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What Causes Back Pain Between the Shoulder Blades?

written by: Vasanth • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 5/10/2010

Back pain between shoulder blades can be dull or sharp. It can indicate a problem with the structural features of the shoulder and back region, or it can be a symptom of a more severe problem such as a heart attack or gallstones.

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    Muscle Strain

    A common cause of back pain between shoulder blades is improper alignment and strain of the back muscles that support the spine. Sitting for long periods of time on an uneven surface or in an awkward posture leads to an uneven distribution of weight on either side of the spine. This places more stress on one muscle over another, which could strain the muscle and cause pain. Specially designed chairs are available to correct this problem by supporting a proper body posture while sitting.

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    Herniated Cervical Disc

    A herniated cervical disc can cause back pain between shoulder blades. The pain initially develops in the neck, spreads to the region between the shoulder blades, and then radiates into the arms. The injury can be treated with anti-inflammatory medication, muscle relaxants, and pain medication. A cold/heat compress can also allievate the pain and promote healing. Symptoms usually subside after six weeks. If not, spinal surgery can relieve nerve pressure by removing part of the disk that is damaged.

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    Angina and Heart Attack

    Angina is the tightening of the chest caused by physical exercise, psychological stress, and extreme cold. The pain can sometimes radiate between the shoulder blades. A more pronounced pain is felt in the back, between the shoulder blades, during a heart attack. Since the pain is located away from the site of injury, it is called referred pain. Back pain between the shoulder blades is a referred pain associated with several conditions.

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    Aortic Dissection

    A tear in the aorta, which is the largest artery in the body, will produce a sharp pain in the back between the shoulder blades. Surgery is required to correct the tear.

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    Gallstone Attack

    Pain that starts in the upper abdomen and spreads to the back region between the shoulder blades can be a sign of gall bladder stones. The attack can last a few minutes or as long as three hours. Eatting fatty foods such as chocolate, cheese, and pastries can trigger the pain. The gallstones are crystalized bile, which is a digestive enzyme produced by the liver and stored in the gall bladder. The gallstones can be dissolved with medications.

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    Esophageal Cancer

    Esophageal cancer is tumor growth on the esophagus, which is the tube which connects the throat to the stomach. Difficulty swallowing and pain between the shoulder blades are the symptoms. By the time the symptoms are noticeable, the cancer is at an advanced stage and treatment options are limited.

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    Reference

    1. "Chronic Back Pain Between Shoulder Blades." Back Pain Details Web. 10 May 2010.

    2. Sasso, Rick C. et. al. "Non Surgical Treatment of Cervical Herniated Disc." Spine Universe. 10 Dec. 2009. Web. 10 May 2010.

    3. Wei, Nathan. "Severe Pain Between Shoulder Blades." Arthritis Treatment and Relief. 2004. Web. 10 May 2010.