Winged Scapula

When the shoulder blade, or scapula, sticks out, sometimes causing pain or pressure, the condition is known as winged scapula. The scapula sticks out most when you lift your arms or when you push against something with your arms, and you might have stiffness or trouble elevating your arms all the way. It may also be difficult to lift objects that ordinarily are not too heavy for you.

Winged scapula results from nerve damage along the shoulder from trauma to the joint or a contusion, such as being hit by a ball or another player in contact sports such as football. When this nerve is damaged or bruised, it can paralyze a muscle in the shoulder known as the serratus anterior muscle, allowing the scapula to poke out abnormally. From the time of trauma to when the scapula begins to stick out, weeks may elapse, since the the muscle known as the trapezius must stretch before the shoulder blade can protrude.

If you think you have a winged scapula, consult a sports medicine specialist. He or she can conduct tests to evaluate the extent of the nerve damage. Then, he or she might prescribe rehabilitation exercises to re-train the shoulder muscle, if the damage is mild. If damage is more extensive, however, surgery might be necessary. A surgeon will make a small incision to decompress the nerve that has been damaged. As you recover, sleeping in certain positions and maintaining proper posture can help the nerve heal.