If your shoulder blade is dull, achy, or sharp, and you’ve recently either overstretched or overexerted your shoulder blade muscles from an activity it’s likely that you’ve strained a muscle group in your shoulder blade.
I’ve written another article about what to do if you have sharp and stabbing-type pain in your shoulder blade that I’d encourage you to read. About 2,000 people read it every month.
In this post, I’ll briefly cover which muscles could be strained and what the evaluation process would look like if you were my patient.
Sound good? Cool, let’s dive in.
Initial evaluation questions for shoulder blade pain
I’m going to write this as if you were in front of me.
So it seems like you’ve been having pain around your shoulder blade? Can you tell me how that started?
Oh, okay, so it started after you had thrown a party and you were washing dishes for over an hour, cleaning up.
Got it. And what does it feel like?
Sometimes sharp, and sometimes dull, okay, makes sense.
Now, do you have any pain in your chest, or any numbness or tingling going down your arms?
No, okay, that’s good, we always want to screen for those presentations as we wouldn’t want to miss a heart attack, an early presentation of lung cancer, or generalized radiculopathy.
So next question is, what makes it feel better or worse?
Ah, stretching makes it feel better however only for a short period of time. You’ve tried ice and heat but it’s the same thing, it helps for a little bit but not over the long term.
So I’m going to repeat this back to you, please let me know if this is accurate.
About 1 month ago you were cleaning up after a party and noticed that your shoulder blade on your right side started to have this stabbing type of pain that would also be dull and achy at times.
You don’t have any chest pain or numbness and tingling and stretching, cold, and hot packs make it feel better temporarily.
You haven’t tried any strength movements yet.
That wraps up the questions that I have for you. It does sound like a strain of some of the shoulder blade muscles and now we are going to move on to the physical exam to further test that hypothesis.
Physical exam procedure for a pulled muscle in the shoulder blade
First I’d like you to stand up and lift your arms up like you are slowly flapping your imaginary wings.
Just bring them up all the way over your head and back down and do that a few times.
How did that feel?
Okay, next I’m going to have you take some weights, this could be a 5-pound, 10-pound, 15, or 20-pound dumbbell. If you routinely do bent-over rows then just choose a warm-up weight you’re accustomed to using.
Next, perform bent-over rows (video below), and see how it feels.
If you feel pain with this and it’s severe, decrease the amount of weight you’re using. If it still hurts too much then I’d recommend starting with a different exercise which I’ll share after this.
For most people, this might reproduce slight pain but it’s generally pretty comfortable. It also is great for your lower back so there’s that, too!
Different exercise variations to test out for a strained shoulder blade muscle
I’ve created a whole other article on this so I’ll just link to those, here. There are videos and such of how to do all the exercises in that post, too.
But, the gist of it is, to find exercises that don’t make the pain significantly worse. A little worse for a day or two is okay, a lot worse for 3+ days means it was too much.
Seated rows, bent-over rows, t-bar rows, pull-ups, prone swimmers, and any other rowing-type variation exercise you can think of are generally great for this condition.
What’s the primary error people make when recovering from shoulder blade pain?
They focus too much on stretching and rest and not enough of strengthening and activating those muscle groups. In my experience as a physical therapist over the past six years, stretching does not work as well. It works sometimes, but, often not.
I hope this was helpful for you. If you have any questions you can always contact me via email at [email protected].
Best of luck to you!