Pain Under Left Shoulder Blade
It happens to all of us, especially as we get older. You wake up one morning with pain under your left shoulder blade, sometimes so bad you can hardly move at all. And you have no idea how you hurt it. The thing is, a lot of injuries, especially to muscles and tendons, don’t really start to hurt until the next day. So now you are partially incapacitated, and probably not in the best of moods. But, before you reach for that bottle of Tylenol, there are few things you should know, if you want to heal quickly, and with a minimum of pain. If you do it right, chances are you’ll be back in action in a few days. Otherwise, you could be causing yourself weeks, or months of unnecessary pain, and even the risk of a permanent loss of function.
There are four muscles under the shoulder blade, or scapula, as we medical people like to call it. Together, they are called the Rotator Cuff Muscles, because they stabilize the shoulder joint, and hold it together. On the front part of the scapula, above the ridge that makes that little ‘V’ where your neck and shoulders join is the Supraspinatous muscle. Under the ridge lies the Subscapularis muscle. An injury to these muscles will cause pain mostly when you move your shoulder forward. If the pain is mostly above the ridge, it is the Supraspinatous, that is injured. If the pain is below, then it is the Subscapularis. On the back of your scapula, on the upper (or superior) quadrant, you have the Infraspinatous muscle, which is the most commonly injured one, and right below that, there is the Teres minor. If the injury is to the Infraspinatous it will really hurt when you flex your shoulder backwards, and to a lesser degree, when you reach up and back. If the injury is to the Teres minor, you will hit the ceiling when you try to reach up and back. This is how you determine which muscle is hurt. Be aware that these muscles work as a group, so it is not uncommon to injure more than one muscle.
The first step is to try to determine what caused the injury. The next step is to not do that again, at least for a while. There are many things that can cause pain under left shoulder blade, but the most common is a simple over-extension injury, or ‘strain’. This is caused by reaching up, and behind repeatedly, such as stacking things on tall shelves, improper lifting techniques, or even an accident where there is actual trauma to the muscles. Whatever the cause, the treatment is the same. It is called RICE, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
Notice that nowhere is there a mention of pain-killers. Avoid them as much as possible. Here’s why: When a muscle is injured. or strained, tiny microscopic tears appear in the tissue, which cause a build-up of lactic acid. This causes pain, and makes the muscle contract to protect itself from further injury, which causes more pain, which causes more contraction, which causes more pain……you get the picture. This is called ischemia, or in plain English, spasms. Unless you break the cycle, you will be hurting for a good long while. Pain-killers do nothing to stop this cycle. What happens is that you quit feeling pain (which is the body’s way of telling you to stop what you are doing), and just keep on, and cause even more injury. In severe cases, muscle relaxers may be needed to stop severe spasms, but usually, RICE is very successful.
The first part, Rest is easy. You won’t feel like doing much anyway. The muscle needs time to heal. Pile up some pillows behind you in the bed, or park in your favorite easy-chair, put on some cartoons, or old movies, set yourself up with some popcorn, and soft drinks or tea, and just relax for a day or two. This may be a good time to catch up on your reading. Inform all the other house members that you are injured, and are, “out-of-service” for the next 48 hours or so. If an emergency come up, tell them to handle it. Next, you need to apply an ice pack. Do not put ice, or a cold pack directly against your skin. It will freeze the tissue and hurt. Wrap the pack or ice in a towel. Put the ice pack against the painful area, and keep it there for 20-25 minutes out of every hour. You’ll start feeling better very quickly. Next, in between ice-packs, apply gentle compression to the area using gauze wraps, pillows, or an understanding significant other. Don’t over do it. You just want to keep circulation moving through the area to flush out the lactic acid. Lastly, keep the injured area above the level of your heart, so fluids do not accumulate in the injured area. Prop yourself up with soft pillows, or use a reclining chair.
If you don’t seem to be getting any better after a day or so, you need to see a physician. The injury may be more severe than you initially determined. The good news is that you have not made it worse, and made a great start to the healing process, which makes your physician’s job a lot easier. When you are injured, or sick, this is the time to be a little selfish. Take care of yourself. Bodies are one to a customer, and you mess this one up, you’re stuck with it.
Good health to you…..
Nothing in this article is to be considered medical advice of any kind. It is for informational purposes only. If you feel you have a medical problem, see a licensed physician as soon as possible.