Why does my shoulder hurt after I eat?
Shoulder pain after eating usually occurs when you eat too much fatty or sugary food. The most common causes are heart attack, gallbladder pain, pancreatitis problems, and sometimes acid reflux.
This type of pain is usually a so-called “referred pain”, meaning that the problem is elsewhere in your body and not exactly where you feel it.
Changing your diet can help in the long term, however, most eating-related shoulder pains indicate a serious medical condition that requires the attention of a doctor.
This is probably the most common and least serious cause of shoulder pain after eating.
Chest pain after eating too much happens to most people at least a few times. In this case, the pain usually goes away within a few hours.
Too much sugar intake, eating greasy foods – like junk foods -, even drinking too many sugary drinks, alcohol or coffee can cause chest discomfort.
Sometimes overeating can cause a referred pain in your shoulder blades, even though the real problem is in your chest or stomach.
Gallbladder attack and gallstones are another common causes of shoulder pain after eating.
The Gallbladder is a tiny organ on your right side, just below the liver.
Bile is a fluid that your gallbladder stores and releases every time you eat to help your body digest the food you just ate. Problems with the flow of the bile can cause upper body pains.
When you eat too much or a lot of fatty food, your gallbladder contracts significantly, to release the bile to your small intestine. If a gallstone blocks the way, the pain starts. This usually happens a few hours after having a large meal.
Typical symptoms of gallbladder problems are:
- pain in the back, chest, or shoulders – usually (but not always) in the right shoulder
- yellowish skin or eyes
In case you are experiencing these symptoms, the best you can do is to contact your doctor right away.
The pancreas helps in food digestion by providing enzymes that mix with food. These enzymes aren’t active until they reach our small intestine.
However, at times, these enzymes become active in your pancreas hence feed and digest pancreatic tissues causing swelling that damages pancreatic blood vessels thus causing inflammation of the pancreas.
Other symptoms include vomiting, nausea, rapid pulse, fever, pain during eating (not only after it).
Pancreatitis is also a serious condition and you should talk to a doctor as soon as possible. Read more about pancreatitis at Mayo Clinic.
Eating too much, especially if your meal was unhealthy – lots of sugary or fatty foods – can trigger a heart attack. Pain in your left shoulder or arm is a common symptom of a heart attack.
The most common warning signs are:
- chest pain – this is the most common sign, the pain may come and go
- upper body pain – left shoulder pain and left elbow pain are the most common, but you might feel pain in your neck, right arm, or even in your teeth
- shortness of breath – may appear before or during chest pain
- nausea, vomiting – accompanied by some of the symptoms above, this should really raise a red flag
Heart attack has a few other warning signs and it is a serious medical condition that requires immediate help!
Shoulder pain is not a typical symptom of acid reflux, however, sometimes reflux might be the cause.
If you are experiencing shoulder pain after eating with other reflux symptoms – like heartburn, chest tightness, or regurgitation -, then reflux should also be considered as a cause.
Acid reflux is a common digestive condition that damages the esophagus’s lower lining. It’s caused when stomach acid frequently flows into your esophagus. This back-flow of acid irritates the lining of your esophagus.
Many people experience acid reflux regularly. Mild reflux symptoms can occur every now and then but if they happen more often, you should consult with a doctor.
This condition may also be aggravated by smoking, eating late at night, having large meals, taking certain medications like aspirin, and drinking alcoholic beverages.
If you want to know more about acid reflux, check out our articles:
Location of the pain
Let’s take a quick look at the most common causes of left and right shoulder pains.
A word of warning: Although we try to list the typical causes of left and right shoulder pains, this is not a definitive list. Without talking to a patient, knowing all other symptoms, other possible health issues, and history of health problems it is impossible to tell what exactly causes your shoulder pain.
Left shoulder pain after eating
Pain in the left shoulder after eating is often associated with a heart attack, but several other health issues could be the cause. However, if you are experiencing other typical heart attack warning signs, call 911 right away!
Another possible reason for eating-related left shoulder pain is pancreatitis. Left shoulder pain while eating, or shortly after eating is a typical symptom of pancreas inflammation. The pain might radiate into the back. Fatty foods and sugary drinks are the most likely triggers.
Right shoulder pain after eating
Right shoulder pain is often caused by gallbladder problems. Gallbladder inflammation or gallstones often causes pain in the upper right abdomen, which might radiate into the right shoulder.
The most likely trigger foods are fatty foods since the gallbladder helps in the digestion of fat.
Pain in right, left, or both shoulders
Several medical conditions can cause pain in either the left or right shoulder or both:
- Overeating: Simply eating too much might cause left shoulder pain. If the pain is not severe and you can, try to take a short walk. It’ll help your digestion and might help the pain to go away.
- Acid reflux: Acid reflux often causes a burning sensation in the middle of the chest, where the food pipe is. This pain might radiate into the left, or right, or both shoulders.
- Gas or bloating: This usually happens after eating too much fatty or oily food. If gas is produced during the digestion process and is stuck in the stomach, it might cause stomach or chest pain. This pain can radiate to one or both shoulders.
Pain between the shoulder blades after eating
Shoulder blade pain after eating is most likely a referred pain. The most common causes are:
- Acid reflux: It can cause pain between the shoulder blades, but also only around the left or right shoulder blade .
- Heart attack: Cardiovascular problems, like a heart attack or angina, usually trigger pain around the left shoulder blade, pain often radiates into the neck and left arm .
- Inflammed gallbladder: Right side pain is the typical symptom of gallbladder problems, like inflammation or gallstones. This might be the cause of right shoulder blade pain .
- Liver problems: Another possible cause of right shoulder blade pain, around the right side of the rhomboid muscles .
- Pancreatitis: Inflammation of the pancreas tends to trigger left side pain, which might radiate into the left shoulder blade .
- Spleen problems: Spleen is in the upper left part of the abdomen, therefore it usually triggers left side pain.
Experiencing pain between the shoulder blades after having a meal is something that should be discussed with your doctor since the underlying health problem is unlikely to go away without treatment.
If shoulder blade pain is accompanied by a sharp chest or stomach pain, it might be a medical emergency!
How to relieve shoulder pain after eating?
From simple overeating to heart attack, numerous health issues can cause eating-related shoulder pain and some of those are very serious conditions. Therefore, it is recommended to consult with your doctor to diagnose the problem.
However, besides talking to a qualified medical professional, there are some other things you could and should do.
As with all eating-related problems, changing your diet can go a long way and can be the most effective in the long term to mitigate your symptoms.
Foods with high fat or high sugar content should be avoided:
- red meat
- junk food
- fatty foods
- sugary foods
- fried foods
- refined foods (pasta, white flour, cookies, chocolate, etc.)
Try to eat more foods rich in fiber and vitamins:
- most vegetables
- most fruits
- white meat (fish, chicken)
- dairy products that are low in fat
Eating-related shoulder pain might indicate a serious health issue and should never be ignored.
Even though there are some typical symptoms, like left shoulder pain after eating can be related to a heart attack, and right shoulder pain a few hours after eating might be caused by gallbladder problems, the diagnosis is never that simple.
Our bodies can react very differently to the same underlying medical condition, that’s why it is very important to get a proper examination from your doctor.
He or she will also be able to answer your questions and give advice tailored to your special situation.
Frequently asked questions
Gallbladder problems are more likely to cause pain on the right side of the body since this is where the gallbladder is.
If you have both stomach pain and left shoulder pain, pancreatitis might be the culprit.
If you have chest and left shoulder pain, the most likely causes are a heart attack and acid reflux.
If you are a heavy drinker, it might indicate a heart problem, that probably needs immediate medical help.
Other possible reasons: acid reflux, dehydration, or esophageal spasm (if the drink was very cold)