What Causes Left Back And Shoulder Pain?

What Causes Left Back And Shoulder Pain?

As per Medscape.com, coronary artery disease is the “leading cause of neck pain, left shoulder pain, arm pain, and death worldwide, and it is the second most common cause of emergency department visits in the United States.”

Symptoms of myocardial ischemia most commonly occur on the left side of the body and are localized in the back and shoulder areas, in addition to the arm, shoulder blade pain, upper back pain, and neck areas can only be treated by physical therapy.

Of the more serious diagnoses, myocardial ischemia is a disorder that is “caused by a critical coronary artery obstruction, which is also known as the atherosclerotic coronary artery disease.” As per Medscape.com, coronary artery disease is the “leading cause of death worldwide, and it is the second most common cause of emergency department visits in the United States.”

Shoulder Pain.

Symptoms of myocardial ischemia most commonly occur on the left side of the body and are localized in the back and shoulder areas, in addition to the arm and neck areas.​

The Mayo Clinic lists the following as co-occurring symptoms for myocardial ischemia: Fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, sweating, and fatigue.

As per the University of Michigan, pain and symptoms attributed to myocardial ischemia are often specified as “referred,” due to this kind of cardiac pain being localized to, “areas of the body surface which send sensory impulses to the same levels of the spinal cord that receive cardiac sensation. This is true especially on the left side.”​

Left back and shoulder pain can also be resultant from less deadly causes such as muscle and joint sprains or arthritis. Muscle pains can occur from playing sports, lifting or carrying heavy items, or working in a highly physical environment.

They are a very common source of pain in the left back and shoulder area and often result in the tearing of muscle fibers, which in turn result in things like inflammation, soreness, and significant pain.

Joint pains are also a very common occurrence that results in significant left back and shoulder pain due to the highly sensitive areas where connective points link the back, spine, and ribs. Injury to these connective junctures can produce sharp and stabbing pains that ultimately can mimic the symptoms of a heart attack.​

Arthritis, specifically osteoarthritis, is often called degenerative joint disease and is colloquially referred to as “wear and tear arthritis.” It is a pervasive and common condition that is resultant from the breaking down of cartilage between joints. The cartilage between joints acts as a cushioning mechanism and when there is a breakdown of that cushioning, pain, stiffness, and swelling occur.

The pain symptoms that are felt from a lack of cartilage between the joints can be extreme; sharp, stabbing sensations are characteristic of this disease and can often mimic the symptoms of a heart attack.​

Lung cancer.

Cancer, alongside myocardial ischemia, is one of the most dangerous diagnoses involved with left back and shoulder pain. Very often, the pain involved in this specific area can be attributed to lung cancer.

Among cancer-related deaths, lung cancer is the leading cause in both men and women in this country. However, other cancers such as breast cancer, esophageal cancer, and colon cancer can produce significant and sustained pain and inflammation in the left back and shoulder area, as well.​

Whether it’s a result of muscle and joint sprains, arthritis, cancer, or something as specific as myocardial ischemia, left back and shoulder pain can be daunting to diagnose. The causes of the symptoms and pain in this area can be the result of seemingly innocuous things like a sprain, something far more lethal like cancer or anything in between.

In determining the cause of your symptoms and pain, addressing and answering the following questions can be of immense value:​

  • You are in pain but which should blade is causing pain? Is it the left shoulder blade, the right, both?
  • How long has the pain lasted?
  • Was the pain sudden or did it start gradually?
  • Could you have altered your workout routine recently?
  • Do you play sports like golf, tennis, basketball or badminton? These can cause shoulder pain.
  • Which side do you sleep on? Is it the same as the side on which you have pain?
  • Try to describe the pain you are experiencing. Is it dull, sharp, deep, stabbing pains?
  • Is there anything that intensifies the pain? Do certain movements, eating, or deep breathing increase the pain?
  • Is there anything you do that reduces the pain?
  • Are there any other symptoms? Difficulty in breathing, chest pains, coughing, etc.
  • Do you smoke or have you ever done so in the past?

Upon answering these questions, you can have a clearer idea of where your symptoms are coming from and why and, in turn, you can take appropriate action to address the resolution of your pain.

For example, if you have had chronic and persistent pain that is exacerbated by breathing deeply or eating, alongside shortness of breath that would be a clear indication that an appointment should be made with your doctor as soon as possible.

In contrast, if you have suddenly changed up your exercise routine and perhaps are working out more intensely than before, it is very likely that you have merely strained or pulled a muscle. Similarly, if you have never smoked and work out on a regular basis, there’s a good indication that your pain is probably the result of a strain or sprain.

It is best to carefully monitor your symptoms and take appropriate action when necessary. If you find the pain to be significant or chronic in any way, it is always best to see your primary care physician as soon as possible. Your doctor will be able to pinpoint your pain by running a battery of tests like an EKG, stress test, abdominal exams, and blood work.

For more information on left back and shoulder pain, visit: medlineplus.gov

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