Pinched Nerve in Shoulder Blade: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

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Pinched Nerve and Shoulder pain

Shoulder blade pain can be caused by a pinched nerve in the upper or middle part of your spine. There are a number of reasons why nerves in your cervical and thoracic spine can become entrapped. Age-related conditions, arthritis, or a herniated disc can “pinch” a nerve in your upper back that radiates to your shoulder blade, causing mild to severe pain. Along with sharp aching shoulder pains, a pinched nerve can result in tingling, a burning sensation, or muscle weakness in the affected shoulder blade.

There are many ways to release a pinched nerve in the shoulder blade (or, scapula) to help get rid of the nagging pain and discomfort. Exercises to strengthen your upper and middle back can help to eliminate pressure on a nerve and stop the shoulder pain. Also, ice packs are a great way to numb the nerve and relieve nerve pain. Depending on the severity of your shoulder blade pain, physical therapy or visiting a chiropractor can be effective.

In this article, you will find out what causes entrapped nerves that cause shoulder blade pain and how to prevent it. You will also learn about effective ways to release pinched nerves to quickly alleviate any pain in your upper back and shoulders.

What is a Pinched Nerve in Shoulder Blade?

Your spine is made up of 24 vertebrae that have small jelly-like discs between them that act as shock absorbers to prevent pain. Running through the center of the vertebrae is your spinal cord that is attached to many nerves. These nerves transmit signals between your muscles and your brain.

Your spine is divided into 3 regions:

  • Cervical spine. The top part of your spine that starts from the base of your skull to your shoulders.
  • Thoracic spine. The upper and middle part of your spine starting from your shoulders and extending to just about 5 inches below your shoulder blades.
  • Lumbar spine. The lower back area.

Doctors from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons say that pinched nerves in the neck are called cervical radiculopathy. The pain in the shoulder blade, neck, or arms comes from cervical nerves that are irritated, compressed, stretched, or entrapped.1

The pinched nerve pain doesn’t actually originate from your shoulder blade. It is a result of entrapped nerve in your back and the pain in your upper back radiates from the entrapped nerves in your spine to your shoulder. This pain may be made worse by turning your head or straining your neck.1

Types of pain caused by pinched shoulder blade nerves

This type of pain and degree of pain in the shoulders and arms usually depends on where the pinched nerve is located.

Researchers from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke say that pinched nerves cause pain to radiate outward. This can cause varying types of pain, for example:2

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  • Tingling sensations or “pins and needles”
  • Sharp burning sensations
  • Aching burning pains that radiate along the shoulder and down the arm
  • Loss of sensation in the injured area

Causes of Pinched Nerve in Shoulder

Various types of injuries to the upper back and neck can result in a nerve becoming entrapped and causing pain in the surrounding area.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that pinched nerves are caused when too much pressure is exerted on the nerve. This can happen if a vertebra, tendon, disc, muscle, or cartilage presses on the nerve. Depending on the extent of the injury, the pain may last for a short time or it could cause chronic pain in the shoulder.3

Herniated disc

A herniated disc in the cervical area of your spine can cause severe shoulder pain and neck pain. A herniated disc is sometimes called a slipped disc, and it describes damage to the disc that causes it to bulge out.

According to a report published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, a pinched nerve at the top of the spine can cause shoulder pain. The pain may only affect one shoulder and can cause a constant, burning ache in the shoulder, neck, and arm.4

Interestingly, the European Journal of Radiology reported that cervical disc injuries may be more common than was once thought. In a small study, around 50% of patients tested had herniated cervical discs that didn’t cause any symptoms at all.5

Wear and tear

A very common reason for scapular pain that is caused by a pinched nerve is wear and tear. Aging, degenerative diseases like arthritis, or autoimmune conditions can cause persistent pain in the shoulder due to cervical radiculopathy.

The Journal of Korean Neurosurgical Society reported that pinched cervical nerves can cause pain that radiates to the shoulder blade, neck, and arm. It was found that conditions like osteoarthritis, cervical disc degeneration, and wear and tear can cause nerve inflammation. Usually, the pain is felt along the length of the entrapped nerve and can cause tingling, stabbing pains, or chronic pain.6

Symptoms of Pinched Nerve that Affects Shoulder Blade

Because it can be a challenge to diagnose pinched nerves that affect the shoulder, it’s important to know more about its symptoms. Knowing how to identify the symptoms of a compressed cervical nerve can help you explain them better to a doctor or chiropractor to get the best treatment.

Pain

Pain that travels along your shoulder blade is a common symptom of a pinched nerve in your cervical spine region.

The HSS Journal reported that cervical radiculopathy causes pain that radiates to the shoulder, neck, or arms. The pain can range from mild aches to sharp, shooting pains in the shoulder blade. In some cases, the pain can be so severe that it is debilitating and can affect a person’s feeling of well-being.7

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Many people who complain of a pinched nerve in their shoulder blade say that the chronic pain causes them to miss days at work and that the severity of the pain affects them psychologically.

Muscle weakness

Muscle weakness in the upper back or arms is another symptom of a pinched cervical nerve that can affect the scapula.

Dr. Gerard Malanga from the New Jersey Regenerative Institute says that pain and weakness of the muscles is a common complaint with cervical radiculopathy. Usually, the muscle weakness is felt along the path of the pinched nerve.8

To help diagnose a pinched nerve in the cervical area, doctors may test the strength of the shoulder and arm muscles to tell the extent of the nerve compression. In cases of noticeable symptoms of entrapped nerves, it may be difficult or impossible to raise your arms over your head.

Tingling and numbness

A common symptom of compressed nerves that affect the shoulder blade is tingling and/or numbness along the length of the nerve.

According to Dr. Jason Eck, who is an expert on spine biomechanics, numbness and tingling are very common if you have pinched nerves. The tingling may be felt along the length of the scapula and in your arm. This can give a sensation of pins and needles as well making your arm feel as if it has “fallen asleep.”9

Headaches

Trapped nerves in your cervical spine may cause both scapular pain and headaches.

The European Spine Journal reported that frequent headaches may be a sign of cervical radiculopathy. In some cases, individuals with pinched cervical nerves suffer from intense daily headaches. The headache may be felt on the same side as the shoulder pain. When treatments were administered to relieve the shoulder and neck pain, it was found that headaches were also less frequent.10

Treatment of Pinched Nerve in Shoulder Blade

Pinched nerves may go away on their own if the injury is only very mild and you take care not to aggravate the entrapped nerve further. However, in most cases, there are many effective home remedies for pinched nerves that can reduce the pain. If you want to know how to get rid of a pinched nerve, here are some of the most effective home treatments.

Exercises to strengthen the back

Regular back exercises are one way to treat a pinched nerve and prevent the nerve becoming trapped in the future. Exercising and stretching the cervical and thoracic spine helps to strengthen the nerves, ligaments, and muscles in the spine.

Specialist in osteopathic medicine, Dr. Danette Taylor says that exercising the back helps to provide strength and stability to the upper and middle back. The best exercises for shoulder blade pain should target the core muscles and thoracic back. This can help to get rid of pressure on the root of a nerve.11

Quad opposite arm-leg raise

This exercise helps to strengthen your core muscles as well as stretching your cervical spine and helps to release trapped nerves.

This is what you should do to help cure a pinched cervical nerve:

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  1. Go on your hands and knees and place your hands shoulder-width apart. Your knees should be directly below your hips.
  2. Extend one leg and extend your opposite hand so that they are in line with your body.
  3. Return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat 5-10 times.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

When doing the stretches, don’t let your arm or legs rest back on the floor. Try to keep your arm and leg in constant motion while repeating the exercises. Also make sure that your spine is aligned properly.

core muscle exercises

Shoulder blade stretch

Stretching your shoulder blades can help to relieve scapular pain naturally and release tension from your neck and upper spine.

This is what you should do to treat shoulder blade pain:

  1. Sit on a chair with your back straight. (Make sure that you can put your hand through the space between the chair and the lumbar area of your back).
  2. Pull your shoulder blade backward and hold for a few seconds.
  3. Relax your shoulder blades
  4. Repeat 10 times and do the exercise daily for best results.

For more ways on strengthening your back muscles, please read my article on the best exercises for your back to relieve back pain. You can also try popping your back to ease back pain.

shoulder blade exercise

Ice treatment for pinched nerve

Many people ask the question: is ice or heat better for a pinched nerve? According to Dr. Jason Eck, who is an authority on matters related the spine, ice is the recommended treatment for treating a pinched nerve naturally.9

This home remedy of ice pack for pinched nerve uses rice to avoid a lot of water melting and running down your back.

How to make an ice pack using rice to cure a pinched nerve:

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  1. Fill a large clean sock about 3/4 full with long-grain rice.
  2. Tie the end securely and place in a freezer for a few hours.
  3. Lie on your front and place the rice ice pack on your cervical spine.
  4. Leave for 15-20 minutes to help relieve the shoulder blade pain.
  5. Use 2 or 3 times a day and continue using until you no longer have scapular pain from a pinched nerve.

You can also use the rice-filled sock as a heat treatment if you have sore or stiff muscles if you heat it in the microwave. To help you relax when applying the treatment for pinched nerves, you can add a few drops of lavender essential oil to the sock.

Essential oils for pain relief

There are many essential oils that can help to relieve pain and inflammation from pinched nerves and sore shoulder blades. Many essential oils have analgesic properties and can easily penetrate your skin to relieve painful joints and muscles.

According to the journal Pain Research and Treatment, a combination of essential oils can be used as a massage therapy to relieve shoulder blade pain. The therapeutic massage mixture contained lavender oil, rosemary essential oil, and peppermint oil. The researchers noted that those who received the essential oil remedy for shoulder pain reported that there was a 30% reduction in pain.11

How to get rid of a pinched nerve with essential oils:

  1. Blend 2 drops each of lavender oil, peppermint oil, and rosemary oil with one tablespoon sweet almond oil or other carrier oil of your choice.
  2. Take a little of the oil and massage into the skin from the nape of your neck to just between your shoulder blades.
  3. Also, use the massage oil to massage your painful shoulder blades to relieve pain and inflammation quickly.
  4. Repeat 2-3 times a day for best results and quick pain relief.

In my article on the best essential oils to relieve pain and inflammation, you can read about other essential oils that you can try as a natural treatment for shoulder blade pain.

Chiropractor

If you have severe or chronic pain in your scapula because of a pinched nerve, you may have to visit a chiropractor.

According to the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, a chiropractor can perform spinal manipulation for shoulder and neck. Spinal manipulation can help to release pinched nerves and eliminate pressure from a nerve root in the cervical area of the spine.12

Physical therapy

Doctors from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons say that physical therapy is an effective natural cure for cervical radiculopathy. Specific exercises to release entrapped nerves can help to relieve pain. Also, exercises from a physical therapist can help to strengthen neck muscles and increase the range of motion of your neck, head, and arm.1

Other ways to treat pinched nerve in shoulder blade naturally

Apart from specific exercises, ice packs, and essential oils to relieve shoulder blade pain, there are other ways you can treat the pain naturally.

Lose weight. Dr. Danette Taylor who specializes in osteopathic medicine, says that weight gain can predispose a person to suffering from pinched nerves.9

Soft cervical collar. A specially designed collar can help to rest the muscles and nerves in your neck. This also restricts your neck motion to allow time for pinched nerves to heal. However, the collar should not be worn for long periods of time.1

Correct posture. Sitting or standing for long periods of time with a hunched or slouched back can put extra pressure on your spinal nerves and, in time, damage the nerves. You should always use good posture when standing or sitting to help prevent pinched nerves along with back, shoulder, and neck pain.9

Support braces. Sometimes, a doctor or chiropractor will recommend support braces to take pressure off spinal nerves.

When to See a Doctor

Any kind of pain in your shoulders, middle back, or lower back can greatly impact on your daily activities. Usually, with making appropriate lifestyle changes and using home remedies for back pain, you can manage the pain successfully.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that in some cases, you should see a specialist for pinched nerves that cause back pain. If self-care treatments don’t work and you have shoulder blade pain that lasts for several days, you should see a doctor.3

Read my other related articles:

Medical Sources

  1. OrthoInfo. Cervical radiculopathy.
  2. NINDS. Pinched nerve information page.
  3. MayoClinic. Pinched nerve.
  4. J Manipulative Physiol Ther.1994 Feb;17(2):119-23.
  5. Eur J Radiol.2005 Sep;55(3):409-14.
  6. J Korean Neurosurg Soc. 2010 Dec; 48(6): 473–479.
  7. HSS J. 2011 Oct; 7(3): 265–272.
  8. Medscape. Cervical radiculopathy clinical presentation.
  9. eMedicineHealth. Pinched nerve.
  10. Eur Spine J. 2007 Jul; 16(7): 953–959.
  11. Pain Res Treat. 2016: 8158693.
  12. J Chiropr Med. 2009 Dec; 8(4): 143–155.
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3 Responses to Pinched Nerve in Shoulder Blade: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

  1. Loly says:

    Jenny,
    Which treatment is more effective for pinched nerve, accupuncture or a physiotherapist ?
    Thanks.

    • Jenny Hills, Medical Writer and Researcher says:

      From my personal experience a chiropractor gave me the best results (better than physiotherapist). I haven’t tried acupuncture.

      • David says:

        Sensible use of a TENS machine. The one I have used for a number of years is a Sanitas, which I find is extremely easy to set up and use. I have also used this regularly to relieve my sciatica.:): David

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