Shoulder Pain After Eating

Why does my shoulder hurt after I eat?

Shoulder pain after eating usually occurs when you eat too much fatty or sugary food. 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 on the long term, however most eating related shoulder pains indicate a serious medical condition that requires attention of a doctor.


1. Overeating

What happens when you overeat? A short and sweet video about overeating. Duration: 4:45

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 much 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.

2. Gallbladder problems

A short video about the gallbladder and related medical conditions. Duration: 4:27

Gallbladder attack and gallstones are another common causes of shoulder pain after eating.

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 to 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
  • fever
  • vomiting
  • yellowish skin or eyes

In case you are experiencing these problems, the best you can do is to contact your doctor right away.

3. Pancreatitis

A proper diet is essential if you have pancreatitis. Duration: 2:36

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 on Mayo Clinic

4. Heart Attack

Heart attack
In case of a heart attack, the pain usually radiates into your left shoulder / elbow.

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
  • sweating
  • 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 its a serious medical conditions that requires immediate help!

5. Acid reflux

Shoulder pain is not a typical symptom of acid reflux, however sometimes reflux might the cause.

If you are experiencing shoulder pain after eating with other reflux symptoms – like heartburn or chest tightness, 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 or large meal, taking certain medications like aspirin and drinking alcoholic beverages.

If you want to know more about acid reflux, check out our articles:

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 on 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
  • refined foods (pastas, 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

Final Thoughts

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.