Our Educational Content is Not Meant or Intended for Medical Advice or Treatment
The Hidden Source of Right Shoulder Pain
Dr. Eric Berg DC
I see it all the time: a patient comes to me suffering mysterious pain in their right shoulder- pain that runs under their shoulder blade, up to the side of the neck, even extending into headaches- and they're stumped as to why.
They've never been injured in that area. They take good care of themselves, and often, they even report that they've recently made some new, healthier lifestyle habits. What could possibly be wrong? 90% of these people are suffering from gallbladder problems.
How does gallbladder trouble cause pain in the neck and shoulder?
If you're experiencing this type of pain from gallbladder issues, the pain originates in your phrenic nerve. This nerve connects to the soft tissue near your gallbladder and runs up to the right side of your body, passing your liver and diaphragm, all the way to your neck, where it originates.
There is a duct on the gallbladder that, when clogged, pinches the phrenic nerve and causes referred pain in the shoulder, neck, and head.
Sometimes, all this causes is some acute pain along the phrenic nerve's path.
This pain can be in the upper back around or under the scapula (shoulder blade), on the shoulder, along the collarbone, up to the side of the neck, and even in your head. In more serious cases, the pain can be more widespread and chronic in those areas.
Some people experience pain along their right arm or leg as well. In extreme cases, phrenic nerve compression can even cause rotation of the vertebrae in the neck.
How can I be sure it's gallbladder-related pain?
Use your hands or a massage tool for this simple diagnostic test: when you're in pain, press on the area of your gallbladder, firmly but gently, for about a minute.
You'll want to press just beneath your ribcage, about an inch to the right of your middle. If you feel relief after this, you've definitely got gallbladder troubles. Also try pressing on the back of your left calf just above the ankle for relief.
Also ask yourself, "When did this pain start?" If it seems to flare up after you eat, or if you began noticing it when you made a significant change to your diet, that's another sign.
What causes this inflammation?
The duct off the gallbladder is the source of the problem. It can become clogged with different oils from the food you eat. When that happens, it compresses the phrenic nerve and causes pain all along the nerve's path. Other symptoms of a clogged duct include acid reflux, bloating, and belching after meals.
I've said in some of my videos and articles that eating fat is not nearly as much of a problem as we've been led to believe it is, but that comes with a caveat of course!
Too much fat isn't great, and some people are more sensitive to certain fats, and will have gallbladder symptoms as a result of consuming too much of them. Fats that come from plant sources like olive oil, flax, and raw nuts and seeds are common culprits; nuts are probably number one.
They're not the only cause, however. Irritating your liver can also cause phrenic nerve pain. S ome people will aggravate their gallbladder and liver by eating too many refined carbohydrates, or soy protein isolate, which is found in many faux meat products and protein bars.
Can I still eat nuts? What should I do?
Raw nuts give people a lot of trouble because they're such a good snack. They're convenient and filling, as well as having no sugar and lots of protein, fiber, and fat.
They're an intuitive choice for people who are starting to form healthier food and fitness habits. When they start to cause phrenic nerve pain, it's very frustrating. Never fear! Nuts are not completely off the table. You just have to prepare them properly.
Don't eat plain raw nuts! Germinate raw nuts for gallbladder relief.
Germinating your raw nuts is easy, but it does require some planning. To germinate your nuts, simply soak them in fresh water overnight, in your refrigerator. In the morning, rinse them off and place them in the oven on a very low temperature, or in a dehydrator.
This process releases digestive enzymes that make your nuts easier to digest and less taxing on your gallbladder. Roasted or plain raw nuts lack these enzymes and will only aggravate your symptoms.
If you have serious phrenic nerve pain, you may want to cut back on your nut intake regardless. If you eat nut butters, make sure they don't contain sugar; on top of most nut butters being made of roasted nuts that lack digestive enzymes, they are often loaded with hidden, liver-aggravating sugar.
Eating more greens- like kale and wheatgrass powder- will also help support your liver and relieve some of these symptoms.
Phrenic nerve pain and gallbladder symptoms can be so serious. I've stopped patients from getting surgery (!!!) in an attempt to correct the pain in their neck and shoulder.
N obody had discussed the possibility of gallbladder trouble with them. Luckily, you probably don't need surgery. You just need to eat your greens and soak your nuts!
Understand the gallbladder and shoulder pain connection and see more Pain and Inflammation advice from Dr. Berg Video Blog.