Over 40% of pregnant women have pain in the shoulders during pregnancy. This is one of the most common discomforts felt during this period due to huge changes in the whole body.

This discomfort may include a pulling sensation that wakes you at night, pain that radiates to the neck, or pain with symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, especially in early pregnancy.

All of our body parts are connected in interesting ways, the pain comes directly from a shoulder disorder, while in other cases, it may occur from other parts of the body such as the abdominal area.

If a pregnant woman experiences such pain, it is recommended to consult a doctor immediately and find out the exact origin, which may also indicate more serious conditions.

Some Causes Of Pain In Shoulders During Pregnancy

For most pregnant women, shoulder pain may be as simple as a bad night’s sleep; a painful pulling sensation similar to a sprain after a sleep posture changes. 

This is mainly due to new ways of sleeping, hormones effects, and muscles contractions.

Pregnancy Hormones

As pregnancy progresses, the woman’s body produces hormones to relax ligaments and muscles in preparation for delivery.

Once ligaments in the knees, hips, back, neck and shoulders loosen, shoulder pain manifests and reacts favorably to stretching.

Weight Gain

Rapid weight gain in a pregnant woman’s body (especially during the second trimester) can also apply pressure on the upper back and shoulders muscles.  This can result in pain in the shoulders.

Gallstones And Digestive Disorders

Pain in the shoulders during pregnancy might occur due to digestive disorders and gallstones; cholesterol or calcium deposits in the gallbladder or its bile ducts.

In this case, pregnant women experience sharp and sudden soreness in the upper abdomen, radiating towards the back to the right shoulder. Gallstones generally provoke pain in the upper right side of the abdomen; however, it is possible to have pain behind the right shoulder instead.

When you notice such pain after eating spicy foods accompanied by nausea or vomiting, the most likely cause may be gallstones. 

There are many other causes of pain in the right shoulder and upper back which may include; esophagus or pancreatic disorders, stomach ulcers, flatulence, constipation, and bloating.

More Serious Sources Of Pain In Shoulders During Pregnancy

Ectopic Or Tubal Pregnancy

One of the most serious causes of shoulder pain in early pregnancy is an ectopic or tubal pregnancy, which is a potentially fatal issue that requires immediate medical attention.

This is a lost embryo condition in which implantation did not occur in the intra-uterine region but in another area.


Preeclampsia is another serious condition of pregnancy that shoulder pain can be one of the warning signs. 

Generally marked by high blood pressure and high protein levels in the urine, Preeclampsia can be particularly dangerous since the warning signs may be silent.

Every pregnant woman needs to check her blood pressure at home. 

Developing Preeclampsia should be referred to the hospital to ensure close attention to the mother’s and baby’s health.

In addition to shoulder pain and high blood pressure, if you experience any of the following symptoms such as severe headaches, blurred vision, pain in the upper right, please consult with a medical doctor.

When Should You Call A Doctor?

You should consult a doctor immediately if symptoms of your shoulders pain include:

  • High fever
  • Inability to move the shoulder
  • Pain lasting more than 15 days
  • Pain with swelling and skin discoloration in affected areas
  • Severe right shoulder pain
  • Severe headaches
  • Upper right abdomen pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Pressure on the rectum

Shoulders pain that occurs mainly in the early stages of pregnancy accompanied by symptoms, such as:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Spots
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Low blood pressure

Pregnant women may feel severe abdominal pain, which often radiates to the shoulder and back area. 

This could be fatal and requires immediate medical attention.

No matter how mild your pain is, make sure you are diagnosed in time, check with your doctor to find out the reasons of your shoulder pain, and how to improve your condition quickly and effectively.

Simple Steps To Ease Pain In Shoulders During Pregnancy

Expectant mothers can follow these simple steps to ease pain and discomfort in the shoulders. Some painkillers can be sore during pregnancy and aren’t recommended without a doctor’s advice.

Good Quality Sleep

Have a good quality sleep and take short breaks to avoid tension accumulation in the painful area. 

Find a good sleeping position with a healthier and more comfortable mattress.

You can use a cervical pillow and a cushion under your feet or between your legs to improve your sleeping comfort and reduce shoulder strain when you wake up.

During exercise, it is important to stay focused on low-impact activities or work with a qualified prenatal instructor. 

Intense activity can lead to fatigue and shift in your body’s balance center, causing injuries and shoulders pain, and is highly unrecommended.

Ice Packs

Applying ice packs and cold pads to the affected area can temporarily reduce shoulders pain. Ice will constrict the blood vessels, which helps numb the pain.

If your health care provider agrees, apply ice packs on the painful area for about 15 to 20 minutes every four to six hours, and be sure to put a cloth or towel between the ice pack and your skin.

Healthy Diet

For gallstones, doctors advise following a gentle diet to avoid further complications. 

A healthy diet and an appropriate amount of rest are recommended to relieve the associated shoulders pain.

Avoid eating spicy or fatty foods to prevent gastric problems that can be manifested as shoulders pain.

Tens Unit

Similar to the effects of the ice packs, the tens unit allows you light or heavier massage on the shoulder muscles, which can provide temporary relief of the pain.

We suggest using SurgPrep’s Pregnancy Support Kit covered by most insurances HERE.

In Summary

Shoulder pain during a woman’s pregnancy can be caused by many actions, inactions, diet, and health reasons.  

Paying close attention to what your shoulder is doing and feeling, and consulting with a medical professional is highly advised.

Adding a healthy diet, good quality sleep, stretching, and a tens unit will all help reduce the pain and discomfort of shoulder pain during pregnancy.

For more information on other pregnancy topics check out our other blogs.