The shoulder blade is a triangular bone in the upper back. Injuries to the shoulder blade cause pain and difficulty moving the shoulder or arm. Treatments vary depending on the cause, but they might include stretching exercises or medications.

In some cases, the cause of right shoulder blade pain is an underlying medical condition, such as gallstones or peptic ulcer disease. These conditions might lead to symptoms that directly or indirectly affect the shoulder blades.

This article discusses several possible causes of pain in the right shoulder blade and explains how to treat them.

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When a person strains or injures their shoulder blade, the cause may be obvious. Potential causes of a strained or injured shoulder blade include:

  • trauma from a fall or collision
  • lifting a heavy object
  • sleeping in an uncomfortable or unusual position

Due to its position in the body, the shoulder blade is not easy to break or fracture. However, a possible cause of a broken shoulder blade is a high impact collision, such as a car accident.

Symptoms

Additional symptoms that could appear alongside pain include:

  • darkening of the skin
  • bruising
  • a reduced range of motion in the arm
  • swelling
  • numbness

Treatment

When a person injures or strains their right shoulder blade, they can often resolve the symptoms with care at home. Options that could help include:

  • resting
  • applying ice or a cold compress to the area
  • taking pain relief medications
  • massaging the area gently

Doctors will usually treat a fractured shoulder blade by immobilizing the area with a sling. However, in approximately 10–20% of cases, surgery is necessary.

Arthritis refers to conditions that affect the joints and surrounding tissues.

The most common form is osteoarthritis, in which the cartilage within a joint wears down over time.

Symptoms

Arthritis in the shoulder can cause the following symptoms alongside pain:

  • swelling
  • reduced range of motion in the arm
  • stiffness

Treatment

At present, there is no cure for osteoarthritis. However, doctors may recommend various ways to manage and relieve the symptoms. These include:

  • muscle-strengthening exercises
  • physical therapy
  • pain-relieving medication
  • corticosteroid injections

If the arthritis is particularly severe, surgery is an option.

Learn more about exercises for shoulder arthritis here.

Gallstone disease is a common cause of hospitalization around the world. The disease occurs when the gallbladder does not sufficiently drain bile, and excess cholesterol in this fluid forms stones.

Other types of gallstones include:

  • pigmented gallstones, from the breakdown of red blood cells
  • mixed pigmented gallstones, which are a combination of calcium salts, cholesterol, and bile
  • calcium stones, from buildups of calcium in people with high blood calcium levels

Some factors that increase the risk of gallstone disease include:

Symptoms

Although most people with gallstones experience no symptoms, research shows that about 10% of people will develop symptoms within 5 years of developing the condition, and 20% will develop them within 20 years.

The symptoms of gallstone disease include:

  • sudden, severe pain in the upper right abdomen
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • pain radiating to the shoulder blades or the middle of the back

Treatment

To treat gallstones, doctors perform a cholecystectomy. This surgical procedure involves removing the gallbladder.

Ursodiol is a medication that doctors may prescribe for people with gallstone disease. However, the drug is effective in less than 50% of cases.

Another condition that may cause right shoulder blade pain is peptic ulcer disease. In peptic ulcer disease, acid can cause ulcers in the stomach or intestinal lining.

Common causes of peptic ulcer disease include infections and the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Some rare causes of peptic ulcer disease include:

Symptoms

People with an ulcer in the stomach may experience upper abdominal pain 15–30 minutes after meals. Intestinal ulcers tend to cause pain 2–3 hours after eating.

Other symptoms of peptic ulcer disease depend on the location of the ulcer and the person’s age. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • bloating
  • feelings of fullness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • unexplained weight changes
  • blood in the vomit or stool

Chest pain from peptic ulcer disease can radiate to the back, including the right shoulder blade.

Treatment

Doctors may prescribe antisecretory drugs to treat peptic ulcer disease. These include proton pump inhibitors and histamine-2 receptor antagonists.

If someone is unresponsive to these drugs, a doctor may recommend surgery.

Surgical options include vagotomy, which involves removing branches of the vagus nerve to reduce stomach secretions. Another option is a partial gastrectomy, which is the surgical removal of part of the stomach.

Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease occurs when stomach acids travel up the throat.

The exact causes of acid reflux are unclear. However, some risk factors include:

  • throat abnormalities
  • delayed gastric emptying
  • a hiatal hernia
  • obesity
  • aging
  • smoking
  • excessive alcohol use
  • connective tissue disorders
  • pregnancy
  • lying down after meals
  • some types of drugs, such as anticholinergic medications

Symptoms

People with acid reflux may experience heartburn and regurgitation. Other symptoms include:

  • difficulty swallowing
  • belching
  • upper abdominal pain
  • nausea

Treatment

Doctors recommend making changes to everyday habits to help with acid reflux. In people with obesity, weight loss usually reduces the symptoms of acid reflux. Other changes include:

  • avoiding lying down for several hours after eating
  • practicing good sleep hygiene
  • exercising regularly
  • elevating the head during sleep

Doctors may also recommend antacid drugs, including histamine-2 receptor antagonists and proton pump inhibitors. Surgery is an option in severe cases.

Learn more about treatments for acid reflux here.

Liver disease might also cause right shoulder blade pain. There are several types of liver disease, including hepatitis.

Symptoms

Not everyone with liver disease will experience symptoms. For example, most liver cysts do not produce symptoms. However, symptoms are more common in other types of liver disease, where they can include:

  • nausea
  • appetite loss
  • weight changes
  • muscle loss
  • tenderness around the liver
  • muscle aches

Learn more about liver disease symptoms here.

Treatment

The treatment will depend on the type of liver disease. For example, stopping alcohol use can help in some cases, and following a healthy diet and lifestyle will be beneficial. People with excess weight will usually benefit from losing weight.

When lifestyle changes are not working, doctors might prescribe medications, such as corticosteroids. In severe cases, a liver transplant is necessary.

Without proper management, liver disease can be deadly.

People may experience right shoulder blade pain for a variety of reasons. It might be due to problems affecting the muscles or bones in the area. Some health conditions might also cause the problem, such as acid reflux.

People with unexplained or persistent right shoulder blade pain should speak with a doctor. Seeking medical help is particularly important if a person is also experiencing severe pain in the abdomen.