What Are the Causes of Shoulder Pain During Pregnancy

Shoulder pain during pregnancy is a common complaint among expectant mothers, often causing discomfort and concern. While some shoulder pain may be a normal part of pregnancy due to hormonal changes and increased strain on the body, it’s essential to understand the underlying causes, especially when it occurs in early pregnancy. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the common and more serious causes of shoulder pain during pregnancy, along with strategies for relief and prevention.

Common causes of shoulder pain in pregnancy

First trimester

During the first trimester of pregnancy, hormonal changes and physical adjustments can contribute to shoulder pain and also a Rib pain. As the body prepares for pregnancy, hormonal fluctuations can lead to ligament laxity and muscle tension, which may manifest as shoulder discomfort. Additionally, changes in posture and sleeping positions may put pressure on the shoulders, exacerbating any existing pain.

Second trimester

As pregnancy progresses into the second trimester, the growing uterus and expanding belly can alter a woman’s centre of gravity, causing changes in posture and putting strain on the shoulders and upper back. Shoulder pain during this stage may also be exacerbated by weight gain and hormonal changes.

Third trimester

In the third trimester, shoulder pain may intensify due to the additional weight of the growing baby and increased pressure on the shoulders and upper back. As the uterus expands, it can compress nerves and blood vessels, leading to discomfort and referred pain in the shoulders.

More serious causes of shoulder pain in pregnancy

First trimester

While most cases of shoulder pain in early pregnancy are benign, some underlying conditions may require medical attention. Ectopic pregnancy, although rare, can cause shoulder pain as a result of internal bleeding or irritation of the diaphragm. If shoulder pain is accompanied by other symptoms such as vaginal bleeding, dizziness, or abdominal pain, it’s essential to seek immediate medical evaluation to rule out ectopic pregnancy.

Second and third trimesters

In the later stages of pregnancy, certain medical conditions may cause shoulder pain and intense pain in temporomandibular joint (TMJ) that requires prompt medical intervention:


Gallstones are hardened deposits that form in the gallbladder and can cause sharp, intense pain in the right shoulder blade or upper abdomen. During pregnancy, hormonal changes and slowed gallbladder emptying can increase the risk of gallstone formation, leading to symptoms such as shoulder pain, nausea, and vomiting.


Preeclampsia is a serious pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to other organ systems, such as the liver and kidneys. Shoulder pain may occur as a result of liver inflammation or referred pain from elevated blood pressure. Other symptoms of preeclampsia include swelling, headaches, and visual disturbances, necessitating immediate medical attention.

How to relieve common causes of shoulder pain during pregnancy

Lifestyle modifications

  • Maintain good posture: Practice proper posture by keeping your shoulders relaxed and your spine aligned while sitting and standing.
  • Use supportive pillows: Invest in a pregnancy pillow or body pillow to provide support for your growing belly and relieve pressure on your shoulders while sleeping.
  • Stay active: Engage in gentle exercises such as swimming, prenatal yoga, or walking to improve circulation and reduce muscle tension.
  • Apply heat or cold therapy: Use a heating pad or cold compress to alleviate muscle soreness and inflammation in the shoulders.

Stretching and strengthening exercises

  • Shoulder rolls: Perform gentle shoulder rolls to improve flexibility and relieve tension in the shoulders.
  • Chest stretches: Stretch the chest muscles by clasping your hands behind your back and gently pulling your arms backwards.
  • Upper back exercises: Strengthen the muscles of the upper back and shoulders with exercises such as rows, reverse flies, and shoulder blade squeezes.

When to call a doctor

While mild shoulder pain is common during pregnancy, certain symptoms warrant medical attention:

  • Severe or persistent shoulder pain
  • Shoulder pain accompanied by vaginal bleeding
  • Shoulder pain associated with dizziness or fainting
  • Shoulder pain accompanied by fever or chills
  • Difficulty breathing or chest pain

If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider immediately for evaluation and appropriate management.

Preventing shoulder pain in pregnancy

  • Practice good posture: Maintain proper posture throughout pregnancy to reduce strain on the shoulders and upper back.
  • Use supportive equipment: Invest in a supportive mattress, chair, and ergonomic accessories to promote comfort and alleviate pressure on the shoulders.
  • Stay active: Engage in regular exercise to improve strength, flexibility, and circulation, which can help prevent shoulder pain and discomfort.
  • Seek prenatal care: Attend regular prenatal appointments to monitor your health and address any concerns or symptoms promptly.

The bottom line

Shoulder pain during pregnancy is a common occurrence that can result from hormonal changes, physical adjustments, or underlying medical conditions. While most cases of shoulder pain are benign and can be managed with lifestyle modifications and self-care measures, it’s essential to be aware of potential red flags and seek medical attention if necessary. By understanding the causes of shoulder pain during pregnancy and implementing preventive strategies, you can promote a more comfortable and enjoyable pregnancy experience.

About Author

Vikson care