The shoulder blade is a triangular bone in the upper back. Injuries to the shoulder blade cause pain as well as difficulty moving the shoulder or arm.
Treatments vary depending on the cause, but they might include stretching exercises or medications.
In some cases, the cause of right shoulder blade pain is an underlying medical condition, such as gallstones or peptic ulcer disease.
These conditions might also lead to symptoms that directly or indirectly affect the shoulder blades.
This article discusses several possible causes of pain in the right shoulder blade and also explains how to treat them.
Strain or injury
When a person strains or injures their shoulder blade, the cause may be obvious.
Potential causes of a strained or injured shoulder blade include:
- trauma from a fall or collision
- lifting a heavy object
- sleeping in an uncomfortable or unusual position
Due to its position in the body, the shoulder blade is not easy to break or fracture.
However, a possible cause of a broken shoulder blade is a high impact collision, such as a car accident.
Additional symptoms that could appear alongside pain include:
- darkening of the skin
- a reduced range of motion in the arm
When a person injures or strains their right shoulder blade, they can often resolve the symptoms with care at home. Options that could help include:
- applying ice or a cold compress to the area
- taking pain relief medications
- massaging the area gently
Doctors will usually treat a fractured shoulder blade by immobilizing the area with a sling. However, in approximately 10–20% of cases, surgery is necessary.
Arthritis refers to conditions that affect the joints and surrounding tissues.
The most common form is osteoarthritis, in which the cartilage within a joint wears down over time.
Arthritis in the shoulder can cause the following symptoms alongside pain:
- reduced range of motion in the arm
At present, there is no cure for osteoarthritis. However, doctors may recommend various ways to manage and relieve the symptoms. These include:
- muscle-strengthening exercises
- physical therapy
- pain-relieving medication
- corticosteroid injections
If the arthritis is particularly severe, surgery is an option.
Gallstone disease is a common cause of hospitalization around the world.
The disease occurs when the gallbladder does not sufficiently drain bile, as well as excess cholesterol in this fluid forms stones.
Other types of gallstones include:
- pigmented gallstones, from the breakdown of red blood cells
- mixed pigmented gallstones, which are a combination of calcium salts, cholesterol, as well as bile
- calcium stones, from buildups of calcium in people with high blood calcium levels
Some factors that increase the risk of gallstone disease include:
- birth control pills
- poor diet
- a sedentary lifestyle
- physical inactivity
- type 2 diabetes
Although most people with gallstones experience no symptoms, research shows that about 10% of people will develop symptoms within 5 years of developing the condition, and 20% will develop them within 20 years.
The symptoms of gallstone disease include:
- sudden, severe pain in the upper right abdomen
- pain radiating to the shoulder blades or the middle of the back
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To treat gallstones, doctors perform a cholecystectomy. This surgical procedure involves removing the gallbladder.
Ursodiol is a medication that doctors may prescribe for people with gallstone disease. However, the drug is effective in less than 50% of cases.
Peptic ulcer disease
Another condition that may cause right shoulder blade pain is peptic ulcer disease.
In peptic ulcer disease, acid can cause ulcers in the stomach or intestinal lining.
Common causes of peptic ulcer disease include infections and also the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Some rare causes of peptic ulcer disease include:
- Zollinger-Ellison syndrome
- vascular insufficiency
- radiation therapy or chemotherapy
- Crohn’s disease
People with an ulcer in the stomach may experience upper abdominal pain 15–30 minutes after meals.
Intestinal ulcers tend to cause pain 2–3 hours after eating.
Other symptoms of peptic ulcer disease depend on the location of the ulcer and the person’s age. Common signs and symptoms include:
- feelings of fullness
- nausea and vomiting
- unexplained weight changes
- blood in the vomit or stool
Chest pain from peptic ulcer disease can radiate to the back, including the right shoulder blade.
Doctors may prescribe antisecretory drugs to treat peptic ulcer disease.
These include proton pump inhibitors and also histamine-2 receptor antagonists.
If someone is unresponsive to these drugs, a doctor may recommend surgery.
Surgical options include vagotomy, which involves removing branches of the vagus nerve to reduce stomach secretions.
Another option is a partial gastrectomy, which is the surgical removal of part of the stomach.