Shoulder Blade Pain When Breathing

Sleeping sideways for long periods, lung disorders and issues with the cervical spine can cause shoulder blade pain while breathing. Shoulder arthritis that usually affects older people may also be responsible for causing discomfort while inhaling and exhaling air.
HealthHearty Staff
Last Updated: Mar 19, 2018
The shoulder blade or the scapula is a triangular bony structure that is located at the back of the shoulder. A physical injury or overuse of the shoulder (joint) is the most common cause of shoulder blade pain. For instance, an injury that damages the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder can cause pain at the back of shoulder that aggravates during inhalation. Carrying out repetitive tasks involving the shoulder for a long time can strain the rotator muscles and cause pain that worsens while deep breathing. However, in some cases, despite no injury or physical exertion, people experience discomfort in the shoulder blades. They complain that taking deep breaths is primarily responsible for causing shoulder blade pain. This issue has been discussed below:
Shoulder Blade Pain When Taking Deep Breaths
There have been instances wherein people experience slight irritation in their shoulder blade while breathing. In some cases, patients struggle to bear this shoulder pain as it aggravates with every deep breath. To avoid taking a deep breath can be a temporary solution to lessen the pain. It is observed that laughing, sneezing, coughing or yawning also triggers this shoulder blade pain. Difficulty sleeping and having a hard time focusing on day-to-day routine are some of the issues associated with people suffering from this type of shoulder pain.
Lung Problems
In case the lungs have been affected with some infection, it can cause shoulder blade pain. Lung issues are common among smokers and hence they are vulnerable to this type of problem. People diagnosed with lung collapse do feel this pain during deep breaths. Common respiratory issues that include common cold and seasonal flu and other medical conditions such as pulmonary embolism and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), often attributed to long-term smoking can also cause shoulder pain while breathing.
Pinched Nerve
Shoulder blade pain is often associated with degeneration of the cervical spine (neck). The cervical spine, that originates from the base of the skull, is made up of 7 bones (intervertebral discs), and has 8 cervical nerves that exit from the spinal cord. In case of damage to any of the nerves, also referred to as 'pinched nerve', it can cause shoulder blade pain while breathing. Any injury that displaces intervertebral discs from its normal position puts undue pressure on the cervical nerves. As a result, the nerves get compressed, which may lead to shoulder blade pain that worsens with breathing.
Improper Posture
Sleeping in an inappropriate manner can put a lot of strain on the shoulder muscles and cause pain that exacerbates while breathing. Improper sleeping posture such as lying down sideways can hurt the shoulder and taking a deep breath may worsen the pain. No wonder, sore shoulders common after side sleeping tend to worsen during breathing exercises. Even wrong sitting posture can cause shoulder blade pain that worsens while breathing.
Gallbladder Problems
The gallbladder is a small sac-like organ located just below the liver in the right abdominal area. The gallbladder receives digestive juices from the liver which are then transported to the stomach to promote digestion. So, any issues with the gallbladder such as gallstones or cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder) causes radiating pain that travels all the way up to the right shoulder area. These gallbladder problems that also cause shoulder discomfort tends to aggravate while taking deep breaths. Nausea, loss of appetite and abdominal discomfort especially after having a meal are some of the most common symptoms associated with gallbladder problems.
Joint and Bone Problems
Shoulder joints are vulnerable to damage and pain in old age, often due to arthritis. So, elderly feeling shoulder blade pain while breathing may be attributed to arthritis, a condition that is typically marked by deterioration of cartilage, causing inflammation of joints. Osteoporosis of shoulders in which the shoulder bones become brittle and weak can also cause pain while breathing. As the condition progresses, shoulders stoop in the forward direction, giving rise to a hunched posture.
Rib Injury
The term 'ribs' refers to 12 pairs of bones that form a cage-like structure around the chest. When any of these bones are subjected to excess pressure during to an accident, when playing contact sports or excessive coughing, they may get damaged and cause shoulder blade pain that worsens when taking deep breaths.
Treatment will depend upon the underlying cause. As simple as adopting correct postures when sleeping or sitting may work to stop this excruciating pain. Taking over the counter pain-killers may also help to reduce discomfort. Nerve impingement can also be treated with exercises that may help to alleviate pressure on the affected nerve. Chiropractor therapy is also found to be useful to treat pinched nerve. In case, conventional treatment doesn't work, the patient will have to undergo blood tests, CT or a MRI scan to nail the underlying cause for accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.