Pinched nerves are a very common condition that can happen anywhere in the body — lasting anywhere from minutes to years — and cause pain that is mild to severe. Also called nerve compression, this occurs when any part of the body, such as muscle, bone or connective tissue puts pressure on the tissue around a nerve in the central or peripheral nervous system. Parts of the body that bear a lot of weight and move a lot are most vulnerable to developing nerve compression.
Dealing with shoulder pain can disrupt your life and take you away from normal everyday functions like working, family gatherings and grocery shopping. Because the arms and shoulders bear so much weight and have such a wide range of motion, it is easy for a strained muscle or sprained ligament to cause a pinched nerve in the shoulder blade. Most minor issues should go away in a short period of time, but if pain lasts 3 months or longer it could be a sign that a different issue — like a spine condition — is the root cause of your pain and symptoms.
Likely causes of shoulder pain
There are many causes of a pinched nerve in the shoulder blade — from minor exercise-related strains to chronic, age-related conditions. Knowing about the main contributors and risk factors can help you and your primary care physician make a more targeted treatment plan. Here are some of the biggest causes:
- Repetitive motion or overexertion — Exercises, sports and jobs that require lifting with the upper body can cause strains and sprains that pinch a nerve in the shoulder blade.
- Obesity —Carrying extra weight, especially in your upper body, can put pressure on joints like the shoulder blade, making nerve compression more likely.
- Arthritis —The shoulder blades are prone to arthritis, causing inflammation and the growth of bone spurs which can both pinch nerves.
- Spine condition — Bulging and herniated discs and spinal arthritis can compress spinal nerves, causing radiating pain and other symptoms in the shoulders and arms.
If you are experiencing shoulder pain that has not gone away in a few days or a week, it is essential to see your primary care physician for diagnosis and treatment. This can help you relieve symptoms and lessen the risk of developing permanent nerve damage.
Initial treatment for a pinched nerve in the shoulder blade
Physicians can perform a physical exam, review of medical history and take imagery like an X-ray or MRI to hopefully diagnose of your condition. Treatments for a pinched nerve in the shoulder blade or the spine are usually conservative at first, including cold compresses, heating pads, rest, massage, light exercise and pain medication as needed.
Surgery to decompress a nerve, whether in the shoulder or the spine, is usually seen as a last-resort option due to the invasive nature of most procedures. If you have a spine condition and are considering surgery, ask your doctor about your suitability for a minimally invasive spine surgery, which can help you avoid many of the risks and difficulties of traditional procedures.