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Shoulder Pain From Sleeping On Side

Sleep helps the body organs repair themselves. However, some struggling sleepers experience shoulder pain from sleeping or notice that sleep worsens their preexisting shoulder injury. There are many possible causes of shoulder pain from sleeping on your side.

Usually, this happens due to some inflammation, muscular strain, or compression. But in more rare cases, shoulder pain from sleeping on the side can result from more severe medical concerns, such as frozen shoulder or chronic pain.

In this article, we're going to take a closer look at why you're likely experiencing shoulder pain and how to ease the symptoms. We'll also share some tactics that can help you prevent the pain and get a restful night's sleep you so deserve.

Can Sleeping On Your Side Cause Severe Shoulder Pain?

Certain sleeping positions like sleeping on your side put additional stress on your shoulder. Side sleepers often experience shoulder pains because this sleep position forces their shoulders to bear much of their body weight.

According to a 2017 study in patients seeking care for shoulder pain, people who sleep on their dominant hand while lying on their side or back are most likely to experience shoulder pain. This sleeping position puts more pressure on the shoulder and neck muscles than others.

Not to mention, it puts more pressure on your spine through the scalene muscle. The pressure on these muscles causes several types of pain. For instance, tightening of the shoulder and neck muscle can lead to a tension headache, whereas tightening of the scalene muscle causes tingling, weakness, and pain of the arms.

While your sleep position can greatly contribute to severe shoulder pain, it's not the main culprit. Many other conditions can also cause nighttime pain.With each of these factors, lying on the affected shoulder can increase the pain.

Other Common Causes Of Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pains don't just pop up overnight. They normally come as a result of an injury or overuse. Here are some common examples of how you can injure your shoulder.

Rotator Cuff Injury

The rotator cuff is a collection of tendons surrounding the shoulder joint. It comprises four muscles that begin on the shoulder blade and go all the way into your shoulder joint. Besides improving stability in the arm, these muscles help secure your upper arm bone in its socket.

Rotator cuff injuries (RCI) are fairly common but can often be overlooked. They range from inflammation and irritation of the tendons to partial or even complete tearing of the muscles. Some of the common ways you may injure your rotator cuff include;

Sports injury - This can happen from overuse, overextension, or a high-impact event.

Overuse - A rotator cuff injury can occur slowly over time if you're in a sport like tennis, baseball, or rowing, which requires much shoulder use. If left untreated, shoulder pain from this injury can last for a better part of your life.
Symptoms can include;

  • Disrupted sleep
  • Loss of motion or stiffness
  • Pain while sleeping
  • Dull ache deep in your shoulder

Adults are at risk of rotator cuff injury when they hit 80 years old. Also, there is an increased risk if one of your rotator cuffs is already injured.

Shoulder Bursitis

Bursae are minute, fluid-filled sacs that cushion your tissues around the joints. These sacs are located all over your body, including in the shoulders. Shoulder bursitis occurs when a bursa becomes inflamed.

Similar to an RCI, bursitis is caused by a variety of conditions, but it generally occurs as a result of overuse. Plus, it doesn't hurt all the time, and the pain is localized. You'll only feel it when either using your shoulder or when force is applied to it.

The symptoms include;

  • Pain that worsens with movement of the affected area
  • Swelling and redness
  • Localized aching in the affected shoulder
  • Stiffness in the affected shoulder

Frozen Shoulder

This is a very painful condition that leads to shoulder inflammation. It occurs when your connective tissue, located in the shoulder joint, thickens, thus impairing movement. Frozen shoulder develops over time, but stiffness and pain can occur very suddenly.

What exactly causes a frozen shoulder is unknown. However, there is an increased risk when your shoulders have been immobilized for a long period due to conditions like recovery from surgery or injury. Underlying medical conditions like stroke, diabetes, cancer, and shoulder injuries can also increase the risk of frozen shoulder.

Symptoms include;

  • Pain in one shoulder
  • Difficulty moving and rotating the shoulder
  • Neck pain


Osteoarthritis is one of the most common joint dysfunction in the states, affecting about 30.8 million Americans. It occurs when the cartilage that offers cushioning between your bones starts to wear down over time. This condition affects various joints in your body, including the shoulders.

Naturally, shoulder osteoarthritis happens as you age. It can also occur due to previous injuries, like a dislocated shoulder or a rotator cuff tear.

Symptoms can include;

  • Clicking or grinding sounds that occur when you move your shoulder
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Pain, which worsens when you move your shoulder

Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder impingement syndrome occurs when your shoulder joint traps or rubs on surrounding soft tissues as you move your arm. This can occur due to muscular imbalances in the shoulder, inflammation around the joint, or rotator cuff injury.

Symptoms include;

  • Pain on the outer part of your shoulder
  • Pain that worsens when lifting your arms, especially if you lift it above your head
  • A feeling of weakness on the affected shoulder
  • Pain that may worsen during the night and affect sleep, especially if you lie on the affected region


There is a wide range of viable treatment options available for shoulder pain from sleeping. Generally, the best fix will depend on the cause.

Reducing Pain and Inflammation

The preferred treatment for shoulder pain from sleeping is often over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs). If you're suffering from shoulder impingement, arthritis, or shoulder bursitis, you may also find that resting your joints helps relieve pain. You can opt for shockwave therapy to reduce shoulder pain, but keep in mind that it won't heal shoulder injuries.

Corticosteroids can also be used to reduce inflammation and offer short-term pain relief for shoulder conditions. If you have osteoarthritis, corticosteroids injections can provide up to 2 weeks of pain relief. However, they can cause cartilage and joint damage if you use them more often.

For frozen shoulder, oral corticosteroids can help reduce shoulder pain within the first six weeks. But the symptoms might come back after this period even if you continue taking the treatment.

That said, consider steroid injections as they're more effective when combined with other treatment methods such as physical therapy. As for RCIs, corticosteroid injections are more successful, but only if your physician uses ultrasound to identify the perfect spot to inject the medication.

Physical Therapy

Home exercises and physical therapy are effective treatment methods for shoulder impingement and RCIs. The aim of physical therapy in shoulder injuries is to gradually increase your strength and range of mobility.

For instance, if you do your physical therapy sessions in a swimming pool, you'll greatly minimize the burden of gravity on your joints, thus making it easier for you to build up your mobility.

The type of therapy and exercise you need to reduce shoulder pain from sleeping depends on the underlying cause. Your physical therapist will advise you on which activities to avoid and which practices are safe.


If you don't find relief from steroid treatments, pain meds, or physical therapy, your doctor might refer you for surgery. For patients with osteoarthritis, the procedure might involve joint replacement surgery. Here, your surgeon will replace the affected joint with an artificial implant.

RCI patients may have to undergo rotator cuff repair surgery. Your physician may either reattach the tendons or smooth them. A physician treating a patient with a frozen shoulder may recommend arthroscopic capsular release surgery or hydrodilatation.

When it comes to hydrodilatation, your medical practitioner will inject your arm with an anesthetic at a high pressure that can stretch the joint. Arthroscopic capsular release surgery, on the other hand, involves a doctor cutting out the inflamed muscle causing the shoulder to freeze.

Most shoulder impingement cases require different surgeries, such as RCI surgery, bursectomy, and subacromial decompression. RCI surgery is recommended when the shoulder impingement results from a rotator cuff injury. 

During a bursectomy surgery, a surgeon will remove the inflamed bursa causing the impingement. Alternatively, subacromial decompression involves the removal of the deltoid muscle that is causing shoulder impingement from the bone or separating the deltoid fibers without interfering with the muscle.

What's the Best Way Of Sleeping With Shoulder Pain?

The most effective way of fixing shoulder pain from sleeping on the side is by changing your sleep position. Ideally, avoid resting on the sore shoulder. Instead, adjust your sleeping position to your back or stomach to take pressure off your aching shoulder.

The best sleep position that can help alleviate pain is back sleeping with sufficient support for your legs, lower back, and neck. If you get comfortable in this position, invest in a softer mattress or opt for a good mattress topper to help cradle your body and support these regions. Sleeping on your stomach can also help reduce shoulder pain, but you might find this position uncomfortable.

Aside from changing your sleep posture, these tips can make sleeping with a painful shoulder more comfortable:

Utilize a pillow - Most people change sleep positions in their sleep. To avoid rolling onto your affected joint, position a support pillow beside your arm.

Use a topper - A saggy or too soft mattress often worsens shoulder pain. What you need is a sleeping surface that's firm and offers pressure relief around your shoulders. Choose from our list, the best mattress topper for shoulder pain and enhance your sleep quality.

Stay active - Make sure you exercise regularly to boost your blood flow. This will, in turn, help the tendons and muscles in your hurt shoulder to heal faster. Plus, performing gentle shoulder exercises and stretches will help reduce shoulder pain at night.

Practice good sleep habits - At least try to keep a regular sleep schedule. Avoid alcoholic drinks, nicotine, and caffeine in the evening. It's also wise to turn off computers and TVs and avoid using your phone shortly before bed.

Know your limits - Don't participate in activities that could further irritate your shoulder.

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Tips to Avoid Shoulder Blade Pain From Side Sleeping

Now that you have an idea of what might be causing your shoulders to ache at night let's take a look at some of the things you can do to prevent shoulder pain. But first things first, how do you sleep during the night?

If you often sleep on your left shoulder, you can prevent pain in the left shoulder blade by simply sleeping on the opposite side. Remember to place a support pillow on your back to protect you from rolling over to the injured shoulder.

Other steps you can take to keep your shoulders healthy, strong, and pain-free include:

Consider Changing Your Mattress

As earlier mentioned, the mattress you sleep on can make a big difference in your sleep quality and the amount of pain you feel throughout the night. Avoid beds that are either too soft or too hard as they can easily enhance body pains. Instead, stick to medium-firm mattresses, which put you in a neutral position and can help reduce musculoskeletal pain.

Home Remedies

There are various ways of treating temporary shoulder pain at home and encouraging healing. Most medical professionals recommend using the RICE method;

  • Rest your shoulder for 48 hours
  • Ice your shoulder for 20 minutes about four to eight times a day
  • Compress your shoulder using a bandage or a wrap
  • Elevate your shoulder above the chest level

Besides relieving pain, regular massage can help bring balance to your body. You can also opt for manipulative therapies like osteopathy, chiropractic adjustments, or Rolfing.

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When to See a Doctor

Book an appointment with your physician or physical therapist if you're unable to move your shoulder or if the pain worsens after two weeks of treatment. Also, see a doctor immediately if you experience pain that's sudden or severe, persistent, or disruptive to your day-to-day life.

Closing Thoughts

While experiencing shoulder pain from sleeping on the side is common, it can be treated and prevented. By implementing these tips, you can find effective ways of dealing with the pain and get back to high-quality sleep in no time. Just ensure you talk to a medical professional before starting an exercise program for the best treatment plan for your condition.

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