Why Does My Upper Back Hurt Between My Shoulder Blades?

Feeling pain or discomfort between your shoulder blades can be annoying and inconvenient. This area of the upper back, also known as the thoracic spine, is complex with many muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments that can contribute to pain. Here are some of the common causes of upper back pain between the shoulder blades and tips for relief.

Poor Posture

One of the most common culprits of upper back pain is poor posture. Slouching, hunching over computers and phones, and improper stretching and strengthening can strain the muscles between the shoulder blades. Tight chest muscles and weakened upper back muscles from poor posture pull the shoulders forward, putting pressure on the upper back. Try improving posture by opening up the chest with stretches, pulling the shoulders back and engaging core muscles.

Muscle Strain

Muscle strains and spasms can occur in the rhomboid and trapezius muscles between the shoulder blades. Overuse from activities like heavy lifting, sports and exercise can cause muscle tightness and spasms. Sleeping in an awkward position can also cause muscle strains. Apply ice packs to tense muscles for relief. Gently stretch and massage the upper back and shoulders to loosen muscles.

Pinched Nerve

A pinched nerve or nerve compression in the thoracic spine can radiate pain between the shoulder blades. Herniated discs, bone spurs, scar tissue or muscle tightness can pinch nerves exiting the spine and cause numbness, tingling and pain. See a doctor for diagnosis and treatment options like physical therapy, steroid injections or surgery for severe cases.


Osteoarthritis in the mid back joints or facet joints can lead to stiffness and aching between the shoulder blades. Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder, can also cause joint pain and swelling. Anti-inflammatory medication, hot/cold therapy and gentle stretching and exercise may help ease arthritis pain.

Stress and Anxiety

Chronic stress and anxiety can manifest as muscle tension and pain between the shoulders. The upper trapezius muscle may tighten in response to emotional strain. Make time for relaxing activities like yoga, meditation, and massage therapy. Practice controlled breathing and good sleep habits to help relieve stress.

Other Causes

Less common causes of upper back pain include gallbladder issues, pancreatitis, lung problems and heart conditions. Pain that arises suddenly or is accompanied by troubling symptoms should be evaluated by a doctor. Rarely, upper back pain can signal something serious like a spinal infection, fracture or tumor. Seek medical care if pain persists longer than a week or impairs daily activities.