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Scapulothoracic Bursitis

Scapulothoracic Bursitis Overview

(Snapping Scapula Syndrome)

The scapula, commonly known as the shoulder blade, is responsible for a large amount of movement in the shoulder and upper body. Scapula motion is typically smooth because of a fluid filled sac, the scapulothoracic bursa, which aids in the movement of the scapula against the ribcage. When this bursa becomes inflamed from a shoulder injury or overuse, scapulothoracic bursitis of the shoulder, or snapping scapula syndrome, may occur. Dr. Brian Waterman specializes in a number of shoulder injuries, including snapping scapula syndrome.

Snapping scapula syndrome is characterized by a grinding, grating, snapping or popping sensation of the scapula on the back side of the ribs. This is caused by weakening of the muscles underneath the scapula causing the scapula to sit closer to the ribcage. This injury occurs most commonly in young, active patients who participate in sports activities that require repetitive overhead movements. Other shoulder injuries such as arthritis, a past shoulder separation and a ligament or muscle tear can also contribute to this condition.

Symptoms of Snapping Scapula Syndrome

Patients will experience a variety of symptoms based on the severity of the injury. The most common symptoms patients experience are painful clicking, grinding or snapping of the scapula area. Pain may also be present under the scapula with shoulder movement.

Diagnosis of Snapping Scapula Syndrome

Dr. Waterman and his orthopedic team will perform a thorough physical examination and medical review to begin the diagnosis. An MRI will be performed to examine the possibility of any soft-tissue issues. An X-ray will also be performed to examine the bony structures of the joint and rule out any bone disorders.
Treatment of Scapulothoracic Bursitis

Once scapulothoracic bursitis of the shoulder has been diagnosed, Dr. Waterman will explain treatment options, non-surgical or surgical. The severity of the injury, symptom duration and the underlying cause of the injury will all be contributing factors to the treatment plan.


Dr. Waterman typically depends on non-surgical treatment for scapulothoracic bursitis of the shoulder. A physical therapy program designed to restore normal scapular motion and strengthen the muscles surrounding the shoulder blade combined with anti-inflammatory medications can be effective in many patients. If physical therapy is too painful, a corticosteroid may be injected into the scapulothoracic bursa. In most patients, conservative care will result in resolution of symptoms.


Arthroscopic surgery techniques may be recommended if non-surgical treatment fails. The exact arthroscopic surgery technique will vary based on the snapping scapula syndrome symptoms. This form of surgery is less invasive and proves to be effective at removing the bursa and bone spurs, leading to a normal range of motion and reduced pain and inflammation.

At a Glance

Dr. Brian Waterman, MD

  • Chief & Fellowship Director, Sports Medicine, Wake Forest
  • Team Physician, Wake Forest University, Chicago White Sox
  • Military affiliation/Decorated military officer and surgeon
  • Learn more

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