Why does my shoulder hurt to scratch my back?

Why does my shoulder hurt to scratch my back?
Why does my shoulder hurt to scratch my back?

Why does my shoulder hurt when I scratch my back is a common question we get as physical therapists.

Various factors, including muscle strain, rotator cuff injuries, and poor posture, can cause shoulder pain when scratching your back.

Here are a few reasons:

  1. Muscle Strain: Overuse or sudden, repetitive movements of the shoulder and arm muscles can lead to muscle strain. When you reach to scratch your back, it may exacerbate the pain if the muscles are already fatigued or injured.
  2. Rotator Cuff Injury: The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons in the shoulder that help stabilize and move the joint. Injury or inflammation of the rotator cuff can result in pain when you move your arm, especially when reaching behind your back.
  3. Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis): This condition involves the tightening of the shoulder joint capsule and can restrict your shoulder’s range of motion, making it painful to reach behind your back.
  4. Tendonitis: Inflammation of the tendons in the shoulder, known as tendonitis, can cause pain and discomfort with certain movements, including reaching behind your back.
  5. Arthritis: Arthritis in the shoulder joint can lead to chronic pain and stiffness, which may make it painful to move your arm, particularly for activities like scratching your back.
  6. Posture and Mechanics: Poor posture or incorrect shoulder mechanics when reaching behind your back can put extra strain on the shoulder joint and muscles, leading to discomfort or pain.

The range of motion needed in the shoulder to comfortably scratch your back typically involves a combination of shoulder flexion, abduction, and external rotation.  You also need the shoulder blade to move in abduction and protraction.

The specific range of motion required can vary from person to person, depending on factors such as shoulder flexibility, anatomical variations, and the precise location on your back that you’re trying to scratch.

If you do not have the adequate range of motion, then trying to force your arm behind your back will usually hurt.


It’s essential to address shoulder pain promptly to prevent it from becoming chronic or worsening over time.

Consult with a healthcare provider for a thorough evaluation and personalized treatment plan based on the specific cause of your shoulder pain.

Treatment options for tight pec muscles

A physical therapist can provide a tailored treatment plan based on your specific condition and needs.

At PhysioFit of NC, we have the expert team in musculoskeletal conditions to help you to the fullest.

We provide a comprehensive treatment approach through our Shoulder Alignment Program  This program is designed to assess and address impairments in motor control, muscle activation, flexibility, and symmetry between the shoulders. The primary goal of treatment is to address the underlying muscular imbalance issues and strength deficits causing impaired balance and symmetry.

Don’t hesitate to contact us today so we can help you!