Shoulder blade pain happens to thousands of people each year. I’ve had this come up over the past couple of years, my wife has, and many of my patients bring this to my attention, too.

Doing shoulder blade (scapular) strengthening exercises is the fastest way to improve your pain. Stretching sometimes helps, too, depending on the person. 

You’ll need to find a combination of movements that work for you. In this article, I’ll teach you exactly how to do that. 

shoulder blade pain

Best Exercises For Shoulder Blade Pain

My favorite exercises to prescribe for shoulder blade pain are as follows:

  • Prone swimmers
  • Bent over rows
  • Seated Rows
  • Reverse Flyes

Each of these exercises targets the rhomboid, and middle trap, and gets your shoulder blade (scapula) moving through the full range of motion. 

My advice is to start with one of these exercises, do three sets of 10 repetitions of moderate difficulty and then if that feels okay after 24 hours, add the second exercise doing another three sets of 10 repetitions. 

Usually, people start to feel better after performing these exercises even after a couple of days. Of course, this isn’t every time (nothing is a 100% certainty in life). And, if you were wondering why shoulder blade pain happens and some potential causes, just check out the link I’ve provided above (hint: it’s probably not posture).

I’ll provide a Youtube link to each of these exercises.

Prone Swimmers

Bent Over Rows

Seated Rows (skip to 0:54 seconds)

Reverse Flyes

Should You Use a Barbell, Dumbbells, or Kettlebells for These Exercises?

I’d recommend using dumbbells for the reverse flyes and prone swimmers. 

You can use a barbell or dumbbell for everything else other than the seated rows. 

Seated rows require a cable column machine or a sufficiently heavy band with enough tension. 

Should you use heat or ice for shoulder blade pain?

Whichever one feels best to you is the best option. 

Whether you use ice or heat does not matter. What matters is how that intervention feels to you. 

Do what feels best. 

Can massage help?

A massage can help with your shoulder blade pain but will likely only be a temporary solution. 

For a long-term solution, I recommend strength training to improve the overall tissue tolerance of your muscles and other structures in that region. 

What about acupuncture, chiropractic care, and other types of alternative medicine?

Acupuncture can be helpful, however, many acupuncturists are not willing to needle this area due to the potential for a needle to pierce the lung, potentially causing pleural effusion. You don’t want that. 

Chiropractic care could be helpful as well, as manual therapy is usually quite effective in the short term to reduce symptoms and improve tolerance. 

Should You Smash Your Shoulder Blade With A Tennis or Lacrosse Ball?

This wouldn’t be my first preference, but, if you find that it’s helping to calm symptoms down, go for it. 

This can be helpful for some people, but it should always be coupled with a long-term solution like strength training of the mid back. 

If this is a one-time thing for you (it hasn’t happened before), then likely it will just get better on its own regardless of intervention. 

How Fast is Fast?

This issue can take a couple of days, weeks, or months to resolve itself. 

But, with most people that I’ve worked with, it usually only takes a few days to a couple of weeks to feel better. 

Strength training doesn’t solve all problems but it seems to address this one quite potently. 

Key Takeaways

  • Long term solution to shoulder blade pain is strength training of the middle back (usually). 
  • Nothing is a 100% certainty in life
  • Massage, acupuncture, chiropractic care, and all other forms of manual therapy are symptom modifiers and are not a long-term solution to the problem (if it’s recurrent)
  • If this is a one-time thing, it’ll likely get better no matter what you do
  • If this is a recurrent problem then you should get on a strength training program and use a process-of-elimination approach to see what the irritants are and what movements (if any), help with recovery.