Why Does My Shoulder Hurt After Gastric Bypass?

Why Does My Shoulder hurt after gastric bypass
Why Does My Shoulder hurt after gastric bypass

If you’ve recently had gastric bypass surgery, you may be wondering why does my shoulder hurt after gastric bypass? You didn’t have surgery on your shoulder, the work was done through your abdomen. So, why the pain?

Why Does My Shoulder Hurt After Gastric Bypass?

If you had Laparoscopic surgery, you’re likely experiencing gas pain in your left shoulder. Is that weird, or what? How on earth would the gas be in your shoulder? And how can I be so sure it’s gas?

I, like you, went straight to the internet to diagnose my pain after my own surgery. And there, I found the least helpful advice, that terrified me. The top answer six years ago is the top answer today: Leaking from your stitches. And while that IS something that could cause this pain, that is the least likely answer. And the one that will send you screaming into your doctor’s office in fear.

Why am I so sure that you, a complete stranger who I have no prior interaction with, are experiencing gas pain? Because in a survey out of 50 gastric bypass patients on a support group poll, 90% of those experiencing this pain confirmed it was due to gas.

Laparoscopic Surgery Requires Space

When you have laparoscopic surgery, you are filled with air, like a balloon. This is so that the surgeon has room to work. From this article on Keyhole Surgery (Source: NHS.UK), that small scar near your belly button is where they put the tube that pumps the carbon dioxide to inflate the abdomen.

Usually, the work is done on the left side, which is why that scar is bigger. But there are other instruments inserted into the other areas where you have scars on your abdomen, too. All of this is so that this major surgery can be done in the least invasive way.

Many times, you’ll also have a breathing tube, which leaves a scratchy throat after.

How To Get Rid Of Shoulder Pain After Gastric Bypass

Now that we know what is likely the cause of this pain, what do you do about it?

  • Get a backrub. This will probably help you fart, too. And when you’re looking to getting discharged, that’s goal number one!
  • Walk, Walk, Walk, Walk. The act of walking moves the body, and moving the body will push the gas bubbles out.
  • Drink as much water as you can stand. Water moves gas around your body. More water = less gas.
  • Do Yoga Poses. The gentle, stretching movements of yoga can help release the trapped gas bubbles.
  • Lay on your left side on a hard surface. If moving is too much right after surgery, just lay down. But lay down on your left side, on a really hard surface.
  • Exercise your diaphram. Singers, wind instrument musicians, balloon animal clowns, and yoga enthusiasts have one thing in common. They have strong diaphrams. They will all likely tell you the diaphram is one of the most important muscles in your body. The diaphram keeps your natural stomach from traveling up into the space where your esophagus lives (this is a hiatal hernia). The diaphram can help fill your lungs to full capacity to sing or play an instrument loud enough to reach the back of an auditorium. The best way to exercise? Deep, measured breaths.

But Why Does My SHOULDER Hurt After Gastric Bypass?

Since we know that laparoscopic surgery requires the abdomen cavity be filled with carbon dioxide like a balloon, it makes sense that when the surgery is over the carbon dioxide is released. But releasing it from your body is not as easy as squeezing the air from a balloon.

Some of the gas can linger around in the abdomen. When the gas rubs against your diaphram, it triggers the nerves that go all the way up to your shoulder. The nerves get inflammed, and that’s why your shoulder hurts after gastric bypass.

This actually has nothing to do with a leaky pouch. But because the same nerves are triggered by the gas as the leak, the symptom is the same.

As someone who has experienced this pain and recovery after gastric bypass, I would really recommend trying to treat the pain as if it were gas pain FIRST.

And the first reason I would adamantly recommend this, even though I am not a doctor, is that this is the likeliest cause and the fastest to fix. But the more subtle reason I would recommend this is because of obesity stigma. And this is a REALLY touchy subject to write on.

Obesity Stigma and Leaving The Land Of The Large

Because this is a really weird thing for me to write about, I’m likely going to muck it up somehow as we move on from why your shoulder will hurt after gastric bypass. So, I ask for your patience and empathy as I blaze this awkward trail.

I was over weight for 30 years. I’ve been an “acceptable weight” for only about six years now. And the difference in the way I am treated is ASTOUNDING.

One of the differences I’ve experienced is how I am treated at the doctor’s office as both a fat and thin person. I’m not speaking about my bariatric doctor’s office, because his office was the first to treat me like all of my other maladies were not my own fault due to mismanagement of my weight.

No, I’m talking about general practitioners, family doctors, OBGYNs, Podiatrists, and the list goes on.

After three decades of, usually unintentional, obesity descrimination every where I turned, I created some defense mechanisms surrounding my quality of care. Usually, this took the form of intense research into my symptoms, with the intent to get past the “Because you’re fat” diagnosis. And when the conversation inevitably turned to my weight, all I wanted to do was to move past that part and try to get to the research I’d done. But I’m not a doctor, and so know nothing in their eyes. My problems were because I was fat. Close the book, appointment over.

Diagnosis: Because You’re Fat

“Because you’re fat” is a real diagnosis that obese people experience, and sometimes it is the ONLY diagnosis allowed by the provider. If you’re reading this, you probably know what I’m talking about.

And sometimes, “Because you’re fat” IS truthfully the reason you’re experiencing whatever symptom you’re there to address. But what I’ve found after losing 160+ pounds is that “Because you’re fat” is both a CAUSE and a SYMPTOM of another underlying issue. It isn’t usually a stand alone problem, and probably not the ONLY reason you have a problem.

Being morbidly obese likely is a symptom of some greater, quieter disease that is hiding very, very well. And that disease is trying to blame your obesity for the problem, too. Maybe this is a positive thing that came from the Covid-19 Pandemic, but we’re learning that viruses can hide or present as other things (Source: unmass.edu). And, in my non-doctor opinion, I think that’s true of obesity as well.

It’s like we are caught in this horrible cycle of cause and effect, where Obesity is both a cause and an effect of something else. But doctors are only interested in the obesity aspect, because it’s the most obvious one.

What I know from my own experience and from talking with those who have exerienced this as well, is that YOU will have biases surrounding your own quality of care from prior events. You will want to call the surgeon everytime you burp and it feels weird. And you SHOULD call your surgeon’s office whenever you feel it necessary.

And you need to be able to feel like doing so without guilt or being labled a hypochondriac. But at the same time, it is important that you begin the process of leaving the land of the obese, and leaving your biases behind as well. Which means that you need to reset the way you interact with your physician.

Start viewing your body the way you view your computer now. Step aside from identifying with your body at such a personal level, and – I know – that’s such a weird thing to say.

But if you call the computer technician to fix your computer, you will be asked to turn it off and turn it on first. That’s like taking care of the Gas first. Then, if it still painful, you know it’s not that.

Breathe Deeply and Feel Peaceful

Congratulations on making the decision to have gastric bypass. Don’t let the internet terrify you. Breathe deeply and feel at peace with your decision. Drink some hot tea, and let go of the old you. Step into your new life. Take lots of steps, maybe around the block a few times.

Check out some other articles on healing after gastric bypass: Prepare for A Gastric Bypass Operation with These 9-Not-So-Obvious-Ways

Always remember, you’ve got this!

Happy Weight Loss <3


For most of my life I was overweight. In my 30s, I became morbidly obese, tipping the scales over 330 pounds. After trying and failing at every diet, I decided to get gastric bypass RNY weight loss surgery. Since 2016 I have been living a much healthier life, I hit my weight loss goals, but more importantly, understand weight loss now. I am determined to share what I now know.

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