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Back Shoulder Pain – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Relief

Written by Dr.Mary

Are back shoulder pains keeping you awake at night? The nagging ache usually radiates from behind your scapula and spreads to the neck and shoulder region.


The area of origin is termed the subscapularis muscle. It is triangular in shape and situated in the subscapular fossa. Since this muscle originates from under the shoulder blade and reaches out to the front o the arm, many people experience discomfort in those areas as well. This can affect both scapular areas.

This is a common complaint of athletic individuals who engage in sports that requires tossing a ball around. Football and baseball players deal with this condition on a day to day basis. Back shoulder pain is a medical condition that is referred to as “Subscapular pain”.

Back Shoulder Pain Symptoms

There are a few ways to test if you are one of many individuals afflicted by this problem.

  • The onset of pain in the subscapular region when a person stretches upward. This can vary in severity. Some people may complain of a slight discomfort while others may not be able to raise their arm fully.
  • Pain in the area when posture is adjusted. This may occur when a person straightens out their pose. There will be a recurrent pain in the area that may even throb in some individuals. The level of pain may also depend on the pain threshold of the person.
  • A feeling of discomfort as the arm is rotated. Pain is usually greater when the arm is rotated in an inward direction. Many have reported that they have trouble rotating outwardly as well.
  • Throbbing discomfort in the area when you hunch forward. This is common to those who have spinal irregularities like scoliosis.

Causes of Back Shoulder Pain

There are many factors that can lead to this condition. Many individuals forget that their lifestyles, occupations and habits may cause or exacerbate the problem.

Incorrect posture

We often forget to pull our shoulders back. This results in a hunched posture that leads to pain from various points in the back. Imagine hunching forward while lifting a heavy load. This incorrect stance has caused severe injury to those who do not correct themselves.

Sleep habits

Those who make it a habit to sleep to one side without changing positions may become main-stays at their local chiropractor’s clinic. Picking a favorite side has many people waking up with an aching back. Try a few variations like sleeping on your back every other night.

Lack of stretching

Athletes make it a point to perform warm-ups or stretches before they start training. This warms up their system and keeps their muscles pliant and flexible for the exercises. The lack of this vital step may result in torn, inflamed or achy muscles.

Job Related Reasons

This occurs in individuals with jobs that require them to constantly lift their arms past their heads. This includes painters, carpenters, swimmers, volleyball players and football players to name a few. These people are prone to back shoulder pain.

Back Shoulder Pain Treatment

There are many ways to rehabilitate the area. Individuals opt for a number of treatments to make back shoulder pain a thing of the past.

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Hot and Cold Therapy

Athletes and their coaches rely on this procedure at the onset of back an shoulder pains. They use ice that is covered in a moist towelette because direct contact to the skin can cause burns. The towel is applied to the area for 20 minutes every 2 hours to ease discomfort. When the area is less sensitive to movement, a hot water bottle is applied to the area or roughly 15 to 16 minutes. This can be performed before stretching and exercises to strengthen the area. It would be best if the person refrain from exercises or chores that require mobility of the region.

Flexibility Exercises

They can be done to stretch out the area as long as the pain is bearable. A popular remedy is putting the arm parallel to the wall and directing your body to face away from it. This helps the area gain flexibility and may relieve the pain.

Shoulder Strengthening Work-outs

Your trainer at the local gym can come up with a variety of exercises that aim to strengthen your shoulder muscles. Buchberger exercises are commonly prescribed for back shoulder pain. This should not be attempted without the consent of your chiropractor.

NSAID Treatment

Your doctor may prescribe Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs. They have an analgesic effect which results to lesser pain levels in the affected area. It has anti-pyretic properties that can lower your body temperature upon the onset of a fever. Higher doses have anti-inflammatory qualities which battles inflammation in the region of concern. Naproxen, aspirin and ibuprofen are common examples. Remember to stick to the dose your physician prescribed.

Cortisone Injections

These are often administered as a last resort. The patient is given a shot right under the shoulder blade. The pain may worsen in the next 48 hours. But it usually resolves gradually with time. Patients must remember that this should not become a habit. Receiving multiple shots can cause the breakdown of the rotator cuff tendon. This is administered to those who have a severe injury like subscapular bursitis which is the inflammation of the bursa.

Surgical Procedures

Should all the non-operative treatments fail in a patient with subscapular bursitis, arthroscopic surgery will be performed. This involves excising the bursa under the scapula or shoulder blade. Rehabilitative therapy is then done at a later date. This will help the patient regain strength and movement of the area.

Back Shoulder Pain Relief

Some simple Procedures to Relieve the Area:

  • Minimal stretching can be done to relieve stress in the region. This can be done alone or with a personal trainer. This will help lessen the stress in that particular area. Always consult a physician before you decide to go back to the gym.
  • Massage therapy can be beneficial to those that suffer from back shoulder pain. It should be performed by a licensed physical therapist as opposed to a rookie at a spa. The area may hurt during the procedure but that is expected.
  • Cold therapy can provide some relief during the onset of the symptoms. The cooling properties of ice works by numbing the area of concern.
  • Pain relievers might help but it would be best if you did not depend on them so much. Taking them to often may desensitize you and lead you to increase you dosage. This may produce severe if not fatal effects.

Important Note :

Before trying any instant relief medications, please seek the advice of a physician to avoid any ill effects. Back shoulder pain can be a bane to your existence but it can be relieved and prevented from coming back again.

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