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Shoulder pain is a problem faced by 40% of pregnant women. Read on to find out why it occurs, and how to relieve and prevent it from happening.
Why Is Shoulder Pain Common During Pregnancy?
The shoulder joint, along with other joints in the body, undergoes many changes during pregnancy. A pregnant woman’s body produces a hormone called relaxin which relaxes all the ligaments in the body in preparation for delivery. This loosening up of the ligaments combined with changes in sleeping posture, standing and walking posture can cause shoulder pain in pregnant women. They are also more susceptible to sprains, bruising or falls which may turn a mild ache in the shoulder into intense discomfort. Thus, it is important to take care of your shoulder health during pregnancy.
Symptoms of Shoulder Pain in Pregnancy
Sometimes, shoulder pain during pregnancy is due to changes in sleeping posture, hormonal changes as well as muscle stiffness. Other symptoms of shoulder pain during pregnancy are:
- Shoulder pain radiates to the cervical area and increases as the day goes by. It is generally combined with a burning feeling in the eyes and pain in the base of the skull and brings tension and fatigue.
- Shoulder pain during first trimester may be accompanied with symptoms like nausea, vomiting, migraine, fainting, low blood pressure, and abnormal weight gain. These symptoms may be a cause for concern and need to be addressed.
Causes of Shoulder Pain in Pregnant Women
Shoulder pain may be a symptom of an underlying health condition.
- Shoulder pain during early pregnancy msy be a sign of an ectopic or tubal pregnancy needing immediate medical intervention. In this condition, the embryo developing starts growing in the fallopian tubes or the cervix instead of the uterus. This is characterised by sharp, stabbing pain that starts in the abdomen and can radiate to the shoulder and back.
- You may be experiencing shoulder pain because of gall stones that are deposits of cholesterol or calcium in the gallbladder or bile ducts. People with gall stones have stabbing pain in the upper abdomen radiating to the back and shoulder.
- Sometimes, shoulder pain may be caused by stomach issues like constipation, bloating, flatulence and stomach ulcers. Such type of pain originates in the stomach and spreads to the back and shoulder.
- Excessive or unbalanced weight in the abdomen can also cause shoulder blade pain during the second trimester. Here, the pain originates in the lower back and spreads to the back muscles and shoulders.
- Left shoulder pain occurs frequently in the second and third trimester when women sleep on their left hand side for better blood flow to the embryo.
- Severe right shoulder pain is, sometimes, a sign of preeclampsia, a condition wherein a pregnant woman’s blood pressure and the amount of protein in her urine skyrocket.
- When shoulder pain is combined with tension and stiffness in the upper back and base of the skull, headaches, and migraines, mental strain might be the cause.
Treatment of Shoulder Pain
Certain painkillers can be harmful during pregnancy and should not be taken without a doctor’s advice. So, instead popping a painkiller for shoulder pain, you can follow some simple pain-relieving measures.
- Use anti-inflammatory sprays and creams.
- Place an ice pack at and around the site of the pain.
- Do physical self-therapy like yoga, acupressure, stretching exercises and find a good position or bed to sleep in.
- Take care of gastric complaints before they give rise to shoulder pain.
- Take enough rest to fend off tension stress and shoulder pain.
- Cut down on physically strenuous activities that might increase shoulder pain during the third trimester.
- Give yourself a massage before you go to sleep.
How To Prevent Shoulder Pain?
Your body is changing to accommodate the miracle of childbirth. This should prompt healthy changes in a pregnant woman’s lifestyle. The moment you make healthy choices, you can prevent the triggers of shoulder pain. The best way to prevent shoulder pain during pregnancy is to remain healthy. Here are some tips to prevent shoulder pain:
- Sleep well to avoid tension build-up in the shoulders.
- Eat well and avoid gastric issues that may cause shoulder pain.
- Avoid bad posture while sleeping, standing, sitting and walking.
- If you smoke, you should consider giving it up.
- Scale back on responsibilities professionally and at home.
- Ask for help from a trusted family member of friend when possible.
- Get pillows specially designed for the cervical spine and legs for better sleep and less strain on the shoulders.
- Eat less spicy and oily foods, to help with shoulder pain of gastric origin and gallstones
Other Tips To Relieve Shoulder Pain When You’re Pregnant
- Avoid stress and people who cause it.
- Try a chiropractor or an acupressure therapist to help relieve shoulder pain and promote good health.
- Substitute healthy snacks for junk food at tea time and in between meals .
- Take time off. Doing nothing on one day of the week works wonders for health, relaxation and well-being.
- Buy a new mattress, get a sleeping mask and noise-cancelling headphones – all these sleep-aids do wonders for sleep quality.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
A pregnant woman should not hesitate to call the doctor if shoulder pain continues for many days and is accompanied with symptoms like high fever, pressure on the rectum, immobile shoulder joint, and pain along with swelling and discolouration of the skin.
Frequently Asked Questions
We answer a few frequently questions about shoulder pain during pregnancy.
1. Why Is There Pain Between My Shoulder Blades?
This is termed as shoulder blade pain and occurs due to poor posture, i.e. when the upper back and shoulders bend forward. The pain is because of the shoulder blades getting detached from each other. Driving, sitting at work for long hours, eating or swimming can aggravate this situation.
2. I Have Pain At the Tip of My Shoulders. Please help!
Some pregnant women experience pain at the tip of the shoulders, where the arms begin. This is rare and one of the signs of ectopic pregnancy.
3. What Should I Do for Pain in the Left Arm and Shoulder?
Pain in the left arm and shoulder may develop due to a pinched nerve or joint injury. It could also be a symptom of a heart illness. You should get it checked by your doctor immediately.
Pregnancy comes with its share of aches and pains, most of which cannot be avoided. Adequate rest, mild exercise and healthy eating habits go a long way in easing the discomfort. Do remember that any pain or symptom needs to be shown to a doctor if it starts interfering with your daily routine.