Conditions affecting the gallbladder, such as gallstones, inflammation, and polyps, can cause back pain. These conditions often cause pain in the abdomen, which may radiate to the back.

When a problem with the gallbladder, such as gallbladder stones, causes pain, a person typically first feels it in their abdomen. The pain can also radiate to the back.

The gallbladder is a small organ in the upper right area of the abdomen, beneath the liver. It stores and releases bile, which helps the digestive system break down fats. Gallbladder problems include gallstones, cholecystitis, polyps, rupture, and cancer.

Read on to find out more about gallbladder-related back pain.

Doctor checking a person's backShare on Pinterest
Studio Firma/Stocksy

Yes, problems in the gallbladder can lead to back pain. Some gallbladder problems that may cause back pain include:


Gallstones are hard masses made up of cholesterol or a substance called bilirubin. They can form in the gallbladder when high levels of bile or fat form into crystals, which can become gallstones.

Someone with gallstones may experience biliary colic pain, usually after a large, fatty meal. The gallbladder may contract and cause sudden pain that comes and goes due to gallstones obstructing the bile ducts of the gallbladder.

A person may feel pain in the right upper area of the abdomen and then in the middle of the back or shoulder as it radiates. The pain can feel like a sudden, sharp cramp or a persistent, dull ache.

In some cases, a person may also experience nausea and vomiting.

Inflammation of the gallbladder

Cholecystitis, or gallbladder inflammation, occurs when bile cannot leave the gallbladder. This may be due to a blockage of biliary buildup or gallstones in the bile ducts.

Over time, the excess bile in the gallbladder can lead to irritation, swelling, infection, and, eventually, organ dysfunction.

A person may experience the pain from cholecystitis as a sudden, sharp pain in the upper right area of the abdomen, which can spread toward the right shoulder and back.

Gallbladder polyps

Gallbladder polyps refer to several conditions that cause atypical tissue growth, such as polyps or protrusions in the gallbladder. Polyps may not cause any symptoms, and most are noncancerous. However, polyps larger than 1 centimeter in diameter may present a higher risk of gallbladder cancer.

If a person also has other gallbladder problems, such as cholesterol stones, they may experience pain similar to the pain that cholecystitis causes. This can involve sharp, sudden abdominal pain, nausea, and bloating. The pain may also radiate to the right shoulder and back.

Gallbladder rupture

If a person does not receive treatment for cholecystitis or gallstones, the gallbladder may burst or tear. This is often a life threatening medical emergency.

If the gallbladder ruptures, bile leaks into the abdomen. This can cause severe, sharp pain in the abdomen. A person may feel pain in the abdomen and back in the lead-up to a rupture in the gallbladder.

Bile reflux

When a gallstone, tissue growth, or substance buildup blocks a gallbladder bile duct, bile can back up into the gallbladder and cause inflammation and infection.

This can lead to complications such as cholecystitis, which can cause sudden, severe abdominal pain radiating to the back and shoulder.

Gallbladder cancer

Gallbladder cancer is rare, and almost all cases are adenocarcinomas. These are cancers that start in a type of cells that line many of the body’s surfaces.

Many people with gallbladder cancer do not have symptoms early on. However, as the cancer progresses, it may cause pain in the area above the stomach.

Back pain is not a common symptom of gallbladder cancer, although if someone experiences radiating pain in their middle back and right shoulder, they should contact a doctor to rule it out.

Gallbladder dyskinesia

Gallbladder dyskinesia is a breakdown in the gallbladder function unrelated to gallstones or other mechanical issues. Doctors do not know the exact causes of the condition.

In someone with gallbladder dyskinesia, the gallbladder cannot contract and push out the bile it stores and deliver it to the small intestine to aid digestion.

The gallbladder may become swollen and inflamed as a result, leading to cholecystitis, and may cause biliary colic. People may experience sudden and severe pain in the abdomen that radiates to the middle of the back and right shoulder.

Rapid weight loss can increase the risk of gallstones. People with high blood cholesterol levels may also be at an increased risk of developing gallstones.

Certain diets may be beneficial for a healthy gallbladder. Eating whole foods, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and other healthy options may help.

Avoiding processed food and drinks and those high in fats, sugar, and salt may also help prevent gallbladder problems.

Anyone who experiences gallbladder pain or suspects they may be experiencing it will need to contact a doctor. Gallbladder problems typically require medical treatment or surgery. Early intervention can help prevent severe complications.

Untreated gallstones or other obstructions can lead to severe pain and even gallbladder rupture. A rupture is a medical emergency.

Gallbladder problems, such as gallstones, cholecystitis, and dyskinesia, can cause pain in the abdomen, which may radiate to the middle of the back and the right shoulder. The pain, which doctors call biliary colic, is typically sudden and sharp and may come and go.

Anyone who experiences gallbladder pain should contact a doctor. Left untreated, gallbladder problems can lead to severe complications.

A rupture in the gallbladder can be life threatening and requires immediate emergency medical attention.