Suprascapular Nerve Entrapment, an Uncommon Cause of Shoulder Pain

Suprascapular Neuropathy

Suprascapular neuropathy, also known as suprascapular nerve entrapment or suprascapular nerve syndrome, is a condition that involves compression or damage to the suprascapular nerve. This nerve originates from the upper trunk of the brachial plexus (a network of nerves that control the muscles and sensation in the arm and shoulder) and supplies the supraspinatus and infraspinatus muscles in the shoulder. When the suprascapular nerve is compressed or injured, it can lead to weakness and pain in the shoulder, particularly during overhead activities. The pain is more commonly described in the posterior or back part of the shoulder.  

Common causes of suprascapular neuropathy include:

  1. Trauma: Direct injury to the shoulder area, such as a fracture of the scapula or a shoulder dislocation, can damage the suprascapular nerve.
  2. Compression: Nerve compression can occur at various locations along the nerve’s path, including as it passes through the suprascapular notch or under the transverse scapular ligament.
  3. Tumors: Tumors or cysts near the nerve can compress it and lead to neuropathy.  Cysts that occur from labrum tears can cause suprascapular nerve entrapment.  This is more common in overhead athletes especially in volleyball players.

The symptoms of suprascapular neuropathy may include shoulder pain, weakness when lifting the arm or rotating the shoulder, and difficulty with overhead activities like throwing, reaching, or lifting heavy objects.

Treatment for suprascapular neuropathy typically depends on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. Some common treatment options include:

  1. Rest and Activity Modification: Reducing activities that exacerbate the symptoms can help alleviate pain and prevent further damage.
  2. Physical Therapy: Physical therapy exercises can help improve shoulder strength and range of motion. A therapist may also use modalities like ultrasound or electrical stimulation to manage pain and promote healing.
  3. Medications: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or other pain medications may be prescribed to manage pain and inflammation.
  4. Corticosteroid Injections: In some cases, corticosteroid injections into the affected area can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain.
  5. Surgical Intervention: In cases of severe nerve compression or structural abnormalities, surgery may be necessary to decompress the suprascapular nerve or repair damaged structures. This may involve releasing tight ligaments or removing cysts or tumors.

The choice of treatment will depend on the individual patient’s condition and the recommendations of their healthcare provider. Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial for the best outcomes in suprascapular neuropathy cases. To correctly diagnose suprascapular neuropathy a specific nerve study needs to be ordered and performed by an experienced technician in this specific entity.  At Total Orthopedics and Sports Medicine we have orthopedic specialists who can determine if your symptoms are consistent with suprascapular neuropathy.  We also have specialists who are experienced in performing the correct nerve study to make the appropriate diagnosis and surgeons who have a vast experience in minimally invasive techniques in releasing the suprascapular nerve. 

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