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Is Shoulder Pain a Sign of Pregnancy?

cartoon of woman holding shoulder because it's in pain

There are many changes that occur in a pregnant woman’s body, some expected and some unexpected. Pregnancy neck pain and shoulder blade pain are some of the lesser-known symptoms that pregnant women can experience. 

Please continue reading to find out why a pregnant woman may experience neck and shoulder pain. Also, find out when to seek emergency medical care for shoulder pain during pregnancy.

Can early pregnancy cause neck and shoulder pain?

Yes, it’s possible to have shoulder pain during early pregnancy. This can happen for many reasons. Most of the time, it’s not something to worry about. However, sometimes shoulder pain during pregnancy can be a symptom of a more serious condition. It may even be a medical emergency for which you need to seek medical attention right away. 

What causes shoulder pain in pregnant women?

Shoulder pain during pregnancy can occur due to:

  • Poor posture while sitting and standing
  • Odd sleeping posture
  • Back and neck pain that is referred to the shoulders
  • Release of a hormone called relaxin which loosens connective tissue and ligaments, causing such symptoms as aches and pains throughout the body
  • Changes in the muscles and joints, including muscle stiffness
  • Changes in the curvature of the lumbar, thoracic, and cervical spine as the body adapts to carrying a baby

Shoulder pain during pregnancy that feels achy or stiff is likely nothing to worry about. However, if you have sudden severe or stabbing pain, you should see a healthcare professional right away. 

Is shoulder pain the first sign of ectopic pregnancy?

Shoulder tip pain can be a sign of ectopic pregnancy. This pain can feel like a sudden strange, or unusual pain right where the shoulder ends and the arm begins. The pain can be either left or right shoulder pain. It can also be present in both shoulders. 

Ectopic pregnancies occur when a fertilized egg implants outside the usual location in the uterus, such as in the fallopian tubes. Also called a tubal pregnancy, this is a serious problem that is potentially life-threatening. It requires immediate medical attention. You need to see a doctor immediately to have the pregnancy medically reviewed.

The reason for shoulder pain in an ectopic pregnancy is internal bleeding in the abdomen. This bleeding can irritate a nerve that supplies the diaphragm, a major breathing muscle located below the lungs called the diaphragm. The pain originates in the diaphragm, but pain signals can be transmitted to the shoulder, causing referred pain in the shoulder joint. 

Besides pain in the shoulder, other symptoms may include abdominal pain, cramping on one side, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, pain with bowel movements, bloating, fainting, and vaginal bleeding. Signs and symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy usually occur during early pregnancy, between 4 and 12 weeks.

What else can cause shoulder pain in pregnancy?

Other conditions can cause shoulder pain in pregnant women as the pregnancy progresses, such as gallstones. During the second trimester or third trimester, pregnancy hormones can cause the formation of gallstones in rare cases. If a gallstone blocks a duct, it can cause symptoms such as fever, nausea, vomiting, severe pain in the upper abdomen, and pain in the upper back between the shoulder blades.

Another potential cause of shoulder pain during the second and third trimesters is preeclampsia. This is a serious condition that occurs in pregnant women who have hypertension (high blood pressure). Other symptoms of preeclampsia can include swelling of the face and hands, headache, vision changes, light sensitivity, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and difficulty breathing.

How to treat pain in the shoulder region during pregnancy?

Pregnant women may not be able to completely prevent shoulder pain. However, should pain may benefit from stretching, massage therapy, warm (not hot) baths, correct posture, and a pregnancy support pillow for sleeping.

If you want to take a medication to reduce pain, make sure you ask your healthcare provider about which pain reliever is safe during pregnancy. It is usually okay to take acetaminophen (Tylenol) occasionally.

More serious causes of shoulder pain during pregnancy include ectopic pregnancy, gallstones, and preeclampsia. These conditions require specific medical treatment from a healthcare professional. Contact your doctor without delay if you have any of the signs and symptoms of these serious complications or severe pain in your shoulder.


  1. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/ectopic-pregnancy/symptoms/
  2. https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jpts/27/1/27_jpts-2014-437/_article/-char/ja/