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Upper back pain left of right shoulder blade

Original Post
rudedog205 · · River falls, WI · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 0

Around 9 months ago in january I strained something in my upper back between my right shoulder blade and spine from overuse I think. I'm assuming it's my rhomboid or mid trap. I've been told it could have to do with how heavy my backpack was (I'm in highschool). I haven't been able to climb without aggravating it and there are a bunch of knots in it that never seem to go away and previously I had a labrum repair on my left side in December of 2015 so i havent really been able to climb all that much for like a year or even workout which is driving me absolutely insane I lost about 35 pounds of muscle because of all this. I've been seeing a chiropractor for the past 6 months which helped a little bit at first and got the radiating pain to go away but then kinda stopped doing a whole lot just temporary partial relief. I've also been going to PT for the past 2 months which has made the pain go from a 5 to a 3 most of the time but it shoots straight up to 10 if I try to workout, rock climb,or sit in a desk for prolonged periods of time. the pain stays centralized along the length of my shoulder blade. I went to a regular doctor who was useless along with a sports surgeon who said there was nothing he could do about it. Could this be something more serious than a muscle strain like a slipped disc? Has anyone had any experiences with something like this? It's really starting to worry me as it hasn't gotten better in 9 months and I really wanna get back to rock climbing and working out ASAP. also I would prefer to avoid surgery as I know how recovery is.

Ryan Hamilton · · Orem · Joined Aug 2011 · Points: 20

A good sports med-centric chiropractor may be of use here. I visit mine a couple of times a year for stuff like this so that he can work things out before they get too chronic and painful.

The knots next to the shoulder blade can be tough to work out, but if you can find a good doc he should be able to make some significant improvement after a few sessions.

In the meantime you can use a lacrosse ball to help work out some of those knots. Just put it on the wall and lean back into and put some pressure and roll through some of the knots. Just do for 5 min. or so a day, overdoing it will be painful the next day. I do this when I start to feel something develop and it can usually keep me healthy.

rudedog205 · · River falls, WI · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 0

I'll try using a la Crosse ball then. Ive been trying to use a tennis ball which hasn't seemed to dig deep enough.

Cat. · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 5

I've struggled with a very similar pain for about 7 years (only been climbing for the past four). For me it's been aggravated by years of microscope work, where my head/neck are leaned forward and my right arm is elevated working with 'scope controls/etc. It also flares up on long road trips from the way I hold my arm while shifting gears. My PT told me it was from a very stiff thoracic spine that caused tightness in the surrounding muscles, which also put a lot of strain on the rhomboid. Climbing probably doesn't make it better, either. :)

A few main things do help it, 1) rolling aggressively with a lacrosse ball, 2) foam rolling, 3) that "external rotation" shoulder exercise and scapular squeeze exercise, and 4) this weird trick with a towel (hard to describe). Basically, roll up a towel and put it around your back, holding each end in either hand. Try to line it up between your ribs around where it hurts, then pull up on the towel with your hands (towel should stay stationary on back) while exhaling and leaning forward (sort of rolling down, like you would for a front bend in yoga).

Edit: Oh, and my favorite stretch: turn your head down and to the left, sort of looking into your armpit, and pull down on your head with your left hand (right arm can be behind the back). If you angle your head a certain way this feels like a deep stretch in between spine/scapula.

If out in the wilderness, you can attack the sore spot pretty well with a Nalgene.

rudedog205 · · River falls, WI · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 0

Thanks for the advice! I'll try those things to see if they help.

jedeye · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 5

Sounds like it could be a rib out of place, especially if there's some sharp pain when you breathe deeply. Or that might just be part of the picture.

A wider view would include how much mobility/tension is in your upper torso, with attention to your sides (all the way into your armpits) and to the front of your ribs, where they meet your sternum. Restriction anywhere in the ribs will keep the spine from moving as much as it should, and tension and knots will persist.

Try side bends, with arms stretched overhead, to free up your ribs and spine, within a 'no pain' range. Think about breathing deeply, and picture all the relatively soft discs between the vertebrae. The spine (and ribs) should have room to move freely.

Think, too, about how the shoulderblades should 'float' on the ribs. Move them around, slowly, as much as you can, to free up muscles in that area. If they're clamped down tightly on the ribs, that will restrict movement, too.

Get a massage, but only from someone who understands the three-dimensionality of the body, and that all the work in the world on those 'sore spots' (including digging things into them yourself) won't fix them, and might actually worsen the situation, by contributing to underlying imbalances.

To open the front of your ribs, lie on your back with a pillow between your shoulderblades. Let your arms hang on the floor above your head. Breathe, and feel the stretch in your pecs and sternum. Hang out for a few minutes, again only if there's no pain, and see if that helps.

Oh yeah - careful with anything that will tighten your front and sides, including bench presses, lat pull-downs, swimming, climbing, working at a desk,... These will add restriction to your ribs and spine. Make sure you balance them with stretching and opening of the front and sides, and strengthening of your upper back.

Good luck.

Oh - last tip - the shoulderblades are, ideally, suspended in a muscular 'sling,' which includes the muscles where your knots are, the pecs (more remotely), and a hidden one that lies deep in the back of your armpit, between the shoulderblade and the ribs. Tension in that subscapularis muscle will pull the shoulderblade away from the spine and glue it to the ribs. It's very worth seeing if someone can gently get in there and free that muscle up. It shouldn't take much, and there are nerves in there to avoid, but relief can be significant.

Ian Warren · · Brooklyn , NY · Joined Sep 2012 · Points: 0

Hi all,

Like the original poster, I'm now about 9 months in to a very very similar sounding issue.. I've tried PT, all kinds of doctors, cortisone shot, and Tui Na massage... so far only slight improvements.

checking in here with @Cat and @rudedog205 (or others with an injured rhomboid that doesn't seem to heal) -- have you all found a solution that worked??

rudedog205 · · River falls, WI · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 0

Haven't figured out how to get it to heal yet and it's been almost 2 years but something that helped was acupuncture even though it didn't fix my problem, it lessened the pain a bit

jedeye · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 5

Again - it's important to think about not only where you're feeling pain, but what else plays a role in that area. In the case of rhomboids/mid-traps, they could be locked in a constant struggle, from posture and/or muscle imbalance, against the serratus, subscapularis, pecs, lats, ... (Ian - those are all the muscles you're using on those overhanging 12s at Rumney. They might be fun routes, but they might also be making your back worse.) Especially when you've had pain for a while, other muscles WILL be involved, and nerves will likely be inflamed or damaged. Nerves take a while to heal, so even if you get the muscles back in balance, the pain can persist. Digging into where it hurts is usually not very effective, and can add irritation to the area, making it worse. My experience has been that working slowly, carefully, and precisely to loosen the front of the shoulder, along with a little precise pressure on the back of the ribs (where they meet the spine), while encouraging full breaths and gentle pec stretches, can lead to a lot of relief from what you're describing. That and laying off the steep stuff for a while... Look up some Rolfers in your area, find one that you like, and see if that helps. Good luck!

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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