Right Shoulder Blade Pain

Right shoulder blade pain is a common occurrence but self-diagnosis is problematic. Serious and potentially life threatening illness can cause right shoulder blade pain and only a doctor can adequately rule out more serious causes.

Pain is the body's messenger signaling a potential problem that deserves our attention. Pain in certain areas of the body is more significant and avoiding any delay in seeking medical care is important. Right shoulder blade pain can be caused by a range of processes ranging from the non-worrisome benign to life threatening.

Causes of Right Shoulder Blade Pain

A variety of illness and diseases result in right shoulder blade pain and self-diagnosing is dangerous.

Gallbladder Attack

The gallbladder is located under the liver in the upper right area of the abdomen. It functions to help digest dietary fat. Females, those over forty year of age and obese persons may be prone to gallstones and subsequent painful gallbladder attacks. The pain is intense in generally occurs after eating a fatty or fried meal. The pain from these attacks can radiate to the right shoulder.

Gallstones are most commonly treated by surgical removal of the gallbladder. This procedure is performed by a surgeon who makes several small incisions in the abdomen. Then using a camera and special surgical tools is able to remove the gallbladder. The recovery using this method (laproscopic) requires less time than the classic large incision.

Heart Attack

A heart attack is caused by blockage of blood vessels supplying the heart. Pain can radiate to a variety of locations including the right shoulder. The pain can also be felt in the neck, jaw or left shoulder. Tearing or ripping type pain can radiate to the shoulder or back and can signify that the large blood vessel coming off the heart (aorta) is tearing. Both of these problems are life threatening and require immediate emergency care. Call 911 immediately.

The treatment for a heart attack involves medications and often specialized procedure to open the blocked heart vessels (heart catheterization). Some cases require open-heart surgery to bypass and replace the blocked blood vessels. Tears in the aorta are treated with surgical repair.

Liver Diseases

Inflammation, infection and damage to the liver can produce pain under the right shoulder blade. Bacterial infections can produce pockets of pus in the liver. This results in pain, fever and often a general feeling of illness. Liver cancer can also spread to other areas of the body resulting in pain being felt in the right shoulder. Cirrhosis is a permanent scarring of the liver and often results from excess alcohol consumption. Fluid may then accumulate in the abdomen and become infected. This can result in pain and at times is referred to the right shoulder or back.

Infections of the liver are treated with antibiotics and if required, surgical drainage. More serious liver diseases may require a liver transplant.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. Women are primarily affected, but 1% of breast cancers occur in men. Cancers can spread to a variety of locations and pain in the shoulder blade can be a sign of advanced cancer that has spread to the shoulder blade, spine, and ribs or even to the lung. Breast cancer patients with new shoulder or back pain need prompt evaluation by a doctor. Cancer also makes people more prone to blood clots. A blood clot in the lung can also result in shoulder blade pain or discomfort when breathing. This can be life threatening.

Treatment options for breast cancer often entail a combined approach using surgery, drug therapy and radiation. Other therapy options include hormonal therapy. New therapies under investigation include specialized immune therapies designed to directly attack the cancer cells. Treatment is coordinated by a medical specialist (oncologist) who will monitor and adjust treatment depending on the stage of the cancer, type and response to therapies.

Arthritis

Arthritis is a normal consequence of age and use. Tissues break down and wear out over time leading to pain and loss of function. It can cause a stabbing pain in around the shoulder region.

Arthritic pain is generally treated with OTC non-steroidal medications such as Tylenol, ibuprofen or naproxen. Weight loss for obese persons can lesson the stress on joints and improve function. Regular exercise is important to maintain strength and mobility. Swimming and non-impact activities such as biking are a good choice for those with arthritis. Either heat or cold therapy can lessen the discomfort caused by arthritis. Devices such as crutches, canes and walkers are useful during flare-ups of pain and can improve daily functioning.

Other Causes

Biomechanics play an important role in shoulder blade pain. Sitting at a computer with slouched posture can result in muscle spasm and pain. Chronic changes in muscle tone and the spine can result in a pinched nerve. This is often felt as a sharp searing pain radiating down the shoulder and arm. Some experience numbness or loss of arm strength. Ensure proper workspace ergonomics by setting up computers, desks and chairs at the correct height. Change positions frequently and periodic stretching is important for those with desk type jobs. Sleep positioning is important and having a quality supportive mattress is important in preventing shoulder, neck and back pain.

Home Remedies for Right Shoulder Blade Pain

Activities that cause or exacerbate shoulder blade pain should be avoided. Try OTC pain relievers such as Ibuprofen (Motrin), Tylenol or naproxen (Aleve). Apply an ice pack for 15-20 minutes to decrease the pain and inflammation. For muscle spasm, heat may provide quality relief and decrease pain. Try alternating between heat and cold, as there is no right or wrong answer here; do what feels best and alleviates discomfort.

When to See a Doctor

Schedule a visit to the doctor if:

Redness, warmth or visible swelling can signify a more serious problem and you should see your doctor. Severe pain after falling could signify a fractured bone and x-rays may be warranted. Any obvious deformity or inability to use the shoulder requires an evaluation by a doctor.

Seek emergency help or call 911 if you suffer the following conditions:

  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Bleeding or exposed bone or tendon after injury
  • If feeling like passing out