What is Shoulder Strap Pain?

What is Shoulder Strap Pain?

PC: @taneamaee

If you've ever had any type of abdominal surgery, you may have experienced something called shoulder strap pain, or pain in your shoulder. This might seem bizarre, since the surgery took place in a completely different area, but it happens to be an actual result of surgery. Any type of surgery where you receive carbon dioxide gas into your system can create this effect, including a cesarean section.

Postoperative shoulder tip pain (STP), as it is referred to in the medical community, is a direct result of cell death from temperature and dryness changes when CO2 is pumped into your abdomen to make space for the surgeons to see and move around.

Pain can also occur from the CO2 becoming trapped and irritating surrounding tissue, including places between the liver and diaphragm.

But how does the CO2 get all the way up to your shoulder? In plain English, your abdomen and shoulder share a common nerve called the phrenic nerve. This nerve can become irritated by the gas that was pumped into your body. Nerve pain isn't always local to the cause of pain, which is normal.

Why Nerve Pain Varies

Your surgeon cut through many layers to help you bring your baby into this world. Skin, fat, muscles, and your uterus were all cut and then sewn back together. The movement of these layers affects your surrounding nerves, and nerve damage can sometime occur and result in pain or irritation. Sometimes women get it, and sometimes they don't; it's kind of the luck of the draw.

This isn't as bad as it sounds; I had some nerve damage during my c-section which was annoying and painful for several months. Although it's definitely a not fun thing to deal with, most moms (no matter how their birth goes) have some pain after childbirth that takes time to overcome.

Tips to Help with the Pain

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Post c-section pain shouldn't be minimized, but it's important to realize it's all part of having a baby. Here are some things that will help you deal with the pain, whether it's on your incision, in your shoulder, or elsewhere:


  • Stay on top of the pain with your prescribed pain medications.

  • Get up and moving as soon as possible to prevent stiffness and a slower recovery.

  • Use the help of belly bands and other support wear to keep your abdomen protected.

  • Avoid any heavy lifting and over-activity. Walking is the most you should do.

  • Ask for or demand help. You deserve it, and you definitely need it in those first weeks.

    Shoulder strap pain is a secondary side-effect of surgery and should fade quickly. Any surgery will typically make you feel like you've been hit by a truck. This usually occurs on the second day, since your IV painkillers will take that long to wear off.

    If you experience something like leg pain or stiffness in your calves, this could be a sign of a blood clot, so call your doctor immediately. Better safe than sorry, always.

    Take it one day at a time, and be patient with yourself. Rely on the help of others. And if you experience shoulder pain, now you know that it's not a serious complication, but totally normal. Happy healing!

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