Why Does my Shoulder Hurt when I Take a Deep Breath?

women who take a deep breath and feel shoulder pain


Shoulder pain is one of the leading physical ailments in today’s world. Shoulder pain is the usual complaint of people who work for hours sitting in front of a desk or a computer. There are a lot of possible causes of shoulder pain and there are also quite a few causes that trigger pain in the shoulder when breathing.

Experiencing pain in the shoulders while breathing does not necessarily mean that the pain or the inflammation is coming directly from the shoulder. The pain is just felt on the shoulder but it may mean something else. It may be a referred pain wherein the pain is felt in the shoulder but There could be a number of possible causes for this pain in your shoulder that you are experiencing every time you take a deep breath.

Cause of Pain in the Shoulder while Breathing

The shoulder pain felt when taking a deep breath may be caused by a slight fracture, an injury in the rotator cuff, a fall, a physical injury such as a dislocated shoulder, and an aggravated bursa or shoulder joints.

Pleurisy can also cause your shoulder to hurt whenever you take a deep breath. Pain in the chest is the main symptom of pleurisy and the pain occurs when taking a deep breath or when coughing. There are some people who feel the pain in the shoulders. The pain in the shoulders gets worse with coughing, chest movement, and deep breathing. Pleurisy or pleuritis is an inflammation of the lining around the lungs and chest. Pleurisy can be caused by an infection like a viral infection, pneumonia, or bronchitis. It can cause fluid to collect inside the chest which makes breathing harder and more challenging. This fluid can cause shortness of breath, rapid breathing, and coughing.

Shoulder pain associated with coughing and breathing can emerge from the rib-cage and spinal joints in the different parts of the thorax and the neck. If the pain is felt more on the back of the shoulder or in the higher portion of the upper back, the pain might be coming from an inflamed and jammed facet joint in the neck or in the muscles protecting it.

The muscles in the neck are connected to the first rib and the collarbone which offer the possibility of being used as emergency breathing muscles. The facet joints in the neck are located deep under the muscles in the shoulder and in the corner angle of the neck.
When these joints are strained or irritated, there is a tendency to cause referred pain on the upper back and on the back of the shoulder.

The pain in the shoulder experienced when taking a deep breath may also be caused by stress, bad breathing habits, and tiredness. The trapezius and jaw muscles starting from the back of the skull down on the side of the neck, extending up to each shoulder tip, form a permanent state of low-grade contraction that gathers the joints in the shoulder or neck angle. A person’s emotional response when the body is tired or is going through too much pressure or stress subtly causes a change in the body’s breathing mechanism which elevates the shoulders and scatters the joints stuck at the neck angle. Allowing the shoulders to drop when you are stressed will release the tension in your neck and in your shoulders and it will help you breathe normally.

Diagnosis of Pain in the Shoulder while Breathing

Diagnosing the pain felt in the shoulder especially when taking a deep breath can be quite tricky as there are a lot of possible causes. The initial step taken by the doctor is a short interview with the patient to know about the patient’s medical history. The doctor then asks for a detailed description of the pain felt in the shoulder such as how it affects the person’s activities, how the pain is felt, how often the pain is felt, etc.

The doctor may recommend physical tests like blood tests, x-ray, ECG, ultrasound, thoracentesis or the removal of pleural fluid with a needle, MRI, and CT Scan to further investigate the shoulder pain and to determine the exact cause especially since this kind of shoulder pain is more likely a referred pain.

Treatment for Pain in the Shoulder while Breathing

The treatment for this kind of a pain in the shoulder depends on the diagnosis of the doctor. That’s why it is important to see a doctor if you are experiencing pain in the shoulders when breathing as there could be a number of possible reasons that could cause it. It is essential to treat the underlying cause of the shoulder pain first before curing the physical ailment permanently.

The treatment may include the application of ice packs, anti-inflammatory medications, NSAIDs, physical therapy, heat application, yoga, and even cortisone injections. In more serious cases, a surgery may be advised.