Snapping scapula syndrome is a condition that involves the bones and tissues of the shoulder blade (scapula). It is usually characterized by a loud popping or cracking sound that occurs when the arm is lifted and raised above the head. In the medical community, this sound is referred to as crepitus. Many patients also report experiencing a grating, grinding, thumping, or ‘snapping’ sensation with snapping scapula syndrome. While this condition is fairly rare, it can result in serious discomfort and structural problems that should be addressed sooner than later.

What Are the Symptoms of Snapping Scapula Syndrome?

Snapping scapula syndrome is typically caused by bone or soft tissue problems which can range from mild to severe. In many cases it develops as a result of the following:

  • Repetitive overhead movements
  • Muscle weakness
  • Scapula or rib cage problems
  • Tumors
  • Poor arm posture
  • Overuse of the arm
  • Incorrect joint motion
  • Neck conditions
  • Muscle tightness
  • Inflammation of the muscles
  • Nerve damage

Snapping scapula syndrome can be extremely painful and can lead to numerous other problems because of how irritating it can be. Before we look at how it is diagnosed and what some of the most effective treatment options are, let’s go over some of the common symptoms associated with this condition:

  • Pain in the upper back or top of the shoulder when raising the arm above the head
  • A grinding or snapping sensation in the shoulder blade
  • Thicker than normal tissue in the shoulder blade
  • Weakness in the arm
  • Swelling in the shoulder
  • Shoulder instability or weakness
  • Tenderness

Diagnosing Snapping Scapula Syndrome

Snapping scapula syndrome usually stems from soft tissue problems like inflammation or repetitive motion. To properly diagnose this condition, a physical examination is performed during which the patient will be instructed to raise and lower their arm while the doctor observes range of motion and physical structure. Although it is less common than many other conditions involving the shoulder and neck, we often see it in athletes such as swimmers, baseball players, and those who lift weights.

If you have pain or stiffness in your shoulder, notice any popping, snapping, or grinding when lifting your arm, or are experiencing weakness or fatigue in the arm, you may have snapping scapula syndrome. To ensure an accurate diagnosis, you may need to see a physical therapist as well.

Treating Snapping Scapula Syndrome

Here at Ortho Spine of America, we strive to educate our patients and provide them with the information and support necessary to recover from conditions such as snapping scapula syndrome. The type of treatment will depend on a host of factors, namely where the problem is stemming from. If it is coming from the soft tissues, for example, you may be able to find relief through nonsurgical treatments such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy, or acupuncture.

There are also a handful of at-home exercises you can perform to relieve any pain or other symptoms associated with snapping scapula syndrome. These exercises focus on increasing range of motion, strengthening the shoulder and arm, and creating more openness in the affected area. If you have any questions about this or would like to discuss your symptoms with Dr. Atwater, we encourage you to contact OSA today and schedule an appointment. If the pain and inflammation continue after trying these treatments, surgery may be necessary. However, surgery is typically only recommended if the problem is caused by the bones rather than soft tissues. To learn more about snapping scapula syndrome, call OSA today and make an appointment with Dr. Atwater.

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