Shoulder pain when breathing CAN be relieved.
Sarah Key explains what may be causing it, and demonstrates how you can help yourself at home.
People often refer to a pain in the shoulder or shoulder blade, when what they really mean is a 'back shoulder pain'.
And while it is almost never possible to get true (as in tip of shoulder) shoulder pain when breathing, it is indeed very common to get a glancing upper back and shoulder pain - particularly on taking a deeper than normal breath.
Shoulder pain related to breathing and coughing can originate from the spinal and rib-cage joints in different parts of the neck and thorax. If the pain is in the high upper-back and back of shoulder it is more likely to be coming from a jammed and inflamed facet joint in the neck and the muscles protecting it. These problems tend to be more severe and harder to deal with.
The muscles of the neck can be used as emergency breathing muscles that raise the clavicle (collar bone) and first rib
The C5 to C7 facet joints in the neck are situated deep under the the web of muscles in the corner angle of the neck and shoulder. When annoyed or strained, they tend to refer pain down over the back of shoulder and upper back. The lower cervical facet joints are more than usually susceptible to becoming locked and painful, particularly during times of emotional stress when tension in the jaw and shoulders causes them to stay raised for weeks, even months.
With the stresses and strains of life, the jaw and trapezius muscles (that run from the back of your skull down either side of your neck, fanning out to to each shoulder tip) develop a permanent state of low-grade contraction that bunches up the joints in the neck/shoulder angle. In a similar way, our emotional response under duress (and this includes tiredness) subtly causes our breathing mechanism to change, which hoists up the shoulders and clutters the joints trapped at the neck angle.
Raised shoulders may be imperceptible to you until you face yourself squarely in the mirror and deliberately let them go. You will be amazed by how far the shoulders drop down when you will them to relax. (The problem invariably is keeping them there!) Reading below, you will also see how breathing through the mouth and chronic stress states raise the shoulders through over-exertion of the neck muscles.