Shoulder Pain? Check the Shoulder Blade!

Subacromial Pain Syndrome (SPS) and Shoulder Injuries in general are extremely common!

Shoulder injuries are a common injury and one of the most common injuries of the upper body. It can also be a tough injury to treat with up to 46% of people reporting pain in their shoulder six months after they got hurt. Awful right? But sometimes the shoulder pain isn’t only about the shoulder itself but the shoulder blade! These two parts work together to help the joint move the way it needs to and stay strong.

Meet Nick

You may have met Nick before. He’s my fiancé and the co-owner of STAVE OFF. Nick used to play football and had a pretty significant right shoulder injury. It didn’t heal properly and he’s been having pain in the front part of his shoulder for about a year now. When we were working on his shoulder, he would do release work (more on this later) in the muscles in front of the shoulder. It got a bit better but it was still this nagging injury.

It all starts with the rotator cuff

The rotator cuff (RC) is the four muscles that surround your shoulder bone to help keep it in its socket. Your shoulder needs to move around more than a lot of the other joints in your body. Because of this, our bodies rely more on muscles than on ligaments to keep it safe. Muscles can break down a lot easier than ligaments can though. Hence the high injury rate.

Subacromial Pain Syndrome

When we talk about shoulder injuries, it can be hard to pin point exactly what is causing your pain. When there is swelling in the muscles of the RC it can cause friction or swelling in the space under the bones that cross the shoulder. When this happens, it can cause pain when you are bringing your arm over your head. It can be called subacromial pain syndrome.

The shoulder pain is in the FRONT, why are you talking about the BACK?

When research was done on people who have SPS, it showed that the muscles at the bottom of the shoulder blade are less active. This means they might not be working the right way. If they aren’t working properly, it can affect how the shoulder blade moves across the ribs. This can affect the shoulder possibly leading to pain. It also means that other muscles need to work harder. The upper traps are one of these muscles and we tend to use them a lot when we’re stressed out too. So by getting these muscles moving better, it can relieve some pressure in the front.

Back to Nick

I’m his fiancé not his physiotherapist but eventually he asked me to do a full assessment on his shoulder. What we saw was that his shoulder blade literally looked STUCK. That was the best way to describe it. When he was moving, it just wasn’t smooth.

So we started doing some release work on his shoulder and focus on stability work for his shoulder blade.

Guess what … it’s working! Nick has had pain for awhile and almost immediately after doing the releases, he started to see some relief. It helped his sleep and he was moving his shoulder better without the same pinching. (It kind of made me feel awful because I probably should have done it sooner… bad fiancée moment).

This might not be the solution for everyone.

Everyone is different but it might be something you want to check for. See if this can provide you some relief. Try this release and see if it helps! For more info on the shoulder and shoulder blade check out this video as well!

As always, there is still more work to be done from a research perspective but for Nick, he’s thankful I looked into these two studies


Gebremariam, L., Hay, E. M., van der Sande, R., Rinkel, W. D., Koes, B. W., & Huisstede, B. M. (2014). Subacromial impingement syndrome–effectiveness of physiotherapy and manual therapy. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48(16), 1202-1208. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2012-091802 [doi]

Reijneveld, E. A., Noten, S., Michener, L. A., Cools, A., & Struyf, F. (2016). Clinical outcomes of a scapular-focused treatment in patients with subacromial pain syndrome: A systematic review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, doi:bjsports-2015-095460 [pii]

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Christina Prevett

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