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J Can Chiropr Assoc. 2017 Aug;61(2):128-144.

Dorsal scapular nerve neuropathy: a narrative review of the literature.

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Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College.


in English, French


The purpose of this paper is to elucidate this little known cause of upper back pain through a narrative review of the literature and to discuss the possible role of the dorsal scapular nerve (DSN) in the etiopathology of other similar diagnoses in this area including cervicogenic dorsalgia (CD), notalgia paresthetica (NP), SICK scapula and a posterolateral arm pain pattern.


Dorsal scapular nerve (DSN) neuropathy has been a rarely thought of differential diagnosis for mid scapular, upper to mid back and costovertebral pain. These are common conditions presenting to chiropractic, physiotherapy, massage therapy and medical offices.


The methods used to gather articles for this paper included: searching electronic databases; and hand searching relevant references from journal articles and textbook chapters.


One hundred-fourteen articles were retrieved. After removing duplicates, there were 57 articles of which 29 were retrieved. There were 26 articles and textbook chapters retrieved by hand searching equaling 55 articles retrieved of which 47 relevant articles were used in this report.


The anatomy, pathway and function of the dorsal scapular nerve can be varied and exceptionally rarely may include a sensory component. The signs and symptoms, therefore, may include pain, atrophy, scapular winging, and dysesthesia. The mechanism of injury to the DSN is also quite varied ranging from postural to overuse in overhead work and sport. Other conditions in this area, including CD, NP, SICK scapula and a posterolateral arm pain pattern bear a striking resemblance to DSN neuropathy.


DSN neuropathy should be included in the list of common differential diagnoses of upper and mid-thoracic pain, stiffness, dysesthesia and dysfunction. The study also brings forward interesting connections between DSN neuropathy, CD, NP, SICK scapula and a posterolateral arm pain pattern.


SICK scapula; cervicogenic dorsalgia; dorsal scapular nerve; mid-thoracic pain; nervus dorsalis scapulae; notalgia paresthetica; posterolateral arm pain pattern


Conflict of interest statement

The author does not have any conflicts of interest to declare with regard to the writing of this manuscript.

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