Snapping Scapula Syndrome

An Overview on Snapping Scapula Syndrome
(Scapulothoracic Bursitis)

Commonly known as the shoulder blade, the scapula provides a wide range of motion to the upper body and shoulder joint. The scapulothoracic bursa serves an important role within the joint by allowing smooth, pain-free movement of the scapula against the ribcage. When the scapulothoracic bursa, a fluid-filled sac, becomes inflamed from repetitive overuse or a shoulder injury, scapulothoracic bursitis, also known as snapping scapula syndrome, occurs. Dr. Matthew Provencher, orthopedic shoulder specialist in the Vail, Aspen and Denver, Colorado area, specializes in treating this common shoulder condition.

Scapulothoracic bursitis, or snapping scapula syndrome, is caused by weakening of the muscles underneath the scapula, leading to the scapula sitting in close proximity to the ribcage. The shoulder condition causes a grinding, grating, and snapping sensation of the scapula on the back area of the ribcage. Young, active patients involved in activities that require continuous overhead motions are commonly affected by scapulothoracic bursitis. Shoulder injuries, such as a ligament tear, or a past shoulder separation, can also lead to the development of this condition.

Scapulothoracic Bursitis Symptoms

Snapping scapula syndrome can be a painful shoulder condition for many patients. The most common symptoms include a dull, contact ache accompanied by a grinding, grating and snapping sensation along the underside of the scapula when it moves against the ribcage. Certain patients may also experience a “bump” from a bone mass on the scapula.

Scapulothoracic Bursitis Diagnosis

Dr. Provencher will perform a physical examination of the affected area in order to diagnose scapulothoracic bursitis, as well as a variety of diagnostic tests. A series of x-rays are typically performed to view the shoulder joint’s bony structures in great detail. An MRI scan may also be performed to gain a better view of the shoulder’s soft structures and confirm the diagnosis.

Scapulothoracic Bursitis Treatment

Non-Surgical

Non-surgical measures are commonly recommended by Dr. Provencher as the initial treatment for snapping scapula syndrome. Rest, ice, medications and a detailed physical therapy program designed to strengthen the scapular muscle are the common measures prescribed to patients. It is strongly suggested that patients work with the in-house physical therapists at Howard Head Sports Medicine to optimize their rehabilitation. Dr. Provencher may also recommend a corticosteroid in certain patients to reduce bursa inflammation and provide pain relief for a longer term.

Surgical

Surgery may be recommended if non-surgical treatment is unsuccessful or if the condition is caused by a soft tissue or bony mass. Dr. Provencher generally performs an arthroscopic shoulder surgery to remove the inflamed bursa, bone spurs or other irregularities responsible for causing shoulder pain and loss of motion.

For additional resources on scapulothoracic bursitis, or for more information on snapping scapula syndrome treatment options, please contact the Vail, Aspen and Denver, Colorado orthopedic practice of shoulder specialist Dr. Matthew Provencher.

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