Middle back pain between the shoulder blades, also known as interscapular pain, is a common complaint. The muscular and skeletal structures in the thoracic spine and mid-back region support us when sitting, standing, and during movement. Overuse, poor posture, stress, and lack of exercise can cause this area to become painful and tight. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to find relief.
One of the simplest ways to alleviate discomfort in the mid-back is to apply heat. The increased blood flow will help loosen tight muscles and improve circulation. Try using a heating pad set on a medium to low setting for 15 to 20 minutes a few times per day. You can also use a hot water bottle, warm wet towel, or take a warm bath or shower. Heat is an excellent way to reduce spasms and loosen the thoracic back both before and after exercise.
Use Cold Therapy
While heat benefits muscular tightness, cold works well for inflammation and acute pain. If your mid-back pain flares up suddenly or you experience muscle spasms, apply an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel for up to 20 minutes several times a day. You can also use a bag of frozen peas or corn. Cold therapy numbs the irritated tissues and nerve endings while constricting blood vessels to reduce swelling. Just take care not to apply ice directly on the skin, which can cause damage.
Try Over-the-Counter Medication
For temporary relief of painful spasms, soreness, and inflammation, over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help. Options like ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin reduce prostaglandins that cause tissue irritation. Always follow dosage instructions and do not exceed daily limits. If you have any medical conditions or take other medications, consult your doctor before use. Applying medicated creams containing menthol or capsaicin may also provide a numbing sensation.
Perform Thoracic Spine Exercises and Stretches
Improving posture and mobility in the thoracic region through exercise can relieve aches. Try interscapular stretches like gently squeezing your shoulder blades together or moving them in circles. Place your hands behind your lower back and lean backward to open up the front of your chest and shoulders. Doorway chest stretches are also beneficial. Move through full ranges of motion as you extend, flex, rotate, and side bend your thoracic spine carefully to work out stiffness. Start slow with only discomfort, not sharp pain.
Increase Strength Training for Your Upper Back
Weak rhomboid and trapezius muscles between the shoulder blades often contribute to poor posture, muscle imbalance, and subsequent pain. Include exercises that target these areas such as shoulder presses, shoulder shrugs, shoulder retractions with resistance bands, upright rows, and prone back extensions like Superman lifts. As you build muscle strength and resilience, pain often decreases. But avoid straining weakened tissues with weights that are too heavy.
Use a Foam Roller
Foam rolling your thoracic back is an easy self-massage technique for tissue release. The pressure relaxes tight spots and trigger points to improve mobility. Roll slowly up and down along your spine using your body weight. You can also apply pressure against a tennis ball or massage stick placed between your back and a wall. Soreness at first is normal. Work on rolling any extremely tender areas for short intervals daily.
See a Physical Therapist
If home remedies do not provide lasting relief, make an appointment with a physical therapist for an evaluation. They will assess your posture and mobility limitations, then provide manual therapy and corrective exercises tailored to your needs. Techniques like joint mobilization and myofascial release can improve motion and alignment. They may also recommend additional pain relief modalities. Addressing muscle imbalances and movement compensations is key to stopping pain between the shoulder blades from returning.
Get a Massage
Massage loosens muscles, boosts circulation, alleviates soreness, and promotes relaxation. Schedule an appointment with a massage therapist experienced in treating mid-back discomfort. Let them know which areas hurt the most so they can target problem spots and use appropriate pressure. Swedish massage uses long, kneading strokes while trigger point therapy focuses on knots. The increased blood flow will reduce painful spasms and loosen fascia.
Mind Your Posture
Poor seated and standing posture put excess strain on the mid-back muscles and joints. This common culprit of middle back pain leads to muscle fatigue and irritation over time. Be mindful of slouching at a desk or looking down at phones and tablets. Use pillows for lower back support when sitting. When standing, keep your head up, chest open, and shoulders back gently. Make small posture corrections throughout the day.
Smoking impairs circulation, increasing spinal disc degeneration and back pain risks. The consistent coughing can also strain the upper back and ribs. Kicking the habit improves tissue oxygenation and healing, reducing irritation. Talk to your doctor about quitting aids like nicotine patches, lozenges, gum, and prescription medications to curb cravings as you stop smoking. Your overall health will benefit too.
Lose Excess Weight
Carrying extra pounds places mechanical stress on the upper and lower back. Losing weight through portion control, healthy eating, and exercise reduces pressure on the spine, joints, and supportive muscles. Even a modest reduction of 5-10% of your body weight offers pain relief by lessening the load. Focus on optimal nutrition to avoid deficiencies that impair muscle function. Move more daily to build core stability.
Try Alternative Therapies
Some patients find relief from middle back discomfort between the shoulder blades using alternative treatments like acupuncture, cupping, chiropractic adjustments, or electrical stimulation. Acupuncture uses very thin needles placed in trigger points to restore the flow of “qi” and reduce pain signals. Cupping uses heated glass cups to create suction on the skin and improve sore tissues. Visit an experienced practitioner if interested in exploring these options when other techniques do not provide lasting pain cessation. Proper technique is imperative to avoid complications.
Relieving achy, tense muscles between your shoulder blades is possible with consistency using several of these techniques. See your doctor promptly if pain persists longer than a few weeks, worsens when breathing, or follows significant trauma to rule out any underlying medical conditions. While middle back pain can be frustrating, these remedies allow many patients to regain strength, mobility, and lasting comfort.