Upper Back Pain

Sharp Pain Between the Shoulder Blades

Table of Contents

Want to skip ahead?
Here’s link to my post about
getting relief on your own.

How People Describe This Pain Pattern

People complain of sharp pain along the spine of the upper back between the shoulder blades. The intensity varies a great deal. It can be nagging and achy or sharp during a deep breath. Although there are several patterns between the shoulder blades, this one is right along the spine. Often, people complain of an out-of-place vertebra. People complain about their trunk movement and breathing and not about pain in their arms and neck.

May be a Bit Higher or Lower

This illustration shows a focus of pain along the thoracic spine, where this often occurs. It may also occur above and below the spot shown, along the spine and ribs. Trigger points in these tiny muscles between the vertebrae create this sharp pain.

When it is more severe and creates a sharp pain on breathing, People often described it as a rib head that is out. There is some truth to that. A twist in a vertebra is often associated with this pain. The rib head, which seats into that rib, is not seated well. For the practitioner, this creates a firm, raised bump right there.

How You Activate and Intensify This Pain Pattern

Cold Pressed

People complain of this after an awkward position with their arms raised, like painting or installing tile. It can also happen when sitting in an uncomfortable chair at a conference, especially when the stiff back of the chair presses into a specific spot in your back. At times, clients report a sharp pain after sleeping on a cold or hard surface. I’ve had that myself.

Twist and Ouch

Some people wake up with sharp pain in the upper back after a previous day of some unusual activity like gardening or moving. As well, it can result from a twisting fall or motor vehicle accident. Sometimes it is twisting while precariously balanced or sneezing creates this sharp pain between the shoulder blades.

The Musculoskeletal Anatomy Behind Your Pain

These tiny muscles adjust the tension and position of the vertebrae. They overlap to create a complex set of guy wires to stabilize the spine. Cervical multifidi produce different referral patterns. I discuss them in this post.

You can read more about them in this post about multifidi and rotatores.

Getting Relief on Your Own

Clinically Proven
Self-Care Strategies

This post has strategies for getting relief on your own. Explore how to change your activities, stretch, and other strategies that relieve the pain associated with this trigger point.

Therapy Notes for Massage and Bodywork

Better Bodywork
Through Shared Expertise

This post has techniques, tips, treatment routines, and anatomy illustrations to improve the bodyworker’s approach.

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Tony Preston has a practice in Atlanta, Georgia, where he sees clients. He has written materials and instructed classes since the mid-90s. This includes anatomy, trigger points, cranial, and neuromuscular.

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*This site is undergoing significant changes. We are reformatting and expanding the posts to make them easier to read. The result will also be more accessible and include more patterns with better self-care. Meanwhile, there may be formatting, content presentation, and readability inconsistencies. Until we get older posts updated, please excuse our mess.

Tony Preston

Tony Preston, LMT has been treating adults and children since the early 90s. He has authored a number of texts on neuromuscular and craniosacral techniques. He has taught Neuromuscular Therapy for ASHA School of Massage and craniosacral the National Institute of Craniosacral Studies. He currently teaches seminars in Integrative Craniosacral techniques at The Body Guild.

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