Pain between or around the shoulder blades is very common, but there can be a number of possible conditions which are causing the pain. In the previous blog, I highlighted a very common cause of pain between the shoulder blades – the costovertebral joint sprain.
I wanted to discuss another increasingly common cause of pain into the shoulder blades I see at my Camden chiropractic clinic, referred pain from the lower cervical spine (neck).
Referred pain describes pain that is felt at a site other than where the cause is situated. Because the neck and shoulders are so closely connected by multiple nerve pathways, the way the body reports pain can be very unreliable. For example when an injury occurs to one of the intervertebral discs in the neck, the brain sometimes cannot pin point exactly where the injury has occurred, and so patients commonly perceive the pain to be in the inside border of either shoulder blade.
With our ever increasing reliance and use of computers and electronic devises, injuries and degeneration of the neck, particularly the lower parts (C5-C7), are becoming very common. A very important structure that is frequently injured is the intervertebral disc.
The intervertebral discs act as shock absorbers between each of the vertebrae in the spinal column and also help facilitate proper movement by the spine. The outside of the disc is made of a strong fibrocartilage material called the anulus fibrosus. Inside this protective covering is a jelly-like substance known as the nucleus pulposus.
With ages and repetitive microtrauma, the outer layer of the disc deteriorates and can begin to tear, which can lead to significant pain in some individuals. Early stages of disc injuries in the neck generally begin as localised neck pain, but they can commonly cause a deep ache around the inside border of either shoulder blade. Some patients describe it almost like a tooth ache, and are generally irritated because they can’t pin point or touch where the pain is.
Many patients present to our clinic frustrated after having had numerous other treatments focusing on their shoulders and shoulder blades. Many report that these previous treatments provided very short term relief or no improvements at all. This is because they have only worked on where the pain is, but not addressed the cause.
This is why a thorough assessment is vitally important to pin point what is causing the pain. These same patients start to report significant improvements after a few chiropractic visits which helps to improve the function of their neck. At Proactive Chiro & Sports Med we always perform a thorough assessment, and use a number of safe and highly effective techniques to help patients with degeneration of the neck. Degenerative changes of the spine take years to develop, and so it is important to be patient with these kinds of conditions. Most patients experience immediate improvements, but it can take several visits for the symptoms to completely resolve and return to normal function.
If the discs in the lower neck continue to degenerate or bulge, patients may experience pain, numbness, tingling and/or pins & needles into the upper and lower arm, hands and/or fingers. A tell-tale sign that the pain between your shoulder blades isn’t a “knot”, and is in fact referred pain from degenerative changes to the discs in the lower neck is if you are also experiencing or have had a history of neck pain. Also if the pain in the shoulder blade is intensified by neck movements, or if you are experiencing any symptoms into the arms or hands.