A pinched nerve in a shoulder blade is a common, but temporary condition that can be very painful and cause a lot of discomfort. A pinched nerve happens when too much pressure is applied to the tissue surrounding the nerve. In the shoulder blade, the pressure may result from a compressed or trapped nerve and impedes the transmission of signals from the brain to the nerve.
The most common areas where nerves are pinched include the carpal tunnel (where the median nerve at the wrist is injured), the elbow (frequently caused by leaning on elbows while sitting or driving), the upper thigh (where the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve is compressed), the knee (where the common peroneal nerve gets injured because of crossing the legs at the knee), the small of the back (where the sciatic nerve, which travels from the low back into the leg, gets compressed), the neck region, and the shoulder (where a pinched nerve can cause pain or tingling to travel into the arm).
Please note that a pinched nerve is very different from a tennis elbow, where the pain is caused by inflammation of the tendons of the elbow and not by compression of a nerve.
While a pinched nerve in the shoulder blade is not life-threatening, it adversely affects the quality of life.
Causes of pinched nerve in shoulder
A pinched nerve in the shoulder could be the direct or indirect result of a number of causes.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: This condition, which is more frequent in women, is a common contributor to pinched nerves.
- Large breasts: A poor posture in women with large breasts is a common cause of pinched nerve in the shoulders.
- Obesity: Excessive weight can put pressure on the muscles and nerves surrounding the shoulder and thereby increase the risk of a pinched nerve in the shoulder.
- Pregnancy: The swelling from pregnancy can put additional pressure on nerves and nerve pathways and thus put pregnant women at a higher risk for developing a pinched nerve in the shoulder.
- Other medical conditions: Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis can damage the nerves over time (the spurs of osteoarthritis compress the nerves), resulting in an increased risk of pinched nerves in the shoulders.
Common symptoms of pinched nerve in shoulder
A tingling sensation in the shoulder area is the most common symptom of a pinched nerve, and it is very often accompanied by some numbness. Initially, the tingling and numbness come and go occasionally, but over time the sensation becomes more persistent. A sharp jabbing pain could accompany the tingling, though some patients describe the pain as more of a burning sensation.
In more severe cases, the pinched nerve could result in muscle weakness as the nerve that controls the muscle has been irritated. If a pinched nerve that affect a muscle function is not quickly identified and rectified, the corresponding muscle may atrophy and decrease in function and size. Pinched nerve in shoulder blades with tingling fingers is sometimes experienced in people with high sensitivity.
Treatment options for pinched nerve in shoulder blade
Once a differential diagnosis confirms that you have a pinched nerve, there are many things you can do from the comfort of your home to get relief for your pinched nerve in the shoulder blade. Of course, your doctor will give you a good pinched nerve in shoulder blade remedy or suggest tips to help manage the condition better. However, it goes without saying that as the pinched nerve is a result of a physical cause — poor body posture, obesity, lifting heavy objects, or a bone spur — it is important to treat the underlying cause, too. Here are some tips you can follow to get relief from this painful condition:
- Rest: Complete rest of the area — not moving your hand or arm — can help a pinched nerve heal.
- Sleeping posture: Sleeping flat on your back can help reduce the pressure that might be causing the pinched nerve.
- Correct body posture: Something as simple as standing erect and sitting erect can help ease the pressure off the nerve and give you the relief you need.
- Hot and cold compresses: Alternately applying a cold pack to the area for 15 minutes, followed by a heating pad for 15 minutes can help relieve the pain.
- Medications: While regular over-the-counter painkillers, such as Tylenol, ibuprofen, or naproxen, can help mask the pain, nerve-specific medications like Lyrica or Neurontin might be more helpful. A good muscle relaxant can also help ease the discomfort.
- Injections and surgery: Cortisone injections are pretty useful in killing the pain, but if they too do not work, surgery might be indicated. But surgery should only be seen as a last resort and should be undertaken only after all other treatment options have been exhausted.
- Other options: There are other options available to you, and it might be a good idea to try these before you go for the scalpel. Physiotherapy can help you relieve the pressure on the pinched nerve by stretching and lengthening the surrounding muscles. Acupuncture is being highly regarded these days and many people suffering with a pinched nerve are experiencing a long-awaited relief thanks to this ancient science.
Exercises to reduce symptoms of pinched nerve in shoulder blade
There are a few simple, but effective exercises you can do to get relief from the pinched nerve in your shoulder and sometimes even release it. However, it might be a good idea to take the advice of a physical therapist to see which exercise would be most appropriate for you. Remember, overexerting a particular muscle or nerve could just make things worse than they already are. Here are a few easy to do pinched nerve shoulder blade exercises.
Range of Motion Exercise
Stand up and stretch out your affected arm in front of your body. Make sure your elbow is not bent. Extend your arm outwards towards the left or right. Finally, place your arm at your side and raise it behind your body. Next, make a circle with your arm — starting from a relaxed position at your side, stretch your arm in front of you, over your head, behind you, and back to the starting position. Relax your arm and repeat.
Stand erect with shoulders squared yet relaxed. Clasp both your hands behind your lower back. If you cannot do so, hold on to a pole or towel that is in a horizontal position behind your back. Now lift your clasped hands or the pole/towel away from your body without bending your elbows. Maintain position for half a minute. Relax. Repeat. Remember to maintain your upright posture, or the stretch will not take effect.
A shoulder blade squeeze performed standing up or sitting down can strengthen the muscles around the shoulder. To do this, squeeze your shoulders together while ensuring your back is straight. Hold this position for a few seconds and relax. Repeat five times in quick succession.
Another popular yet easy strengthening exercise is the shoulder blade shrug. Making sure that your back and neck are straight, place your arms at your sides with your palms facing out. Now raise your shoulders towards your ear and hold the position. Relax and repeat five times in quick succession.
Yoga is another great way to get relief from a pinched nerve. If you practice yoga, find which asanas are best suited for a pinched nerve of the shoulder blade and do it regularly. Just be careful to avoid overdoing it. And remember, it is best to consult with your doctor before starting off on any of these exercises.