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Sore Shoulders During Pregnancy: 7 Effective Strategies For Relief

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Dr. Jameel - MBBS, MCPS (Family Med)

Dr. Jameel, a compassionate family physician, simplifies medical information through easy-to-understand blogs. His holistic approach promotes healthier living, and he's actively engaged in local health initiatives. Join him on your journey to better health.

sore shoulders during pregnancy

During pregnancy, many changes happen in a woman’s body. Sore shoulders during pregnancy can be a common discomfort experienced by expectant mothers. Understanding why this happens and discovering ways to ease the discomfort can make the journey through pregnancy more manageable.

Causes of Sore Shoulders During Pregnancy

Pregnancy, a beautiful journey bringing various changes, often accompanies discomforts like sore shoulders. Understanding these discomforts, trimester-wise, can help manage them effectively. Following are some of the causes of sore shoulders during pregnancy:

First Trimester:

1. Hormonal Changes:

  • Hormonal fluctuations, especially increased levels of relaxin, begin affecting ligaments.
  • Relaxin softens ligaments for childbirth but can destabilize shoulder joints, leading to soreness.

2. Posture Changes:

  • Body changes aren’t yet prominent, but hormonal shifts might subtly affect posture.
  • Early signs of breast enlargement might slightly impact shoulder alignment.

Second Trimester:

1. Body Changes:

  • Increased breast size and weight gain shift the body’s center of gravity.
  • Growing belly leads to a change in posture, potentially straining shoulder muscles.

2. Hormonal Influence:

  • Continued effects of relaxin contribute to joint looseness, impacting shoulder stability.
  • Relaxin prepares the body for childbirth but can cause discomfort in various joints, including the shoulders.

Third Trimester:

1. Weight Distribution:

  • Rapid growth of the belly places more strain on back and shoulder muscles.
  • Increased body weight further impacts posture, causing added stress on shoulder muscles.

2. Postural Changes:

  • As the baby grows, women tend to adopt a more rounded shoulder posture.
  • This rounded posture, along with the added weight, can strain shoulder muscles and ligaments.

Management Of Sore Shoulders During Pregnancy

Following measures can be done for managing sore shoulders during pregnancy:

  1. Proper Posture:

Sit and stand tall to avoid slouching, which can strain shoulders. Use a cushion or support pillow while sitting or sleeping to maintain a good posture.

  1. Stretching Exercises:Treatment of stiff neck pregnancy

Gentle shoulder rolls and stretches can loosen tight              muscles. Neck stretches and arm circles can also provide relief.

  1. Warm Compress:

Applying a warm compress or taking a warm shower can relax tense shoulder muscles. Heat helps in improving blood circulation and easing soreness.

  1. Cold Therapy:

Cold packs or ice wrapped in a cloth can reduce inflammation and numb the sore area. Use cold therapy for short periods to avoid skin damage.

  1. Supportive Bra:

Wearing a well-fitted and supportive bra can reduce strain on shoulder muscles due to                    breast changes.

  1. Massage and Relaxation Techniques:

Gentle massages or prenatal massages from a certified therapist can ease muscle tension. Moreover, relaxation techniques like deep breathing or prenatal yoga can help reduce stress and    shoulder discomfort.

  1. Pillow Support:

Utilize support pillows while sitting or sleeping to maintain a proper posture.

Serious Causes of Shoulder Pain in Pregnancy

Shoulder pain or sore shoulders during pregnancy can stem from various reasons, including conditions like gallstones, pre-eclampsia, and ectopic pregnancy. Distinguishing between normal discomfort and signs indicating these conditions is crucial for timely intervention and proper care:

1. Ectopic Pregnancy:sore shoulder due to ectopic pregnancy

  • Cause: An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fertilized egg implants itself outside the uterus, often in the fallopian tube.
  • Shoulder Pain Connection: Internal bleeding from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy can irritate the diaphragm, causing referred pain in the shoulder or neck.
  • Other Symptoms: Abdominal pain, vaginal bleeding, dizziness, and fainting are common signs of an ectopic pregnancy.
  • Medical Attention: Immediate medical attention is crucial as ectopic pregnancies can be life-threatening if left untreated.

2. Gallstones (Cholelithiasis):stiff neck due to gall stones in pregnancy

  • Cause: Gallstones are solid particles formed in the gallbladder due to the crystallization of bile components.
  • Shoulder Pain Connection: Gallstones can cause pain that radiates to the right shoulder blade or upper back due to irritation of nerves or inflammation of the gallbladder.
  • Other Symptoms: Severe abdominal pain, especially after eating fatty foods, nausea, vomiting, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) are common signs of gallstones.
  • Medical Evaluation: Diagnosis by a healthcare provider typically involves imaging tests like ultrasound or CT scan to confirm the presence of gallstones.

3. Pre-eclampsia:sore shoulder due to pre-eclempsia

  • Cause: Pre-eclampsia, marked by high blood pressure and organ damage, can cause shoulder pain due to liver irritation, particularly in severe cases like HELLP syndrome.
  • Symptoms: Shoulder pain, along with high blood pressure, protein in urine, severe headaches, visual disturbances, and upper abdominal pain, can signal pre-eclampsia.
  • Management: Immediate medical attention is vital. Treatment includes close monitoring, blood pressure management, rest, and sometimes early delivery to prevent complications.

How to Differentiate Between Serious Causes of Sore Shoulders During Pregnancy?

It’s important to differentiate between normal pregnancy-related shoulder discomfort and pain associated with conditions like ectopic pregnancy, gallstones, or pre-eclampsia:

  • Ectopic Pregnancy: If shoulder pain is sudden, severe, and accompanies other symptoms like abdominal pain or vaginal bleeding, urgent medical attention is necessary.
  • Gallstones: When shoulder pain is accompanied by severe abdominal pain, especially after meals, and other symptoms like nausea or jaundice, a healthcare provider should be consulted promptly.
  • Pre-eclampsia: Shoulder pain, coupled with high blood pressure, protein in urine, severe headaches, visual disturbances, or upper abdominal pain, could indicate pre-eclampsia. Immediate medical assessment is crucial in such cases to prevent complications for both the mother and the baby.

Non-Pregnancy Related Causes of Shoulder Pain/Stiff Neck During Pregnancy

Shoulder pain or stiff neck during pregnancy might arise from causes not directly related to pregnancy itself. Identifying these non-pregnancy related reasons is vital for managing the discomfort effectively:

  1. Muscular Strain:
    • Overuse or strain due to lifting heavy objects or repetitive movements
    • Poor posture during extended sitting or standing periods can strain shoulder and neck muscles
  2. Rotator Cuff Injury:
    • Tears or strains in the rotator cuff muscles from sudden movements or previous trauma
    • Pre-existing conditions or past injuries may worsen discomfort during pregnancy
  3. Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis):
    • Stiffness and limited shoulder joint movement causing pain.
    • History of frozen shoulder can heighten discomfort during pregnancy.
  4. Tendonitis:
    • Inflammation or irritation of shoulder tendons leading to restricted movement.
    • Activities causing repetitive strain contribute to tendonitis, irrespective of pregnancy.
  5. Bursitis:
    • Inflammation of the bursa sac in the shoulder causing pain and swelling.
    • Repetitive activities or injuries unrelated to pregnancy can lead to bursitis.

Management of Non-Pregnancy Related Shoulder Pain/ Stiff Neck During Pregnancy

  1. Rest and Activity Modification:
    • Avoid activities worsening shoulder pain or neck stiffness
    • Incorporate periods of rest for healing
    • Modify tasks to reduce shoulder strain during daily activities
  2. Pain Management Techniques:
    • Use heat or cold therapy to ease pain and reduce inflammation
    • Over-the-counter pain relievers can offer relief, if approved by a healthcare provider
  3. Physical Therapy and Exercises:
    • Engage in gentle shoulder stretches and exercises recommended by a therapist
    • Physical therapy sessions enhance shoulder strength and flexibility
  4. Supportive Measures:
    • Use braces or slings for shoulder stability and to prevent further strain
    • Ensure proper posture while sitting, standing, or sleeping to alleviate discomfort

When to Seek Medical Attention?

While soreness is common during pregnancy, certain signs might indicate a need for medical attention:

  • Persistent or severe pain in the shoulders
  • Swelling or redness around the shoulder joint
  • Difficulty moving arms or shoulders
  • Fever or signs of infection


Q1: Is shoulder pain common during pregnancy?

Yes, it’s common due to hormonal changes and posture shifts.

Q2: What causes stiff neck during pregnancy?

Hormonal changes, posture shifts, muscle strain, and conditions like gallstones or pre-eclampsia.

Q3: When should I be concerned about sore shoulders during pregnancy?

If sudden, severe, or with symptoms like high blood pressure or vaginal bleeding, seek immediate medical attention.

Q4: How can I ease shoulder pain during pregnancy?

Maintain good posture, do gentle exercises, use heat or cold therapy, wear supportive bras, and consult healthcare providers for safe pain relief.

Q5: Can sore shoulders during pregnancy indicate complications?

Yes, severe pain with high blood pressure, jaundice, headaches, or unusual bleeding may signal pre-eclampsia, gallstones, or ectopic pregnancy, needing urgent medical evaluation.

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Sore shoulders during pregnancy are a common discomfort caused by hormonal changes, altered posture and increased stress. This discomfort can be managed effectively with proper care including maintaining good posture, gentle exercises, wearing supportive bras and seeking professional advice. In case of severe or sudden shoulder pain during pregnancy, especially if accompanied by symptoms like nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain, immediate medical consultation is crucial.


Content on this site is written with thorough research and keeping in mind the latest guidelines. However, no content on this site should substitute professional consultation.

Picture of Dr. Jameel

Dr. Jameel

Dr Jameel is a practicing family physician. He writes easy to understand medical blogs to create health awareness and help people to live a healthier life.

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