Ouch, ouch, ouch.
April 16, 2010 1:00 PM   Subscribe

For the past 3 years, off and on, I've had pain in the left shoulder blade area, radiating toward my left rib cage. There are no triggers like breathing or laughter. What I feel is sharp stabbing spasms at unpredictable intervals. It is mild in the morning, intense by evening. Usually icing takes care of it, but not always. I've seen my doctor, gotten massages, gotten acupuncture, tried exercise and stretching -- but the pain returns. Massage helps most. Any ideas, hive mind?
posted by bearwife to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
And about my doctor, who is great -- she prescribed a muscle relaxant, which made me incredibly sleepy but had no effect on the pain.
posted by bearwife at 1:07 PM on April 16, 2010

Nerve pain? Cardiac symptom? Back or neck injury referring pain to the area? I think you probably need a more comprehensive workup from your doctor, who's not me even if I were a doctor.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:17 PM on April 16, 2010

I assume that your doctor has brought up the idea of referred pain to you. For example, you can have pain in what feels like your right shoulder — but it is really your gall bladder that is the cause of the trouble.

No idea on the left shoulder.
posted by adipocere at 1:18 PM on April 16, 2010

Have you had an MRI? I know someone who had ongoing shoulder pain. The Dr. only knew what to do about it after he could see what was going on - it turned out that there were some bone growths that had to get shaved down, and that corrected the problem. It's hard to know how to fix something without trying to see if there's something obvious and visible that's happening in there.
posted by amethysts at 1:20 PM on April 16, 2010

Pain on movement? That might be rotator cuff.

The fact that it seems random and that you get relief from massage points toward muscle stiffness and spasm from a cervical disc problem. Did you see an orthopedist? They are the right doctor for something like this. If you believe in chiropractors you might also seek an opinion from one of them.
posted by caddis at 1:28 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

My dad has something similar-sounding, and looking up what he describes it as in layman's terms, it's called Calcific Tendonitis and is basically calcium deposits on tendons (um, as the name suggests...); he gets Corticosteroid shots every now and then to help with the pain and otherwise takes glucosamine/chondroiton to help with the pain (which might be linked to arthritis relief more than this, but has helped).
posted by urbanlenny at 1:32 PM on April 16, 2010

(erm, not saying that that's what you have, but that it may possibly something that you maybe possibly should check out as an option). IANAD either ;)
posted by urbanlenny at 1:33 PM on April 16, 2010

Repetitive stress injury? Sitting in the same position too long?

Bad mattress?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:40 PM on April 16, 2010

Sounds just like the symptoms of my father-in-laws enlarged heart. He was treating it as a skeletal-muscular type injury as well, and that's how he described the pain.

I mean, IANAD, none of us are, but this might be worth having examined more thoroughly.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:41 PM on April 16, 2010

I agree with everyone that you should check out possible referred pain from other organs. My boyfriend had a blocked artery that required a stent, and his major symptom was back pain.

Here's a long-shot suggestion: I get pain under my shoulder blade, too, and it seems to be an issue with the serratus anterior muscle. I mention it since you mentioned your ribs, and that muscle connects to the ribs. In my case, I have the exact trigger point mentioned in the self-care section of this page.
posted by cabingirl at 1:59 PM on April 16, 2010

My gall bladder pain started on the left side. The doctors never even considered it since I was relatively young, male, and wasn't complaining about pain on the rhs.

Do you notice the pain more after eating large meals, or ones with fat (even a little bit)?
posted by johnstein at 2:39 PM on April 16, 2010

nthing referred pain.

For several years before I had my gall bladder removed, I had sharp, radiating pains that felt like either severe heartburn around my lungs, or as if someone was stabbing me under my left shoulderblade. Strongly suggest having it checked with either an MRI or sonogram. Although be forewarned that a sonogram in my case showed nothing.
posted by zarq at 2:52 PM on April 16, 2010

Best thing I've ever done for my shoulder pain was to find an ART practitioner. It only took a couple of sessions and the problem was worked out. I still go back to him every once in a while when something goes a bit out of whack.
I had some funky stuff going on with my knee and found out it was my IT band which led to my new kick, foam rolling
posted by P.o.B. at 3:03 PM on April 16, 2010

Thanks all who've responded so far. I am reading with interest between winces. No, johnstein, no connection between the pain and eating -- in the periods I have it, it starts mildly shortly after I get up and worsens during the day. I'm also a low fat diet kinda girl.
posted by bearwife at 3:13 PM on April 16, 2010

I had moderate to severe pain on and off for years, both in my neck, shoulder blade, and occasionally radiating down my left arm. It turned out to be a combination of gall bladder and stupidity. For about ten years I cracked my neck three or four times a day. My cousin, who is not your physical therapist, but who is, in fact, a physical therapist, called me stupid, and gave me some exercises to try to sort out the disc issues I was having.

That, combined with having the gall bladder out (the stone, whom I call alexander, is roughly the size of an unshelled almond), has pretty much ended the shoulder and neck pains. See a doctor. Mention your various worries, and ask to have them checked out. It could be anything, but who knows, it could be something serious. Why take chances?
posted by Ghidorah at 4:14 PM on April 16, 2010

I don't know how many more times I can recommend this book today...www.triggerpointbook.com
posted by Not Supplied at 4:34 PM on April 16, 2010

Physical therapist here, doing the thing I do in musculoskeletal threads...First, go to your MD and get a prescription for physical therapy.

Then, go here, click on "Find a PT," pick one with the letters OCS after their name. This stands for Orthopedic Certified Specialist. This person will have the orthopedic assessment skills to get to the bottom of what is going on with you. Very often, their orthopedic evaluation skills surpass those of many MDs.

Based on their assessment of you, they will also be able to refer you back to the MD for imaging, etcetera if they suspect a visceral cause for your problem -- like gallbladder or circulatory issues, like some here have suggested. Or, if it's musculoskeletal, they can very likely treat it, or refer you to you somebody who can.

But the only way you are going to find out what is going on with your back is to find a qualified specialist and get it assessed in person. I could tell you ten things off the top of my head that this could be caused by, but I can't find out without looking at your shoulder, and neither can anyone else on Ask Metafilter. Much as I love AskMefi, it's got crappy orthopedic assessment skills.
posted by jennyjenny at 6:03 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've had similar odd pain where my shoulder blade would tingle and burn like it had fallen asleep, though you may have something totally different. You should probably still see a physical therapist. That said, this may help. From lots of Googling once, I found a stretch that really helped me, though I forget the name of the cause. Basically, the nerve that runs from the neck down through the arm was getting squeezed. This is possibly related to computer use and extended sitting. Anyway, the stretch is: hold your left arm straight to your side. Bend your neck toward your right shoulder. Slowly bend your left wrist back. You should get a stretching feeling through the inside of your left elbow. Hold the stretch for a while. I found that doing this once or twice a day made my odd shoulder-blade pain go away.
posted by stopgap at 6:16 PM on April 16, 2010

I had something similar that was a combination of burning and what felt like pressure on my lung. I went to a doctor who prescribed physical therapy. There physical therapy eliminated the burning, but not the pressure feeling. I also went to a chiropractor who helped get rid of that, but I still have to go get regular adjustments.
posted by hazyspring at 12:14 AM on April 19, 2010

I appreciate all the responses. My initial plan after reading them was massage followed by a visit to my doctor for a prescription to a PT/OCS, as well as any tests she wanted to do. But the massage actually left me hurting much more, so as a stopgap I gave in to my husband's urging and went to a Chinese medicine clinic administered by a husband/wife pair of acupuncture "doctors." They are a very educated pair, that is for sure. Anyway, for reasons mysterious to me, the acupuncture was very effective and I feel much, much better.

I guess there are more things on heaven and earth than I dreamed of in my Western medical oriented philosophy.
posted by bearwife at 9:50 AM on April 19, 2010

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