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. She uses her extensive knowledge in this area to educate others through well-researched and informative articles. Her passions include helping others and inspiring each person she meets to get the most out of their life.