Pain under your shoulder blade can be a sharp or burning pain near the spine, or more of a deep aching sensation that spreads across the shoulder or upper back. When shoulder blade pain persists, it can affect quality of life and limit arm and back movements. Here are 5 ideas that may help relieve your shoulder blade pain.

1. Rest your upper back from activity

If your pain worsens when you do certain movements or physical activities, such as household chores or exercise, rest for a day or two. Pausing from physical activity may help reduce your pain and prevent overuse. Don’t cease from activity for too long or altogether, though. Many people report that a sedentary life makes the upper back pain worse. Remaining in one position for too long, as in sitting behind a desk, may also aggravate the symptoms. Try taking frequent breaks and change the position to allow for a “reset” before getting back to sitting.

2. Apply ice and/or heat

Cold therapy, such as ice wrapped in cloth, can be applied to your back for about 10 to 20 minutes at a time, with at least a 2-hour break in between sessions. Heat therapy, such as a heating pad, is best used for 15 or 20 minutes per treatment, with no more than one treatment every 2 hours. To protect your skin, always include a layer between the ice or heat source and your skin. Try alternating between ice therapy and heat therapy to see which helps relieve your pain the most.

See Ice Packs for Back Pain Relief and How to Apply Heat Therapy


3. Take over-the-counter (OTC) medication

OTC medications, which can be purchased at a local grocery store or drug store without a prescription, may ease some types of shoulder blade pain. Some of these medications work to reduce inflammation, such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox DS, Naprosyn). Other OTC medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), may work by preventing or altering pain signals in the brain. OTC medications still have risks even though no prescription is required. Be sure to read and follow the directions on the label.

See Top 3 Over-the-Counter Remedies for Back Pain (Plus a Fourth)


4. Massage it out

The pain under your shoulder blade may feel like a tight knot due to a muscle spasm. A massage can help loosen your muscles and get more blood to the affected area. Seek out a willing friend or family member—or a professional—to massage the painful spot, which can release tension and bring about relief.

Some techniques for self-massage of the shoulder blade include using a foam roller or racquetball. (A tennis ball or lacrosse ball will do the job as well.) These types of massage can be performed by placing the foam roller or ball between the back and a wall, then gently rolling side to side or up and down.

5. Visit a health care provider

If the above treatments don’t effectively reduce the pain under your shoulder blade, visit a physiatrist, chiropractor, or physical therapist. These health care providers will evaluate you for the source of the pain and can individually tailor plans that will help strengthen and stretch your upper back, neck, and core muscles. They might also provide manual manipulation, using hand maneuvers to loosen stiff muscles or misaligned joints.

You may need to take a trial and error approach with these tips. Try a combination of these treatment ideas to see what reduces the pain under your shoulder blade.

See Medical Treatments for Upper Back Pain

Learn more:

7 Possible Causes of Pain Under Your Shoulder Blade

Causes of Shoulder Blade Pain Video

Dr. Zinovy Meyler is a physiatrist with over a decade of experience specializing in the non-surgical care of spine, muscle, and chronic pain conditions. He is the Co-Director of the Interventional Spine Program at the Princeton Spine and Joint Center.