What is Dorsal Scapular Nerve Entrapment? (and How To Fix it)

July 11, 2023

Dorsal Scapular Nerve EntrapmentHave you been experiencing pain ranging from a dull ache to sharp pain in your upper back and have no idea where it’s coming from?

Does it get worse when you are sitting and just trying to get your work done?

Have you been rolling it with a lacrosse ball, trying to release it with a massage gun, and stretching it out like nobody’s business, but to no avail?

Well, you came to the right place!

You may be dealing with an increasingly common and painful affliction called Dorsal Scapular Nerve Entrapment (DSN), and today we are going to talk about what it is, how it presents, and some strategies to help you overcome it.


What Is Dorsal Scapular Nerve Entrapment?

Entrapment of the DSN can arise from sources ranging from direct trauma (impact) to the nerve to more insidious causes such as neck tightness and even hypertrophy (muscle growth).

Today, we are going to focus on the causes that we see most commonly in the chiropractic clinic, such as tightness due to poor body positioning, improper mechanics, and hypertrophy due to overuse.

However, before we go any further, let’s take a second to discuss what the Dorsal Scapular Nerve is and what its function is.

The DSN is nerve that stems from cervical vertebrae number 5 (C5) and runs along the brachial plexus, passing through the medial scalene muscle to control the function of the levator scapula (scapular elevator)  muscle as well as the rhomboid minor and major muscles (scapular elevator and retractor).

Now that we covered that base, let’s talk about how our Tangelo Doctors treat Dorsal Scapular Nerve Entrapment, as well as some exercises that would be prudent to consider.


west Seattle pain relief How Do We Treat Dorsal Scapular Nerve Entrapment


At Tangelo, we take a two-pronged approach to treating the  DSN: Treating the site of the issue and fixing the source of the issue.

When it comes to treating the site of the issues, we are specifically referring to the use of modalities such as Active Release Techniques, cupping, and chiropractic to reduce pain, improve mobility and stimulate healing.

In terms of fixing the pain long term, we use functional rehabilitation to strengthen the weak muscles that give the overactive muscles a reason not to work so hard.

For example, when the medial scalene, levator scapula, and rhomboids are holding excessive tone for whatever reason, this can lead the shoulder blade to be in an improper position along the rib cage.

This could take the form of what is called a “winged scapula”. When the scapula is in a winged position, it stretches out the serratus anterior, and when a muscle is stretched out for a prolonged period of time, it will begin to lose its contractability and become weak and even inhibited.

Our Doctors will work to free up tension in the muscles and excitability along the DSN, and our Rehab Specialist will work to restore function by restoring activation and strength back into the serratus anterior.

This, in turn, will help to fix the winged scapula and return the shoulder blade back to a proper position along the rib cage.

All working together to help you feel better fast and return back to a life free of limitations.


Exercises To Consider

Here are some great exercises we recommend to wake up and strengthen the serratus anterior:

  1. Serratus Slides
  2. Serratus Punch 
  3. Serratus Circles
  4. Floor Overhead Shoulder Flexion 



Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. If you feel that you are currently experiencing Dorsal Scapular Nerve Entrapment, the best thing you can do is get it assessed and treated right away.

The longer you wait, the longer it will take to recover, and the most time you would’ve lost.

We have 2 Seattle locations (West Seattle and Green Lake) and 1 Portland location to serve you. Give us a call or submit and Make An Appointment today!