The scapula or shoulder bone is surrounded by a network of muscles and ligaments, each responsible for different functions. If any of these bones or muscles get injured, damaged, or misaligned, the intricate balance is disrupted and different shoulder problems can occur. One such example is snapping scapula syndrome.
Snapping scapula syndrome, also known as scapulocostal syndrome or scapulothoracic syndrome, is a rare condition that occurs when movement of the scapulothoracic joint– where the scapula joins with the back of the chest wall or rib cage, creates a grinding or popping noise and sensation.
What causes snapping scapula syndrome?
Snapping scapula syndrome can be caused by:
Muscle weakness or atrophy: muscles break down and become weaker as we age, when this happens, it can disrupt the position of the scapulothoracic joint, thus causing the scapula to rub against the rib cage during movement.
Repetitive movements: overuse or repetitive movements can cause inflammation or irritation which may cause the tissues surrounding the shoulder blade to swell up and result in snapping scapula syndrome.
Injury: injuries like rib fractures can cause the scapula to form abnormal curves which can then lead to the formation of new bursae– fluid filled sacs that protect bones from friction during movement. This can result in inflammation or bursitis which may in turn lead to snapping scapula syndrome.
Tumours: tumours of the bone can cause snapping scapula syndrome.
What are the symptoms of snapping scapula syndrome?
Individuals with snapping scapula syndrome may experience the following symptoms:
Shoulder pain when lifting objects overhead
Snapping, grating, or grinding noise or sensation when lifting arm
If you notice any of the symptoms, make an appointment with an orthopaedic specialist to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Dr Puah KL is our Senior Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at Artisan Sports & Orthopaedic Surgery. He used to serve the sports service of Singapore General Hospital - the highest volume trauma centre for orthopaedics in Singapore.
While some individuals with snapping scapula syndrome may not experience any pain, others may feel severe pain at the top or back of the shoulder near the scapula when lifting objects overhead or when raising the shoulders.
Who is at risk of snapping scapula syndrome in Singapore?
There are several factors that may increase your risk of developing snapping scapula syndrome, these are:
Athletes: swimmers, water polo players, weightlifters, and pitchers are more prone to developing snapping scapula syndrome due to overuse and repetitive movements.
Occupations: carpenters, painters, etc, are more prone to developing snapping scapula syndrome.
Age: while snapping scapula syndrome is commonly diagnosed in young and active individuals, older adults are also at an increased risk. This is due to age-related muscle atrophy and degeneration.
Injury: a history of shoulder or arm injury can increase your risk of developing snapping scapula syndrome.
Certain medical conditions: some medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, arthritis, etc, can increase your risk of developing snapping scapula syndrome. Several shoulder conditions such as shoulder impingement, tendonitis, bursitis, etc, also increase your risk.
How is snapping scapula syndrome diagnosed?
Snapping scapula syndrome is a rare condition, so accurate diagnosis is necessary.
Diagnosis of snapping scapula syndrome occurs in the following ways:
Physical examination: medical history will be obtained and a physical examination will be conducted to check for pain, winged scapula, abnormal scapula movement, range of motion, etc.