The scapula or shoulder blade is an impressive anatomical structure. Suspended by only two ligaments, three layers of muscle and bursae (small, fluid-filled sacs that reduce friction between muscles, tendons, and bone), are all that support the structure. There isn’t a real joint between scapula and trunk, but movement is possible, and therein lies the scapula’s uniqueness.

Unfortunately, this uniqueness also makes the scapula prone to specific conditions, of which one of the most common is the snapping scapula syndrome, a condition characterized by popping, grinding, grating, or ‘snapping’ of bones and tissue in the shoulder blade when the arm is lifted, moved, or rotated. The snapping can be audible, and at times be painful. If it starts to affect movement and flexibility it will need to be checked by a sports physiotherapist.

X-Ray Image Revealing a Possible Snapping Shoulder Syndrome Condition

Causes of snapping scapula syndrome

Snapping scapula syndrome is caused by problems in the soft tissues or bones of the scapula and chest wall including bones malformed from birth or an injured or an inflamed soft tissue such as a muscle or bursa. Injuries or inflammation in the area can occur from the following:

  • Repetitive physical activities, such as throwing a ball or reaching overhead
  • Incorrect posture
  • Weak shoulder bones
  • Neck conditions
  • Nerve damage in the shoulder area

How is snapping scapula syndrome diagnosed?

Snapping shoulder syndrome is diagnosed by seeing a sports physiotherapist such as those from Institute of Sport Physio. Your therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation that includes taking your medical history and conducting physical exams. Questions that your therapist will ask you include how and when you first noticed the condition, how has it affected your daily activities, and how much pain you are feeling. Depending on your answers, your therapist may order further tests, such as an X-ray, to confirm diagnosis or to rule out other potential causes.

How can a sports physiotherapist help with snapping scapula syndrome?

Once a snapping scapula syndrome diagnosis is confirmed, your sports physiotherapist will work with you to create customized treatment program that will help you recover. With the proper treatment, you can return to your normal activities and lifestyle. Suggested treatments for the condition are as follows.

  • Resting the shoulder and avoiding excess movements that cause pain
  • Applying ice pack to the area for 15 to 20 minutes every two hours
  • Proper posture

Pain reduction

Your physiotherapist may collaborate with an orthopedic physician or other healthcare provider to control and reduce your pain and symptoms, including massage, electrical stimulation, taping, heat, laser, and other forms of applicable therapy.

Improving motion

Snapping scapula syndrome can affect movement not just in the shoulder, but in the neck and spine as well. Your therapist will choose specific exercises and activities to restore normal movement in these areas. Your treatment may begin with gentle motions that improve movement in your arm, neck, shoulder and scapula. As movement improves, treatment will progress to active stretches and activities that you can do yourself.

Speeding up recovery time

Certain treatments can enhance healing at each recovery stage. Your therapist will employ these treatments to steadily restore your agility and strength. As a trained and experienced healthcare provider, your sports physiotherapist is well-equipped to help you heal and return to your normal lifestyle faster and more effectively than you are likely to achieve on your own.

Preventing future injury

Once you are fully healed, your physiotherapist can recommend exercises that you can do on your own to strengthen and stretch the muscles on your shoulder and prevent snapping scapula syndrome. These may include flexibility exercises that target the muscles of the neck, scapula, and shoulder arm. Your therapist may also advise you to maintain good posture and teach you proper athletic techniques that minimize the potential for injury to your shoulders.

Visit a sports physiotherapy clinic for your condition

If you suspect you have snapping scapula syndrome, visit a sports physiotherapy clinic such as Institute of Sport Physio to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment which will make a real difference.  Phone 379-5767 for an appointment with Graeme Hayhow.


Snapping Scapula Syndrome,
Management of Snapping Scapula Syndrome,