Snapping Scapula

ExitCare ImageSnapping scapula is a condition that is marked by persistent "snapping" of the shoulder blade (scapula). You may feel a snapping sensation or hear a snapping sound. You may feel shoulder pain or discomfort. The scapula rubbing against the ribs of the chest wall causes the snapping sensation/sound. Fluid-filled sacs (bursae) exist under the scapula to reduce the friction between the scapula and the ribs. If these sacs become irritated, a condition known as inflammation of the bursae (bursitis) may occur. This may cause pain.


  • Snapping, grating, or popping of the shoulder or scapula heard and/or felt.

  • Pain or discomfort in the area of the scapula.

  • Bump felt on the scapula.

  • Affected scapula may be more prominent. It may hurt to sit on a chair with a high back.


Snapping scapula may be caused by:

  • Bony alterations of the scapula.

  • Soft tissue growths (normal variants or benign or malignant tumors).

  • Muscle atrophy that produces scapular instability.

Repetitive shoulder motions that cause inflammation of the bursae that lie beneath the scapula may worsen the condition. Direct injury may result in bursitis.


  • Contact or collision sports, sports with inadequate protection of exposed areas.

  • Poor shoulder strength and flexibility.

  • Inadequate warm-up before practice or play.

  • Muscular imbalance or atrophy of the muscles of the scapula.

  • Previous fracture of the scapula or ribs.


  • Wear properly fitted and padded protective equipment.

  • Allow time for enough rest and recovery between activities.

  • Warm up and stretch properly before activity

  • Learn and use proper techniques to stabilize the shoulder during athletics.

  • Maintain physical fitness:

  • Capsular muscle strength.

  • Endurance and flexibility.

  • Cardiovascular fitness.


With proper treatment symptoms usually resolve.


  • Prolonged healing time if not properly treated or if not given adequate time to heal.

  • Chronically inflamed bursa, causing persistent pain with activity that may progress to constant pain.

  • Recurrence of symptoms if:

  • Activity is resumed too soon.

  • There is overuse.

  • There is a direct blow.

  • Poor technique is used.


Treatment initially involves ice and medicine to help reduce pain and inflammation. It is often helpful to:

  • Complete strength and stretching exercises.

  • Modifying activities that cause symptoms to get worse.

Exercises may be completed at home or with a therapist. Occasionally, the shoulder will be injected with a corticosteroid to reduce inflammation. For severe cases, surgery may be advised to remove the inflamed bursa. Surgery will only be considered if greater than 6 months of non-surgical treatment does not help.


  • If pain medicine is necessary, then nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, or other minor pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, are often recommended.

  • Do not take pain medicine for 7 days before surgery.

  • Prescription pain relievers are usually only prescribed after surgery. Use only as directed and only as much as you need.

  • Corticosteroid injections may be given. However, this is only for extreme cases. There is a limited number of injections one may receive.


  • Cold treatment (icing) relieves pain and reduces inflammation. Cold treatment should be applied for 10 to 15 minutes every 2 to 3 hours for inflammation and pain and immediately after any activity that aggravates your symptoms. Use ice packs or massage the area with a piece of ice (ice massage).

  • Heat treatment may be used prior to performing the stretching and strengthening activities prescribed by your caregiver, physical therapist, or athletic trainer. Use a heat pack or soak your injury in warm water.


  • Symptoms get worse or do not improve in 2 weeks despite treatment.

  • New, unexplained symptoms develop (drugs used in treatment may produce side effects).