Mystery Shoulder Blade Pain
September 18, 2018 4:06 PM   Subscribe

I have a mysterious nerve-like pain in my left shoulder blade. Help me figure out what it is.

Let me preface by saying that I am extremely pregnant and this problem has appeared since pregnancy. I have not brought it up with my OB because it feels unrelated (and its not acute) but I guess I should. Looking for insight about what it might be though.

At first, I thought I had a zit under my bra strap - the pain was extremely localized, felt just under the surface, and had that achey quality when you have a pimple about to erupt. I kept looking in the mirror and asking my husband to look but there was never any visible blemish.

This lasted about a week, and then the pain progressed to a searing, knife-like, burning sensation, still very localized. It appeared when I did any repetitive activity involving my shoulder like cutting with scissors or chopping things (I am right handed but obviously use my left hand to hold whatever I'm cutting or chopping), and occasional other times. It also hurt at night when I rolled over in a certain way, badly enough for me to wake up gasping. It felt like a white-hot ice pick stabbing me in the shoulder blade. This level of pain lasted probably 2 weeks.

Now the pain is more frequent (not constant but happens more often and lasts for longer, rather than white-hot bolts of sudden pain) and it has taken on a weird quality - my shoulder blade feels exactly like it is sunburned, or maybe I have road rash. It is tender to the touch, but not in a bruised or muscular feeling way... like something is wrong with my skin. There is definitely nothing visibly wrong with my skin. The feeling is very hard to describe. Adjectives I would try include "burning" and "tingling" but neither of those is exactly right.

The painful spot is basically directly under my bra strap, about halfway between the top of my shoulder and the bra band. It is not related to my bra because I wear different ones all the time with no effect on the pain.

I had a negative shingles test maybe a month before this started, for an unrelated rash, so I'm pretty sure it isn't that, plus there isn't anything visible. I'm also pretty sure it's not muscular, because massage doesn't help and I can do all sorts of things with my arm and shoulder that DON'T cause pain... just certain movements cause sudden, fleeting, excruciating pain and then there is this lingering burning.

Has anyone ever experienced something similar or does this sound like some kind of known nerve thing? Do I need to see a doctor other than my OB? I'm hoping it will magically disappear upon my child's exit from the womb but that seems doubtful.
posted by raspberrE to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
IANAD, but I had pain in my left shoulder blade that was sort of but not exactly like you described. I couldn't figure out what it might be, my orthopedist didn't see anything on the X-ray, and physical therapy didn't help.

Long story short, no thanks to the orthopedist who couldn't read that first X-ray, but it turned out be a one-two whammy of a compression fracture at the T6 vertebra, with a calcified ligament on the other side. The two together caused spinal stenosis in an area that isn't ordinarily seen in spinal injuries.

I eventually had a T6 laminectomy to ease the pressure on the nerve roots and everything that could go right did. I'm now pain free without much of a scar.

Not to self-diagnose or anything, but check out the map of dermatomes and see if any of the bands, particularly any of the yellow bands, roughly match up with where your pain is. It might not be perfect, because my pain was in my entire left shoulder blade. I think it's at least worth ruling out.

Good luck to you!
posted by Somnambulista at 4:22 PM on September 18, 2018


I am SO not a doctor, and my first bit of advice is to see a doctor. It sounds like something is putting pressure on a nerve, and if the pain is that acute and it's not going away, and if you're bloody well pregnant, doctor doctor doctor!

I had a very bad coughing fit last week that made my chest and shoulders feel electrified for about 30 seconds, and I've been dealing with a migrating set symptoms in my left shoulder and the left side of my neck ever since: that sunburned feeling you mention, stabby pain, and throbbing pain, but all on a much milder level than you're experiencing. The fact that you haven't mentioned any precipitating cause suggests this may be a chronic issue/imbalance/injury that has just tipped over, so really, go see a doctor -- maybe a sports medicine specialist? -- and get assessed.
posted by maudlin at 4:35 PM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


This sounds very familiar to when I had a pinched nerve. I saw a chiropractor who was on the physical therapy side of the spectrum not the woo side. It was treated with manipulation and ultrasound for pain relief and upper body stretches and exercises, some with small barbells.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 4:54 PM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure what you mean by a "negative shingles test" -- have you ever had chickenpox, or were you vaccinated as a child? If you have had chickenpox, this can be shingles, and a negative test before developing symptoms doesn't really rule it out. Aside from the lack of skin findings (which can appear pretty late), your symptoms sound kind of classic. That said, I am not your doctor and it's pretty hard to diagnose things over the internet; I would bring this up with a doctor you can see in person -- whether it's your OB, a PCP or even at urgent care.
posted by telegraph at 7:47 PM on September 18, 2018


I immediately thought of the bad shoulder pain I had once -- it was when something was going on with my gallbladder. I had no idea this is called "referred shoulder pain," but apparently it is (as I just found out), and there can be other non-shoulder causes of shoulder pain too -- from pancreatitis to heart problems. I would talk to a doctor pretty soon just in case there's something serious.
posted by trillian at 8:03 PM on September 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Okay, listen to me. I am not a doctor, and I do not want to be an alarmist, but everything you describe--the location of the pain, the progression of the pain, the type of pain, the timeline--everything is exactly - EXACTLY - what my best friend A experienced a few years ago.

the pain was extremely localized, felt just under the surface, and had that achey quality when you have a pimple about to erupt

A complained about this, but did nothing.

a searing, knife-like, burning sensation, still very localized. It appeared when I did any repetitive activity involving my shoulder like cutting with scissors or chopping things

Then she complained of this, and took ibuprofen to dull the pain.

It also hurt at night when I rolled over in a certain way, badly enough for me to wake up gasping. It felt like a white-hot ice pick stabbing me in the shoulder blade.

Exactly this happened, and it was bad enough that she went to her doctor.

When she described this to her doctor, he diagnosed it as bursitis, prescribed a prescription-level dosage of ibuprofen for the pain, and sent her for physical therapy.

my shoulder blade feels exactly like it is sunburned, or maybe I have road rash. It is tender to the touch

Exactly this happened, and it got worse, not better. Later, A started having trouble breathing. She went back to the doctor. He asked her if she had ever had asthma, she said she'd been diagnosed with very mild asthma as a child, but had only rarely needed any kind of medical intervention, and almost never used an inhaler. The doctor said that high doses of ibuprofen can irritate asthma, and added a steroid to her daily medications to help with the asthma.

After a week of that, her face started to swell up. The doctor said that was a common side effect of steroids.

The shortness of breath became worse, she began to experience chest pain, and her face continued to swell. Finally, one day, she had to leave work to go to the emergency room because her heart was pounding so hard it was alarming her.

They did a chest film to look at her heart, and found a very large Hodgkin lymphoma mass in her upper chest (not breast).

That first, "pimple" pain was the first time the tumor pressed on a nerve--February. The awful searing pain and the waking up from pain was due to the tumor's expansion--March. Her "asthma" was not due to a medical dosage of ibuprofen, but to the tumor pressing on her left lung. The swelling of her face was not a side effect steroids, but to the tumor pressing on her carotid artery and making it more difficult for blood to drain from her face--April. The shortness of breath and pounding heart were caused directly by the tumor growing and pressing so hard on her lung and her carotid artery that her heart went wild trying to get oxygen to the rest of her body--May, and finally the correct diagnosis.

She's fine now, but she went through months of chemotherapy and radiation--all of which could have been avoided if the first doctor had thought to take an x-ray of her shoulder instead of assuming it was bursitis.

Please go to the doctor and ask for a chest film.
posted by tzikeh at 9:31 PM on September 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


Good advice here. I will definitely talk to my doctor.

telegraph - you are totally right. Baby brain. I forgot that the "shingles test" I had was a culture of the rash/lesion, that was on a totally different part of my body, so that being negative doesn't mean anything.

Still open to suggestions for anyone else reading.
posted by raspberrE at 10:06 AM on September 19, 2018


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