Left shoulder blade pain has many causes. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, the shoulder is one of the body's more unstable joints, and it's the site of many common problems 1. The shoulder blade or scapula can also experience problems. Pain may arise in the shoulder blade itself, or it can be referred from another part of the body, such as the lungs.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
A scapula fracture can cause left shoulder blade pain 2. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons or AAOS, scapula fractures account for less than 1 percent of all broken bones 2. Although scapula fractures are rare, they can be extremely painful and are often accompanied by other traumatic injuries, such as:
- rib fractures
- punctured lungs
- spinal cord damage
The AAOS states that the most common cause of scapula fractures is high-energy, blunt-force trauma, which is the type of injury that can occur in a motor vehicle accident. Common signs and symptoms associated with a scapula fracture include severe pain when moving the affected-side arm, shoulder swelling and skin abrasions. According to the AAOS, if left untreated, a scapula fracture can cause chronic shoulder pain and shoulder dysfunction. The body of the scapula is the portion of the bone most commonly fractured, accounting for 50 to 60 percent of scapula fractures.
- A scapula fracture can cause left shoulder blade pain 2.
- Although scapula fractures are rare, they can be extremely painful and are often accompanied by other traumatic injuries, such as: * rib fractures
* punctured lungs
* spinal cord damage The AAOS states that the most common cause of scapula fractures is high-energy, blunt-force trauma, which is the type of injury that can occur in a motor vehicle accident.
What Are the Causes of Pain in the Back of the Arm?
A Pancoast tumor can cause left shoulder blade pain 4. The National Cancer Institute or NCI--a division of the National Institutes of Health--states that a Pancoast tumor, also known as a sulcus tumor, is a type of lung cancer that manifests in the lung's upper lobes and can spread to neighboring tissues, including the ribs and the vertebrae 134. According to the NCI, the majority of Pancoast tumors are non-small cell lung carcinomas 4. The Pancoast Tumor website states that Pancoast tumors are generally malignant, develop in the lung's upper lobes, grow into a large mass, invade the chest wall and other nearby structures and destroy shoulder and neck nerves 4. One of the most common causes of Pancoast tumors is smoking 4. Common signs and symptoms associated with a Pancoast tumor--especially among smokers--include chest pain, shoulder pain and upper back pain 4.
A subscapularis muscle strain can cause left shoulder blade pain. According to the Sports Injury Clinic website, the subscapularis muscle runs from the underside of the scapula to the front of the upper arm 5. The subscapularis muscle is responsible for rotating the arm inward and is one of four rotator cuff muscles 5. Athletes participating in throwing sports may experience a subscapularis strain--micro-tears in the muscle fibers--and shoulder blade pain 5. The Sports Injury Clinic website notes that partial ruptures of the subscapularis muscle are more common than complete ruptures, although the partial rupture may cause significant inflammation in the affected area 5. Common signs and symptoms associated with a subscapularis strain include pain with overhead shoulder movements, pain when the affected-side arm is rotated inward against resistance and pain when the muscle's tendinous is compressed at its insertion point on the humerus or upper arm bone.
What Are the Causes of Pain in the Back of the Arm?
Causes of Pain in the Upper Left Hip
Causes of Pain on the Right Side of the Neck Down to the Shoulder
Signs & Symptoms of Shoulder Injuries
Causes of Back Pain Radiating to Ribs
Causes of Underarm Pain
Causes of Excruciating Left-Sided Rib Cage & Shoulder Pain
What Are the Causes of Bilateral Elbow Pain?
Diseases That Affect the Tendons
Causes of Pain on the Right Side Under the Arm
- National Institutes of Health: Shoulder Injuries and Disorders
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Fracture of the Shoulder Blade
- National Cancer Institute: Pancoast Tumor
- Pancoast Tumor: Pancoast Tumor
- Sports Injury Clinic: Inflammation of the Subscapularis Muscle
- Foroulis CN, Zarogoulidis P, Darwiche K, et al. Superior sulcus (Pancoast) tumors: current evidence on diagnosis and radical treatment. J Thorac Dis. 2013;5 Suppl 4:S342-58. doi:10.3978/j.issn.2072-1439.2013.04.08
- Zarogoulidis, K., Porpodis, K., Domvri, K., Eleftheriadou, E., Ioannidou, D., and P. Zarogoulidis. Diagnosing and treating Pancoast tumors. Expert Review in Respiratory Medicine. 2016. 10(12):1255-1258. doi:10.1080/17476348.2017.1246964
- Ronan L, D'souza S. Pancoast's tumour presenting as shoulder pain in an orthopaedic clinic. BMJ Case Rep. 2013. doi:10.1136/bcr-2012-008131
- Bhopal A, Peake MD, Gilligan D, Cosford P. Lung cancer in never-smokers: a hidden disease. J R Soc Med. 2019;112(7):269-271. doi:10.1177/0141076819843654
- Panagopoulos, N., Leivaditis, V., Koletsis, E. et al. Pancoast tumors: characteristics and preoperative assessment. Journal of Thoracic Disease. 2014. 6 Suppl 1:S108-15. doi:10.3978/j.issn.2072-1439.2013.12.29
- Ozmen, O., Yilmaz, Ul, Dadali, Y. et al. Use of FDG PET/CT in patients with Pancoast tumors: does it add any contribution to patient management? Cancer Biotherapy & Radiopharmaceuticals. 2015. 30(8):359-67. doi:10.1089/cbr.2014.1809
- Villgran VD, Cherian SV. Pancoast syndrome. StatPearls [Internet]. 2019 Jan. Ipdated March 3, 2019.
- Palumbo VD, Fazzotta S, Fatica F, et al. Pancoast tumour: current therapeutic options. Clin Ter. 2019;170(4):e291-e294. doi:10.7417/CT.2019.2150
- Caronia, F., Fiorelli, A., Ruffini, E. et al. A comparative analysis of Pancoast tumour resection performed via video-assisted thoracic surgery versus standard open approaches. Interactive Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery. 2014.19(3):426-35. doi:10.1093/icvts/ivu115
- American Cancer Society. Immunotherapy for non-small cell lung cancer. Updated October 1, 2019.
- Deslauriers, J., Tronc, F., and D Fortin. Management of tumors involving the chest wall including Pancoast tumors and tumors invading the spine. Thoracic Surgery Clinics. 2013. 23(3):313-25.
- Nikolaos, P., Vasilios, L., Efstratios, K. et al. Therapeutic modalities for Pancoast tumors. Journal of Thoracic Disease. 2014. 6 Suppl 1:S180-93.
- Waseda, R., Klikovits, T., Hoda, M. et al. Trimodality Therapy for Pancoast Tumors: T4 is Not a Contraindication to Radical Surgery. Journal of Surgical Oncology. 2017. 116(2):227-235.
- White, H., White, B., Boethel, C., and A. Arroliga. Pancoast’s syndrome secondary to infectious etiologies: a not so uncommon occurrence. American Journal of the Medical Sciences. 2011. 341(4):333-6.
Martin Hughes is a chiropractic physician, health writer and the co-owner of a website devoted to natural footgear. He writes about health, fitness, diet and lifestyle. Hughes earned his Bachelor of Science in kinesiology at the University of Waterloo and his doctoral degree from Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Ore.