Causes of Back Pain Between Shoulder Blades

If you have upper back pain between shoulder blades, it can really affect your day to day life. It can make simple things like reaching in your cabinets driving your car incredibly painful and difficult.

While ibuprofen can sometimes be a quick fix, it won’t fix the problem long term. Many people would benefit from upper back stretches for pain. You’ll need to address the root cause of your pain, and come up with a solution to alleviate it.

In this article, we’ll cover some of the most common causes of upper back pain between shoulder blades. Then, we’ll share some of our favorite remedies to fix the problem.

Anatomy Between The Shoulder Blades

There is a lot going on between the shoulder blades. There are all kinds of different musculatures there, and plenty of organs.

Shoulder Blade Anatomy

Some of the anatomy you’ll find there include:

  • The rhomboids
  • Trapezius muscles (middle and lower)
  • Thoracic spine
  • Esophagus
  • The lungs
  • Part of the heart

That means there are all kinds of different components on your upper back that could be responsible for the back pain between shoulder blades you are feeling.

Further complicating the matter, you’ll also have to consider that there are plenty of nerves in that region that transmit signals from other parts of your body.

As you can imagine, this makes it a bit tricky to diagnose the specific culprit for your pain. But, we’ll explain some of the most common causes of back pain between shoulder blades now.

What Are The Most Common Causes Of Back Pain Between Shoulder Blades?

There are a few potential causes of upper back pain between shoulder blades. The most typical are muscle strain, physical trauma, herniated or bulging discs, arthritis, and then there are more serious underlying health issues. Let’s start with the most common, though.

Upper Back Muscle Strain

More often than not, you’ll know if you strained a muscle in your upper back right when it happens. It typically occurs when lifting too heavy, with improper form, or a combination of both. You’ll feel the strain right after it happens, it will be a burning pain between your shoulder blades.

This can also be caused by just having poor posture, however. In this instance, the pain will likely come on slowly over a period of time.

If you feel like you strained you upper back, rest and recovery are the best medicine. It will heal itself over time, you’ll just need to take it easy for a bit.

Physical Trauma

Another cause of back pain between your shoulder blades is actual physical trauma to the area. This can be from something like a car accident, a sports related injury (common in contact sports like hockey, football, etc.), or even a bad fall down the stairs.

Just like the upper back strain, you’ll know you did something right when it happens. The pain is immediate. Depending on the severity of your trauma, you’ll need to visit a doctor.

Herniated or Bulging Discs

Another common cause of upper back pain that is usually the result of improper movement is a herniated or bulging disc.

This is similar to a muscular strain, except that this is actually an injury to your spine. Anything related to your discs will also be more painful, and more debilitating.

What happens here is the disc bulges out of place, and presses against the nerves that run alongside your pain. This is really painful, and can leave you laying in bed all day.

This is less common however, but it will likely require a doctor’s visit. They’ll help you come with a treatment plan, and discover whether you need surgery or not.

Now, let’s get into some of the more serious causes of back pain between shoulder blades.


Osteoarthritis, called arthritis for short, is a condition where your cartilage in your joints starts to break down, causing severe pain.

It can happen anywhere in your body you have joints – wrists, knees, ankles, and of course, your back. The spine is made up of individual joints, so its very common to have arthritis issues in your back.

In some cases, arthritis can reach your neck or even the ribs, and this can cause serious pain in your upper back between your shoulder blades.

There are medications and therapies that can help you manage your arthritis, but unfortunately, it’s about becoming comfortable, not curing it.


Scoliosis is another common cause of upper back pain, but it will likely be something you are already aware you have by the time you feel the discomfort.

Usually, scoliosis is diagnosed early on in life at your checkups as a child. Sometimes though, it can go unnoticed.

Wearing a back brace will help you manage this pain, along with physical therapy and chiropractic care.

Heart Attack

In rare cases, pain between your shoulder plains could indicate warning signs of a heart attack. More often, however, the pain from a heart attack will be on the front of your body, more so on one side of your body.

So before you start freaking out, do some research into heart attacks and see if you have other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, lightheadedness, etc.

Less Common, More Serious Causes Of Back Pain Between Shoulder Blades

There are plenty of other reasons why you may be experiencing upper back pain between shoulder blades if you don’t suspect it to be one of the reasons above.

These are less common, but are definitely more serious. Some of them include:

  • Certain cancers, such as lung cancer
  • Acid reflux or GERD
  • Shingles
  • Gallstone issues
  • Thoracic Aorta Rupture
  • Pulmonary Embolism
  • Epidural Anesthesia (if you are a female going through labor)

Final Thoughts On Back Pain Between Your Shoulder Blades

In summary, most cases of back pain between your shoulder blades is due to you moving improperly and tweaking something. Sometimes, it’s a degenerative condition such as arthritis.

Sometimes, though, it can be a sign of a more serious underlying cause. It’s important to look for other symptoms, and if you have multiple symptoms of a serious condition, visit your doctor or go to the hospital. It’s always better to be safe rather than sorry.

Photo of author

Stevie Compango, CNSC, CPT

Stevie is Certified Nutrition Specialist and Certified Personal Trainer for the past 10 years. He specializes in mobility and chronic pain management. His methods have helped thousands of clients improve the quality of their life through movement.

Recommended Articles