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Stretches for Upper Back Pain in Between Shoulder Blades

Almost everyone has experienced back pain at some point in their lives so it’s not surprising that you too may be dealing with upper back pain regularly, specifically in between your shoulder blades. There are causes of upper body or upper back pain - poor posture, cervical spine problems, and injury are the most common ones. Having pain near or under your shoulder blade may limit arm movement and interfere with your daily activities. Depending on the cause of your pain, this could be solved by doing some stretches.

So what are the stretches for upper back pain in between shoulder blades should you do in order to ease the discomfort and get some relief? The pain can range from achy or tender across the upper back and shoulder, or burning and sharp pain between the spine and shoulder. If the left and right shoulder pain are muscular in nature, there are several ways to approach shoulder blade pain relief and there are stretching techniques that can give you both short-term and long-term pain relief for tight muscle and pain. If the pain is caused by something else and radiates to other parts such as the chest muscle, it’s important to identify it and let your doctor take care of it.

How Pain Between Shoulder Blades Feels Like

Pain in your upper back between your shoulder blades can be felt on one or both sides of your body. It can be chronic (pain that lasts for weeks or months) or acute (pain that lasts shorter than this period). Some of the symptoms you may experience include a short, sharp burst of pain (also referred to as muscle spasm), a burning ache, dull ache that lingers, pain when you take a deep breath, and pain that is centered in the area between your shoulder blades or spreads to your arms and/or other areas of your back.

Aside from your shoulder blades, the main areas that you may feel pain in are your neck, arms, and shoulders and will affect several muscles, including the rhomboids, upper trapezius, levator scapula, rotator cuff muscles, and scalenes. 

Common Causes of Back Pain Between Your Shoulder Blades

There are so many factors that can contribute to the discomfort you’re feeling in this part of your upper back, but the most common ones include:

  • Posture - almost all of us are guilty of bad posture, especially those who are working regular office jobs. Using your phones and computers for long periods can result in poor neck and shoulder posture. This causes pain and muscle tightness in your shoulders and shoulder blades. Other common culprits of posture problems include sitting at your desk for much of the day, leaning over a laptop for long periods, using an uncomfortable chair, and crossing the legs when sitting down. A lot of muscle tension and pain issues can be solved with good posture.

    When you repeatedly hunch your back, tilt your head down, or sit to one side while you’re using your phone or working behind your desk, it weakens your muscles and the muscle strain and puts pressure on your muscles, ligaments, and spinal discs.
  • Stress - that pain in your shoulder blades can be a sign that you’re under stress, be it psychological or psychosocial. When you’re tense, your neck muscles and shoulder muscles become stiff, which causes pain between your shoulder blades. If your shoulder muscle knot is tense for a long time, this could also lead to headaches. In this case, it’s important to address the cause of your stress and while you’re at it, work on getting enough sleep and exercise to alleviate the effects of stress and shoulder tension.
  • Improper lifting technique - lifting and carrying heavy stuff can strain your upper back, be it for work or at the gym. This is why you should take care to use proper lifting techniques when hoisting, pushing, and pulling items. Improper technique can leave your upper back and shoulders more prone to injury. Lifting stuff overhead can strain your muscles or sprain your ligaments, or worse, injure your shoulder joint or thoracic spine. This results in pain near or under your shoulder blades. 
  • Scoliosis - this is a condition in which the spine is curved sideways, causing the shoulders and hips to look slightly uneven. In some people, one of their shoulders sticks out. Back pain is common among people with scoliosis. 
  • Myofascial pain syndrome - this is a long-term health condition that causes pain in specific muscle groups but does not occur throughout the body, which differentiates it from chronic pain conditions. If it hits your upper back, it may cause pain across the group of muscles around the neck, spine, and shoulders.
  • Osteoarthritis - this condition is caused by gradual wear and tear of joints over time. Common symptoms include pain, stiffness, and swelling, which can make moving the joints difficult for you. Injuring the joints or overusing them can increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis. This is why people with jobs that require heavy lifting or frequent reaching overhead are more prone to have this condition.

Ways to Alleviate Pain in Your Upper Back And Shoulder Blades

senior lady stretches at home

There are exercise and stretching techniques that you can practice to deal with the pain in your upper back and shoulder blades. There are techniques that will give you temporary relief via self-massage and stretching for areas that are actually painful. There are also stretches and muscle activation that will help promote better posture. This is more of a long-term strategy. 

1. Trigger Point Release in Between Shoulder Blades

This technique requires you to use a massage ball since this is a self-massage. This relieves the trigger points that may have built up in and around your shoulder blades. Find a tender spot using the massage ball and then apply pressure in the exact spot where you feel pain. Lie on your back and place the massage ball in between your shoulder blades. Once you feel a tender spot, hold the massage ball in place and apply more pressure on it using your body weight. Hold that for at least 30 seconds without rolling the ball back and forth. Afterward, find another tender spot and repeat the process. You can also use a foam roller in place of the massage ball to apply firmer pressure on your tender spots.

2. Trigger Point Therapy Using Self Massage Tool for Upper Back/Shoulders

With the help of a massage hook,  you pinpoint the trigger points manually in your upper back and shoulder blades. While you’re standing, place the hook over your shoulder in the spot where your muscles are tight. Push your left arm a bit downwards to apply pressure in the area. Keep on the pressure until you feel the trigger point release - at least 30 seconds per spot should do it. Move the hook through the muscles surrounding your scapula and repeat the process. Do this to all the tender spots in this area.

3. Shoulder Blade Stretch

This shoulder stretch is for the rhomboids and deltoids to release the tension in the area. Place your right elbow on your left elbow and then take your left hand and interlace it around your right arm. Apply more pressure if needed to open up or loosen up your upper back. Hold this position for 20-30 minutes and repeat on the other side.

4. Upper Trapezius Stretch

This gentle stretch is useful for those with upper back posture since their trap muscles are often tight and the pain could go down to your shoulder blade area. Stretching this muscle is essential in order to fix your posture and lessen the pain. Sit in a chair and place your right hand over the left side of your head. Now gently pull your head towards your shoulder and hold this position for 20-30 seconds. Repeat the move on the other side.

5. Levator Scapulae Stretch (Neck Release)

The Levator Scapulae muscle runs from the neck to the shoulder blade and oftentimes the muscles get very tight, which results in neck pain in and pain around your shoulder blades. This exercise stretches and releases the muscles. Sit in a chair in an upright posture and place your right arm on the back of your head. Turn your head to the right and then bring your head down. Intensify the stretch if needed using your hand on top. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds and then switch sides. 

6. Door Frame Stretch

Make good use of your doorway for a really nice stretch. This releases the tight chest muscles that may be causing your poor posture and in turn giving your shoulder blade pain. You have to stretch your pectoralis major and minor muscles to bring your back into proper posture. Place two arms on both sides of a door frame at a 90-degree angle. Step a leg forward through the door and apply pressure. Make sure not to stick your head forward or arch your lower back. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat this three times. 

7. Scapular Retraction

With the help of resistance bands, this exercise will help strengthen the muscles between your shoulder blades. It will also make the muscles on the back of your shoulders stronger, which will help you maintain proper posture. Stand in an upright posture and hold a resistance band with both hands and then straighten your elbows and bring your arms out in front of you. 

While your elbows are locked, move your arms out and back slowly behind your body. This will contract or squeeze the muscles between your shoulder blades. Feeling muscular discomfort is totally normal. Don’t shrug your shoulders toward your ears. Repeat this move in two sets of 10 and then gradually increase and add another set. This will get really challenging by the time you get to your eighth, ninth, and tenth repetition. 

Remember to choose a resistance band that will allow you to do the move properly but give you enough resistance to be challenging. 

8. Y & W Exercise

This is for the rhomboid muscle and lower trapezius muscle, which help stabilize your shoulder blades and posture. Extend both your arms to form a “Y” and then pull your elbows down into your stomach area. This creates a “W”. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and down. Don’t forget to breathe while doing this exercise. Do two to three sets with 10 repetitions each. 

 Other Ways to Relieve Your Pain

Apart from stretches and exercises, there are other things you can do for pain relief. 

  • Rest your upper back - sometimes all your muscles need is a good break. You may be so busy doing household work and working out at the gym that you forgot to rest properly and thus resulting in muscle pain. Take a pause from your usual taxing activities and let your muscles recover. If you’re sitting all day at work, take frequent breaks and change your position - remaining in one position for too long can lead to a rounded shoulder and therefore aggravate your pain even more.
  • Do heat or cold compress - using an ice pack or ice wrapped in cloth, apply the cold compress to your back for about 10-20 minutes at a time. Take at least a two-hour break in between compress sessions. If you prefer a heating pad, apply this for 15 to 20 minutes per treatment. Don’t do more than one treatment every two hours. You can place a layer between the ice or heat compress in order to protect your skin. 
  • Take painkillers - if you want quicker relief, pop some anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Over-the-counter meds should be enough to ease certain types of shoulder pain. 

If doing all of the above is not working and your pain still persists, you need to see your physical therapist to see what exactly is the cause of your discomfort. You may have arthritis and other pain issues that should be checked by a professional.

Is your upper back pain affecting your daily activities and your wellness in general? Let New York Pain Care help solve your pain issues. The facility is an expert on all sorts of pain from head to foot and offers top-notch physical therapy for these, from sports medicine to chiropractic care. If you’re in New York City and nearby areas, call New York Pain Care and work towards a pain-free life.

Learn more: Best Sleeping Position for Upper Back Pain Relief

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