What is Snapping Scapula Syndrome?

The scapulothoracic joint is where your scapula, or shoulder blade, glides on the back of your chest wall. When movement of this joint causes feelings or sounds of grinding, popping or cracking it is referred as Snapping Scapula Syndrome. When this occurs, the tissue under the scapula may become irritated and inflamed. Prolonged irritation and inflammation of this tissue can then lead to tissue thickening and scarring. A bursa, or a fluid filled sac, sits underneath the scapula to cushion body tissues from friction. This bursa can also become inflamed, resulting in scapulothoracic bursitis which can lead to Snapping Scapula Syndrome.

What causes Snapping Scapula Syndrome?

Snapping scapula syndrome, a likely under diagnosed condition, can produce significant shoulder dysfunction in many patients. Although a specific origin of snapping scapula is unknown, the basis of developing snapping scapula is due to abnormal motion of the scapula. When the shoulder and shoulder blade do not move in normal rhythm muscles can become pinched, overused, inflamed and thickened and the bursa sac underneath the scapula can become inflamed. This inflammation of the bursa is the primary belief of what can lead to Snapping Scapula. Development of Snapping Scapula can occur from performing repetitive motions like throwing a ball or hammering overhead, or a sudden trauma to the shoulder or shoulder blade which can misalign the shoulder and the shoulder blade. Weakness and/or disuse of the muscles that control our scapula and help keep the normal scapula rhythm can also cause abnormal movement of the scapula. When these muscled become weak or the size has decreased the scapula sits closer to the chest wall and rubs up against the ribs with movement. This can cause pain and irritation to the surrounding muscles and the bursa underneath the scapula. Changes in bone structure to the ribs or the scapula can also Snapping Scapula. If there is a misalignment, bumps or fractures of the bones under the shoulder blade

, the scapula can grind up against causing irritation and inflammation.


Non-operative management of symptoms is the first line of treatment in Snapping Scapula Syndrome. Anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed to reduce any swelling present. Rest from any motion that may be causing inflammation is also recommended. Physical Therapy is needed to strengthen the muscles around the scapula and the rotator cuff and to improve the scapular position and to promote better rhythm of the shoulder and scapula. Physical Therapy can also help in correction of postural misalignments which can cause Snapping Scapula Syndrome. In severe cases surgery may be needed to drain or remove the inflamed bursa under the scapula.  For more information visit Total Performance Physical Therapy or www.totalperformancept.com.


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