Signs & Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve in a Shoulder Blade
A pinched nerve, also known as nerve compression, can occur for a variety of reasons. Compression of a nerve in the neck or, less commonly, in the shoulder itself can trigger shoulder blade pain. Overuse, age-related changes and injuries are among the most common causes of this type of nerve compression. The signs and symptoms of a pinched nerve vary, and can occur intermittently or persistently. As pain in the shoulder blade area occurs with many conditions other than a pinched nerve, medical evaluation is needed for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Burning, shooting, stinging, aching or sharp pain in the shoulder blade -- also called the scapula -- commonly occurs if a nerve supplying this area is pinched. Depending on the site of the nerve compression, pain might also extend to other areas of the shoulder, or into the arm and hand.
People whose pain arises from nerve compression in the neck might also experience neck pain and headaches, especially at the back of the head. In some cases, scapular and other pain associated with a compressed nerve decreases or disappears when the neck, head or arm is moved into certain positions. With severe compression, however, pain relief is unlikely with repositioning.
- Burning, shooting, stinging, aching or sharp pain in the shoulder blade -- also called the scapula -- commonly occurs if a nerve supplying this area is pinched.
- In some cases, scapular and other pain associated with a compressed nerve decreases or disappears when the neck, head or arm is moved into certain positions.
Causes of Upper Arm Muscle Pain
Weakness in the muscles of the shoulder area or arm commonly accompanies a pinched nerve associated with shoulder blade pain. The muscles affected vary, depending on the site of the nerve compression. Doctors test the strength of individual muscles in the shoulder area and arm to help determine whether scapular pain is due to nerve compression and the specific location, if a pinched nerve is identified. Abnormal muscle reflexes might also be a sign of nerve compression.
Muscle weakness associated with a pinched nerve affecting the shoulder blade pain ranges from mild to severe. Mild weakness often goes unnoticed. More severe weakness can manifest as difficulty raising the affected arm overhead or picking up heavy objects, for example. Grasping and twisting motions might be affected if the weakness affects muscles of the lower arm or hand.
- Weakness in the muscles of the shoulder area or arm commonly accompanies a pinched nerve associated with shoulder blade pain.
- Doctors test the strength of individual muscles in the shoulder area and arm to help determine whether scapular pain is due to nerve compression and the specific location, if a pinched nerve is identified.
Numbness and Tingling
A pinched nerve that triggers pain in the shoulder blade might also cause numbness or tingling in the shoulder, arm or hand. As with other symptoms, the specific location of these sensory abnormalities depends on the site of the nerve compression. A pins-and-needles sensation, that many people refer to as the area falling asleep, is common. Abnormal sensations might come and go, or be relieved by repositioning. Severe nerve compression, however, tends to cause constant sensory abnormalities.
- A pinched nerve that triggers pain in the shoulder blade might also cause numbness or tingling in the shoulder, arm or hand.
- A pins-and-needles sensation, that many people refer to as the area falling asleep, is common.
Warnings and Precautions
Causes of Pain in the Right Arm
Many conditions cause pain in the shoulder blade area. Musculoskeletal and nerve compression problems lead the list of possibilities, but the signs and symptoms of these conditions significantly overlap. Therefore, it's important to see your doctor as soon as possible if you experience shoulder blade pain to determine the cause and begin appropriate treatment.
Shoulder blade pain sometimes signals a serious underlying problem distant from the shoulder. This is called referred pain, meaning the discomfort occurs at a site different from the source of the problem. Referred shoulder pain is usually accompanied by other warning signs and symptoms 6. Seek immediate medical care if you experience sudden shoulder blade pain accompanied by any of these signs and symptoms: -- fever, chills or clammy skin -- shortness of breath -- chest or jaw pain -- rapid or pounding heartbeat -- nausea or vomiting -- abdominal pain or tenderness -- dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
Reviewed and revised by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.
- Many conditions cause pain in the shoulder blade area.
- Therefore, it's important to see your doctor as soon as possible if you experience shoulder blade pain to determine the cause and begin appropriate treatment.
Causes of Upper Arm Muscle Pain
Causes of Pain in the Right Arm
Inflamed Trigger Points in the Forearm
Neurological Disorders That Have Symptoms of Electrical Shock Feelings
How to Relieve Arm Pain Caused by a Pinched Nerve
Causes of Pain in the Neck & Back of the Head
Causes of Nerve Pain in the Hip & Leg
Causes of Pain on the Right Side of the Neck Down to the Shoulder
What Are the Causes of Pain, Numbness & Tingling in the Left Arm?
What Are the Causes of Burning Neck Pain?
- Instructions for Sports Medicine Patients, 2nd Edition; Marc Safran, et al.
- Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery: Entrapment of the Suprascapular Nerve
- American Family Physician: Peripheral Nerve Entrapment and Injury in the Upper Extremity
- Localization in Clinical Neurology, 6th Edition; Paul W. Brazis, et al.
- Wheeless' Textbook of Orthopaedics: Differential Diagnosis of Shoulder Pain
- GP Online: Referred Shoulder Pain
- Ronan L, D'souza S. Pancoast's tumour presenting as shoulder pain in an orthopaedic clinic. BMJ Case Rep. 2013;2013. doi:10.1136/bcr-2012-008131
- Brandt M, Sundstrup E, Jakobsen MD, et al. Association between Neck/Shoulder Pain and Trapezius Muscle Tenderness in Office Workers. Pain Res Treat. 2014;2014:352735. doi:10.1155/2014/352735
- Gostine M, Davis F, Roberts BA, et al. Clinical Characteristics of Fibromyalgia in a Chronic Pain Population. Pain Pract. 2018;18(1):67-78. doi:10.1111/papr.12583
- Kuhne M, Boniquit N, Ghodadra N, Romeo AA, Provencher MT. The snapping scapula: diagnosis and treatment. Arthroscopy. 2009;25(11):1298-311. doi:10.1016/j.arthro.2008.12.022
- Suh BK, You KH, Park MS. Can axial pain be helpful to determine surgical level in the multilevel cervical radiculopathy?. J Orthop Surg (Hong Kong). 2017;25(1):2309499016684091. doi:10.1177/2309499016684091
- O'keefe-mccarthy S, Ready L. Impact of Prodromal Symptoms on Future Adverse Cardiac-Related Events: A Systematic Review. J Cardiovasc Nurs. 2016;31(1):E1-10. doi:10.1097/JCN.0000000000000207
- Walter FM, Rubin G, Bankhead C, et al. Symptoms and other factors associated with time to diagnosis and stage of lung cancer: a prospective cohort study. Br J Cancer. 2015;112 Suppl 1:S6-13. doi:10.1038/bjc.2015.30
- Stankus SJ, Dlugopolski M, Packer D. Management of herpes zoster (shingles) and postherpetic neuralgia. Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(8):2437-44, 2447-8.
- Nyhsen C, Mahmood SU. Life-threatening haemoperitoneum secondary to rupture of simple ovarian cyst. BMJ Case Rep. 2014;2014. doi:10.1136/bcr-2014-205061
- Di massa A, Avella R, Gentili C. Respiratory dysfunction related to diaphragmatic shoulder pain after abdominal and pelvic laparoscopy. Minerva Anestesiol. 1996;62(5):171-6.
- Evans J, Chapple A, Salisbury H, Corrie P, Ziebland S. "It can't be very important because it comes and goes"--patients' accounts of intermittent symptoms preceding a pancreatic cancer diagnosis: a qualitative study. BMJ Open. 2014;4(2):e004215.
- Demetrious J, Demetrious GJ. Lung cancer metastasis to the scapula and spine: a case report. Chiropr Osteopat. 2008;16:8. doi:10.1186/1746-1340-16-8
- Blann A. What is the purpose of liver function tests?. Nurs Times. 2014;110(6):17-9.
- Stapley S, Sharp D, Hamilton W. Negative chest X-rays in primary care patients with lung cancer. Br J Gen Pract. 2006;56(529):570-3.
- Mehta LS, Beckie TM, Devon HA, et al. Acute Myocardial Infarction in Women: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2016;133(9):916-47. doi:10.1161/CIR.0000000000000351
- Kibler, W., Sciascia, A., and T. Wilkes. Scapular dyskinesis and its relation to shoulder injury. Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. 2012. 20(6):364-72.
- Suh, B., You, K., and M. Park. Can axial pain be helpful to determine surgical level in the multilevel cervical radiculopathy. Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery. 2017. 25(1):2309499016684091.
- Warth, R., Spiegl, U., and P. Millett. Scapulothoracic bursitis and snapping scapula syndrome: a critical review of current evidence. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 2015. 43(1):236-45.
- Wright, A. et al. Diagnostic accuracy of scapular physical examination tests for shoulder disorders: a systemic review. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2012 Oct 18. (Epub ahead of print)
- Choi, H., Lee, P., and K. Kim. Scapuloplasty alleviates scapular pain resulting from lung cancer metastasis. Pain Physician. 2010. 13(5):485-91.
Based in Massachusetts, Carolyn Russell-DeLucas has been writing since 2007. She specializes in topics related to health, beauty and nutrition. Russell-DeLucas graduated from Brevard Community College with an Associate of Arts.