What Causes Upper Left Back Pain Under Shoulder Blades?

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Upper back pain is a common discomfort experienced by many adults. Many people go through it in different forms of pain and different regions of their upper back. Most of the time, the pain goes away after a few days after some stretching or exercise. Some specific instances, however, such as upper left back pain under the shoulder blades can be signs of developing diseases if chronic pain persists.

So what causes upper left back pain under the shoulder blades? This form of back pain can be caused by lifestyle factors such as poor posture and regular muscle strain, and can accordingly be corrected with lifestyle change and exercise. In cases when the pain persists for days or weeks, it might be a sign of a disorder in your spine or back muscles. In worse cases, it is a referred pain indicative of a chronic disorder elsewhere in your body. 

What Are the Causes of Upper Left Back Pain Under Shoulder Blade?

Pain in the upper back is commonly caused by problems in the spine (i.e., cervical spine and thoracic spine) as well as in the muscular system composing the region. Some of the most common causes of upper back pain and shoulder pain in the left region include poor posture, muscle strain, spinal stenosis, vertebral fracture, and kyphosis. 

These problems are directly concentrated in the spinal and shoulder blade regions. With the help of a surgeon or physical therapist, pain relief and correction can be achieved.

1) Poor Posture

Poor posture is one of the most common lifestyle risk factors for upper back pain. Whether you are working at a desk job, using your phone often, or sitting in a slouching position, prolonged habits of bad posture can weaken your spine and back muscles in the long run. 

In some cases, structural changes to the thoracic spine and muscles due to poor posture can cause shoulder blade pain. Depending on your posture, prolonged periods of these structural changes may also cause one-sided upper back pain, thoracic spine pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, headache, and difficulty in breathing.

2) Muscle Strain, Overuse, and Injury

Another common cause of shoulder pain and upper back pain is muscle strain due to lifestyle choices or injury. One can acquire muscle strain through overuse of the shoulder muscles, arm muscles, and back muscles, as well as through awkward and sudden movements such as sneezing and coughing. Physically demanding work, wrong weightlifting form, and accidents can cause injuries and muscle strain that can lead to upper back pain and shoulder blade pain.

Overuse and injury can cause muscle strain and damage to different areas of the upper back, such as the spine, the scapula, the trapezius muscles, shoulder blade muscles, and shoulder ligaments. 

Examples of these damages include:

  • Scapulothoracic bursitis: Also known as the snapping scapula syndrome, it is characterized by the inflammation of the bursa between the thoracic spine and shoulder blade. 
  • Rotator cuff tears: Shoulder blade muscle spasm and upper back pain can also be caused by torn rotator cuffs because of overuse and injury. Rotator cuffs are muscles joining the scapula and the humerus and moving the shoulder joint.
  • Myofascial pain: Myofascial pain is characterized by muscle spasm in different “trigger points” (muscle knot), causing pain to your back or other parts of the body.
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome: Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) is due to the injury or compression of blood vessels and nerves between the collarbone and the first rib. Its symptoms include shoulder pain, neck pain, upper back pain, and muscle weakness in these areas.

3) Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is characterized by an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal which contains the spinal cord. Spinal stenosis can be caused by a slipped disc, arthritis, or bone spurs due to osteoporosis or scoliosis.

If you have spinal stenosis, your spinal cord is compressed, resulting in sharp neck pain, shoulder blade pain, upper back pain, muscle weakness, and in more severe cases, numbness and bowel dysfunction.

4) Bone Fracture

Upper back pain and shoulder blade pain can also be caused by bone fractures due to accidents and diseases such as osteoporosis. Vertebral fractures, for instance, can cause upper back pain. Fractures in the vertebrae can be caused by an overextension of movement while having severe osteoporosis. Vertebral fractures can also be caused by external accidents such as falls from heights, sports injuries, and vehicle collisions. 

These accidents can also cause shoulder blade fractures. Trauma and injuries fracturing the shoulder blades can cause sharp pain in the back and shoulders. A person who acquired fractures in the shoulder blades and the spine vertebrae requires immediate medical attention to prevent fatal complications such as injury to the lungs and the spinal cord.

5) Severe Kyphosis

Kyphosis (also known as a hunchback) is a spinal condition characterized by an excessive outward curving of the upper spine. Mild kyphosis does not pose threats aside from poor posture, but a severe case can cause upper back pain, shoulder blade pain, and breathing problems.

Associated Risk Factors and Symptoms With Upper Back Pain Around Shoulder Blades

Almost everything in your body is connected through systems. When the upper left back pain in your shoulder blade area persists, it may be a referred pain or a symptom caused by another injured organ elsewhere in your body systems. Some disorders linked to upper left back pain and shoulder blade pain include constipation, acid reflux, gallbladder inflammation, heart attack, and kidney problems.

1) Upper Left Back Pain GI Problems

Through some nerves in your body, pain can radiate from gastrointestinal (GI) problems and trigger upper back pain. When a patient experiences upper left back pain and shoulder blade pain alongside discomforts in the abdominal area, it might be a sign of a condition related to a gastrointestinal problem. Common GI problems associated with upper back pain include pancreatitis, acid reflux, constipation, and cholecystitis.

a) Upper Left Back Pain and Pancreatitis

The inflammation of the pancreas is called pancreatitis and is one of the most common causes of referred pain in the upper left back. Pancreatitis usually involves the main symptom of upper abdominal pain which radiates to the upper back. If you experience both of these symptoms simultaneously, it might indicate a sign of pancreatitis.

Acute pancreatitis also manifests through other symptoms which you might feel alongside upper back pain. These include:

  • Fast heartbeat
  • Swollen Abdomen
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever

b) Upper Left Back Pain and Heartburn

The burning sensation in the chest due to acid reflux can also radiate to your upper back. Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD) happens when your stomach acid and bile travel upward from your stomach through the esophagus, irritating the esophageal wall lining and causing pain radiating from the abdomen to the chest and the upper back

The coincidence of GERD and upper back pain can be caused by intake of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, stress due to ongoing symptoms and pain, and overconsumption of “trigger foods”. 

In mild cases, GERD can also be accompanied by heartburn, indigestion, regurgitation, nausea, lower back pain, and abdominal pain. However, in severe cases that might require medical attention, severe pain in the upper back pain GERD can be experienced alongside:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe pain in the chest
  • Arm, jaw, and neck pain
  • Difficulty swallowing 
  • Blood in vomit and stool
  • Weight loss
  • Coughing

c) Upper Left Back Pain and Constipation

Simply defined, constipation is a difficulty in bowel movement. Constipation causes swelling in the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in pressure on your lower back, thus also causing lower back pain alongside abdominal pain on certain occasions.

Upper back pain caused by constipation is a less common occurrence than that of lower back pain. A coincidence of constipation and upper back pain may be caused by a prior injury to your nerves which is only triggered by the arrival of constipation. 

Could Upper Back Pain Around Scapula Be Related to Gallbladder Inflammation?

Inflammation of the gallbladder or cholecystitis is usually caused by gallstones that trap the bile inside your gallbladder, causing a bacterial infection. Gallstones are deposits of cholesterol or bilirubin forming in the gallbladder and amount to sizes ranging from those sand grains to golf balls.

Acute cholecystitis due to gallstones accounts for 95% of the cases of said disease. Its main symptom which is gallbladder attack is characterized by a sudden and sharp pain beginning in the upper right abdomen and referred to as upper back pain and interscapular pain. Other symptoms of gallbladder inflammation are: 

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Indigestion
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Jaundice

2) Upper Left Back Pain and Heart Attack

Heart attacks are caused by blockages (e.g., cholesterol and fatty substances) in the blood flow to the heart. Its most conventional symptoms are sharp chest pain and shortness of breath. In many instances, a heart attack can also manifest through subtle and seemingly unrelated symptoms such as upper left back pain. 

Referred pain from a heart attack due to the abundance of nerves connecting the heart to the head, neck, and back. This means a person experiencing a heart attack may also experience upper left back pain, jaw pain, neck pain, and nausea among others. According to the American Heart Association, women are more vulnerable to a heart attack with symptoms of referred pain in the back and the jaw.

Could Dull Upper Back Pain on the Left Side Under the Shoulder Blade Be Kidney Related?

Kidney-related diseases can cause upper back pain. This is because the kidneys are located in this region. However, there are noticeable differences between upper back pain due to spinal and muscle damage and those due to kidney disease. For instance, back pain due to kidney stones is characterized by sudden and unprovoked pain that is either severe or dull, persisting in waves and changing intensity. 

It starts in the upper back near the kidney and eventually moves through the groin and the ureter as the kidney stones travel down. According to the National Kidney Federation, kidney pain felt in the upper back is commonly caused by infection (acute pyelonephritis) and kidney stones.

What Are Some Treatments for Upper Left Side Back Pain

Upper left back pain can be caused by a multitude of factors. With the right diagnosis, your doctor can prescribe a wide variety of treatments such as medications, exercises, and lifestyle changes.

  • Home remedies: For back pain caused by muscle strain or poor posture, your doctor can recommend home remedies such as cold or hot compress to relax your muscles. 
  • Physical therapy: Back pain can also be alleviated through massages and light exercises as prescribed by physical therapists. Depending on your case, they may also recommend that you undergo heat stimulation, electrical stimulation, and other pain relief techniques.
  • Medications: Your physician may also prescribe over-the-counter medications such as pain relievers, muscle relaxers, and anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Surgery and specialized procedures: For severe cases such as spinal stenosis, you might need to undergo surgical procedures and case-specific techniques for upper back pain and shoulder blade pain relief.

Get Reliable Upper Left Shoulder Blade Back Pain Relief Now With Gramercy Pain Center

Upper back pain can be due to incorrect use of your back and shoulders in which pain relief can be achieved through exercise and stretching. However, it can also be severe or persisting, indicating other chronic disorders that might prove fatal if not taken seriously.

Here at Gramercy Pain Center, our team of pain experts and physicians are here to help in investigating the cause of your back pain and shoulder pain. We provide a wide variety of pain relief techniques for our patients suffering from different kinds of pain, from the different parts of the back to the extremities. 

Schedule an appointment with us today to start your journey to worry-free pain relief.

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