Relief for Shoulder Pain When Sleeping: Tips and Treatments

Apr 14, 2024 | 5 min read

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Shoulder pain when sleeping is commonly caused by poor sleeping positions, underlying medical issues like rotator cuff injuries, and certain lifestyle habits. Experiencing this discomfort can severely disrupt your sleep quality and negatively impact your overall well-being. It's crucial to identify the root causes, apply effective treatment strategies, and take preventive measures to ensure a restful, pain-free night.

Shoulder Pain When Sleeping

Causes of Shoulder Pain When Sleeping

Shoulder pain during sleep can significantly disrupt your rest and negatively affect your quality of life. Here's a breakdown of the main causes of shoulder pain when sleeping, presented in bullet points for clarity:

  • Improper Sleeping Positions: Sleeping on your side, particularly on one shoulder, can exert excessive pressure on shoulder muscles and joints. This common sleeping habit often leads to pain and stiffness.
  • Rotator Cuff Injuries: These injuries are characterized by tears or inflammation in the shoulder's muscles and tendons. They are a frequent source of pain and can become more pronounced when you are lying down.
  • Bursitis: This condition involves inflammation of the bursae, which are fluid-filled sacs that cushion the shoulder joints. Bursitis can cause considerable discomfort, especially when the shoulder is pressed against the mattress for prolonged periods.
  • Tendonitis: Inflammation or irritation of the tendons in the shoulder can lead to severe pain. This condition is exacerbated when the shoulder is in an awkward or strained position during sleep.
  • Sleeping on the Affected Side: According to a study referenced on Pubmed, 67% of individuals with shoulder pain when sleeping on one side were found to be lying on the affected shoulder. This statistic highlights the significant impact of sleeping positions on shoulder health and the need for adjustments to avoid aggravating the pain.

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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.

Treatment Options for Shoulder Pain When Sleeping

To effectively manage shoulder pain from sleeping, it's essential to employ a multifaceted treatment approach that not only provides symptom relief but also addresses the underlying causes. 

Ergonomic Adjustments

  • Workstation Setup: For those who spend many hours at a desk or engage in repetitive shoulder motions, ergonomic adjustments are crucial. Ensure that your workstation supports proper posture to prevent the exacerbation of shoulder pain.
  • Adjustment Tips: Consider adjusting the height of your chair and desk to maintain the elbows at a right angle and the monitor at eye level.

Alternative Therapies

  • Options: Explore therapies such as massage therapy and chiropractic care. These methods can effectively relieve muscle tension around the shoulder, improving mobility and reducing pain.
  • Considerations: Choose a certified practitioner and discuss your specific shoulder issues to tailor the therapy to your needs.

Sleep Hygiene Practices

  • Routine Development: Establish a bedtime routine that promotes relaxation, which can help in reducing shoulder pain. Incorporate gentle stretching or yoga before bed, and avoid stimulants like caffeine and electronic devices in the evening.
  • Sleep Environment: Ensure your sleeping environment is comfortable and supportive. Use pillows strategically to maintain alignment and reduce strain on the shoulder.

At-Home Remedies

  • Anti-Inflammatory Medications: Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or analgesics can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Cold and Heat Application: Alternating between applying ice and heat can help manage pain and inflammation. Use ice packs for the first 48 hours after a flare-up and then switch to heat.
  • Rest and Activity Modification: Avoid activities that overuse the shoulder. Consider taking breaks and modifying daily activities to give your shoulder time to heal.
  • Compression and Support: Wearing a compression sleeve can provide support and reduce swelling. For severe pain, sleeping in a recliner to maintain a comfortable position on the shoulder may also be beneficial.

When to Seek Medical Help

  • Persistent or Worsening Pain: If your shoulder pain persists despite trying home remedies and self-care measures, or if the pain worsens, it's important to seek medical advice. Chronic pain could indicate a more serious underlying condition.
  • Restricted Mobility: If you experience a significant decrease in shoulder mobility, such as difficulty raising your arm or performing daily tasks, professional evaluation is necessary.
  • Pain that Disrupts Sleep: Continuous pain that prevents you from sleeping or wakes you up at night is a red flag. Sleep disruption is a sign that your condition needs medical attention.
  • Symptoms of Infection: Look out for signs of infection, including fever, redness, warmth, or excessive swelling around the shoulder. These symptoms require immediate medical attention.
  • Following an Injury: If your shoulder pain started immediately after an injury, such as a fall or direct blow to the shoulder, seek medical help to rule out fractures or serious soft tissue injuries.
  • Numbness or Tingling: Sensations of numbness or tingling in the arm or hand can indicate nerve involvement or compression and should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.

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 the 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

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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. 
  • 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.
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