Relief for Shoulder Pain When Sleeping: Tips and Treatments

22 Feb 2024, by

Dr. Lusine Badalian

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Experiencing shoulder pain when sleeping can significantly disrupt your sleep quality and overall well-being. This common issue often stems from poor sleeping positions, underlying medical conditions such as rotator cuff injuries, or lifestyle factors. Understanding the causes, implementing effective treatment strategies, and adopting preventive measures are essential steps towards achieving a pain-free night's sleep. Our comprehensive insights offer guidance on how to navigate this discomfort, ensuring you wake up feeling refreshed and pain-free.

shoulder pain when sleeping

Causes of Shoulder Pain When Sleeping

Shoulder pain when sleeping can turn a peaceful night into a twisting and turning marathon, leaving you exhausted and frustrated by morning. Understanding the root causes of this discomfort is crucial to finding relief and restoring your sleep quality. One of the primary culprits behind shoulder pain from sleeping is improper sleeping positions, especially for those who prefer sleeping on their side. This habit can place excessive pressure on the shoulder muscles and joints, leading to pain and stiffness.

Interestingly, a study highlighted by Pubmed reveals a compelling statistic: 67% of individuals experiencing shoulder pain when sleeping on one side were found to be lying on the affected shoulder. This observation underscores the impact of sleeping positions on shoulder health and emphasizes the need for awareness and adjustment to mitigate pain.

Moreover, specific injuries and conditions often contribute to nighttime shoulder distress. Rotator cuff injuries, which involve tears or inflammation in the shoulder's muscles and tendons, are a common source of agony. Bursitis, an inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs that cushion shoulder joints, and tendonitis, the irritation of the tendons, can also cause significant discomfort. These conditions can be exacerbated when lying down, as the shoulder may be under pressure or in an awkward position for extended periods.

Risk Factors for Developing Shoulder Pain When Sleeping

While shoulder pain when sleeping can affect anyone, certain factors may increase your risk. Understanding these risk factors can help in taking proactive measures to prevent discomfort:

  • Age: As we age, the risk of developing conditions like arthritis and the likelihood of experiencing wear and tear in the shoulder muscles and tendons increase, making older adults more susceptible to shoulder pain.
  • Physical Activity: Engaging in sports or jobs that require repetitive arm movements, especially overhead activities, can strain the shoulder, leading to pain at night.
  • Previous Injuries: Individuals with a history of shoulder injuries are at a higher risk of experiencing shoulder pain while sleeping due to potential lingering weaknesses or damage.
  • Poor Posture: Spending long hours in front of a computer or regularly carrying heavy bags on one shoulder can lead to posture issues and muscle imbalances, exacerbating shoulder pain.
  • Lack of Exercise: Weak shoulder and core muscles due to inactivity can contribute to poor posture and increased strain on the shoulder during sleep.


Addressing these risk factors through lifestyle changes and preventive measures can significantly reduce the likelihood of developing shoulder pain from sleeping and improve overall shoulder health.

By understanding the causes and risk factors associated with shoulder pain when sleeping, individuals can take informed steps towards alleviating discomfort and enjoying restful nights. Whether it's adjusting sleeping positions, addressing underlying health conditions, or modifying daily activities, small changes can make a big difference in preventing and managing shoulder pain effectively.

Complications Associated with Untreated Shoulder Pain

Let's delve deeper into the potential complications of leaving shoulder pain untreated, which goes beyond just the immediate discomfort. Over time, continuous strain and neglect can escalate into more severe conditions that compromise your shoulder's functionality and overall wellbeing.

Chronic pain is one of the primary risks of untreated shoulder issues. This persistent discomfort can become a constant part of your life, affecting your ability to perform everyday activities with ease. The pain can become cyclical, worsening over time, particularly if the shoulder is repeatedly subjected to the same movements or strains that caused the initial injury.

A decreased range of motion is another significant complication. The stiffness and swelling that accompany shoulder injuries can limit your shoulder joint's movement, making it difficult to reach, stretch, or lift objects. This limitation can severely impact your daily life, restricting activities you once took for granted.

The development of a frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is a risk when shoulder pain is ignored. This condition leads to the tightening of the shoulder capsule, drastically reducing mobility and causing severe pain. It's a condition that can take months or even years to fully resolve, often requiring professional intervention.

Moreover, chronic sleep deprivation due to ongoing shoulder pain should not be underestimated. The lack of restful sleep affects not just physical health but mental well-being too. It can lead to mood swings, decreased cognitive function, and a lowered immune response. Over time, the cumulative effect of poor sleep can increase the risk of serious health issues like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

Treatment Options for Shoulder Pain When Sleeping

When it comes to treating shoulder pain from sleeping, a comprehensive approach that addresses both symptom relief and underlying causes offers the best chance for recovery. Here are more detailed strategies to consider:

Heat Therapy

Alongside ice, applying heat to the shoulder can improve blood circulation and relieve muscle stiffness. This can be particularly soothing before bedtime, helping to relax the muscles and reduce pain.

Ergonomic Adjustments

For those who work at a desk or engage in repetitive shoulder motions, making ergonomic adjustments is crucial. Ensuring that workstations are set up to support proper posture can prevent the exacerbation of shoulder pain.

Alternative Therapies

Methods such as acupuncture, massage therapy, and chiropractic care can provide relief for some individuals. These therapies can help to relieve tension in the muscles around the shoulder, improving mobility and decreasing pain.

Sleep Hygiene Practices

Establishing a bedtime routine that promotes relaxation can also aid in reducing shoulder pain. Practices such as gentle stretching or yoga before bed, avoiding caffeine and electronic devices in the evening, and creating a comfortable, supportive sleeping environment can make a significant difference.


For individuals unsure of the underlying cause of their shoulder pain or how to begin addressing it, our Symptom Checker offers a valuable starting point. By inputting your symptoms, you can gain insights into potential conditions and seek appropriate care.

Prevention of Shoulder Pain When Sleeping

Incorporating preventive measures into your lifestyle is key to avoiding the onset or recurrence of shoulder pain related to sleeping. Here are expanded strategies for prevention:

  • Regular Physical Activity: Engaging in a balanced routine that includes cardio, strength training, and flexibility exercises can bolster overall health and reduce the risk of shoulder injuries. Activities such as swimming, cycling, and yoga are particularly beneficial for strengthening the shoulder and improving range of motion.
  • Posture Awareness: Being conscious of your posture throughout the day can prevent the development of pain. This includes sitting upright, using ergonomic chairs, and taking regular breaks to stretch if your job involves long periods of sitting.
  • Proper Lifting Techniques: When lifting heavy objects, it's important to use proper form to avoid shoulder strain. This includes lifting with your legs rather than your back and avoiding lifting objects that are too heavy for you.
  • Stress Management: High stress levels can lead to muscle tension, including in the shoulder area. Incorporating stress-reduction techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or engaging in hobbies can help manage stress and reduce the risk of tension-related shoulder pain.


By understanding the complexities of shoulder pain related to sleeping and adopting a comprehensive approach to treatment and prevention, you can significantly improve your quality of life and ensure that your nights are restful and rejuvenating.

Key Takeaways

  • Understand the Causes: Poor sleeping positions, underlying conditions, and lifestyle habits are common culprits behind shoulder pain when sleeping.
  • Be Aware of Complications: Untreated shoulder pain can lead to chronic pain, decreased mobility, and sleep deprivation.
  • Seek Appropriate Treatment: Explore treatments ranging from home remedies and physical therapy to medical interventions. Our Symptom Checker can offer guidance.
  • Implement Preventive Measures: Regular exercise, optimizing your sleep environment, and mindful sleeping positions can prevent shoulder pain.
  • Stay Informed: Knowledge about shoulder health and proactive management are crucial for effective pain management.


If you want to read more about pain during sleeping, we have an article How to Sleep With Pain in Different Body Parts.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to Sleep with Shoulder Pain?

To sleep with shoulder pain, adjust your sleeping position to reduce stress on the shoulder, such as sleeping on your back or the unaffected side. Supportive pillows can maintain proper alignment, and applying ice or heat before bed may reduce discomfort.

Shoulder Pain from Sleeping: What Are the Solutions?

For shoulder pain from sleeping, ensure your mattress and pillows support your shoulder properly. Gentle stretching before bed can help relax muscles, and physical therapy may strengthen shoulder muscles and improve posture, reducing pain.

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