Solutions to Shoulder Pain from Sleeping on Your Side

Written by in Sleep Health

Solutions to Shoulder Pain from Sleeping on Your Side

Shoulder pain is something that many people are all too familiar. Placing uneven pressure on the joints can cause inflammation in the tendons and shoulder muscles. This can cause pain and affect your range of motion. If you wish to prevent or minimize these conditions, you must reduce the amount of stress to which it is exposed. This is one of the reasons why side sleepers often experience pain in their shoulders when they wake up.
Shoulder Pain from Sleeping on Your Side

Different Types of Shoulder Pain

We all wish we could have a good night’s sleep every time we lie down at night. When we wake up with stiffness or shoulder pain, we may wonder if our sleeping posture is the cause. But before we blame our sleep position, other factors may be at hand.

  • Radiating pain. Some individuals have neck or back pain that radiates to their shoulders. Problems in the spine can cause this issue.
  • Repetitive movements. Shelf-stockers, cashiers, and others who perform repetitive movements are more likely to experience shoulder problems due to the wear and tear on their joints and muscles.
  • Spinal stiffness due to poor posture. Another possible reason why you have shoulder pain is because of poor posture. When you are hunched over your computer or smartphone for hours, it can inhibit your rib cage and spinal movement. This can also leave at risk for shoulder issues.

Medical Conditions that Cause Shoulder Pain 
It is also possible for shoulder pain to be triggered by a medical condition such as:

  • Bursitis. Bursitis is a medical condition that affects the fluid-filled sacs (bursae) that act as a cushion for the bones, tendons, as well as the muscles near the joints. This condition occurs, in part, when there is an inflammation in the bursae. Shoulder bursitis may feel stiff and achy or radiate pain when you move or press the shoulder area.
  • Rotator cuff injury. The rotator cuff is composed of several muscles and tendons that are near the shoulder joint. They are responsible for keeping the head of the upper arm bone positioned within the socket of your shoulder. However, due to repetitive movements age, the risk of injury to the rotator cuff tendons, muscles, and joints increases.

Shoulder Pain from Sleeping on Your Side

  • Tendinitis. Tendinitis is the irritation or inflammation of the tendons, which are the fibrous cords that attach the muscles to the bones. The pain is usually felt outside the joint. This condition is typical in the shoulders, wrists, elbows, heels, and knees. Rotator cuff tendinitis can happen to those who do repetitive movements.
  • Frozen shoulder. Frozen shoulder or adhesive capsulitis is a shoulder condition that causes stiffness as well as pain in the shoulder joint. The symptoms can begin insidiously, then gradually increase over time.  As the shoulder worsens, the range of motion of the affected joint becomes limited and painful when moving. Treatment includes physical therapy, anti-inflammatories, and sometimes surgery.

Solutions to Shoulder Pain from Sleeping on Your Side 
Shoulder problems may develop when we wake up after sleeping on our side. This is not surprising since we put a lot of pressure on the shoulder joints when we sleep. Side sleeping is a common characteristic in those who have chronic shoulder pain. Unfortunately, shoulder pain at night can disrupt your sleep.
Some conditions cause a worsening of shoulder pain at night. One such condition is rotator cuff tendinitis. During the day, the pain is less. However, it becomes more pronounced when you lie on your bed to sleep. This is because while you are awake, the shoulder is positioned vertically. Hence, there is no pressure on it. However, when you are sleeping, there is increased pressure on the joint. This restricts blood flow, irritation, and inflammation.
The question now is what solutions to shoulder pain from sleeping on side can you try to feel better? Here are a few options to consider.

  • Change your sleeping position. Sleeping on your back may help prevent shoulder pain. Remember to place some pillows under your knees to prevent your lower back from hurting. Side sleepers can roll over to their uninjured shoulder. Consider adding a pillow or two underneath to lessen the pressure on it. You can also place a rolled towel or neck pillow to minimize the occurrence of a stiff neck.
  • Ice pack. What other solutions to shoulder back pain from sleeping on your side? If you wake up with a sore shoulder, a menthol-based topical anesthetic or an ice pack may work. Apply the ice pack on the affected shoulder and rub it gently for 15 minutes. You should do this every hour until the pain subsides.
  • Stretch it out. Another example of solutions to back and shoulder pain from sleeping on your side is to stretch it out. The pain in your shoulder can be caused by restricted blood flow. Stretching the affected area can help improve the flow.Solution to Shoulder Pain from Sleeping on Your Side 
  • Pillows. Side sleepers are prone to shoulder pain because of the pressure they put on their shoulder joints. Fortunately, pressure can be alleviated with the use of a comfortable pillow. Look for a full-body or face roll pillow to act as an extra cushion for your neck and shoulder. Since pillows come in different densities, you will need to determine which one works best for you. Don’t sleep on your stomach. Stomach sleepers are also susceptible to shoulder pain from sleeping. Neck pain can be triggered because your head and neck are twisted. Shoulder joints are also irritated. They are placed in an unstable forward position.

Other solutions to shoulder pain from sleeping on your side

The proper mattress and pillow should not be underestimated when trying to get a good night’s sleep.
Mattress. Side sleepers should look for a mattress that will provide support to all the joints, including the neck, shoulders, and hips. During sleep, our cells rejuvenate themselves. You need to have a good sleep position, as well as correct spine alignment, to ensure that the healing process is not affected. A memory foam mattress or a hybrid with a memory foam topper is often recommended. These follow the natural contours of your body and relieve pressure point pain.


  • Pillow. The right pillow can also help you sleep and reduce back and shoulder night pain. Your pillow must provide support for the curve of your neck. Your pillow should allow the ears, shoulders, and your hips to be aligned. There are dozens of pillows from which to choose. You may need to test several before finding the perfect one. If you sleep on your side, you will need two pillows. The first one is placed under your head, while the other is placed between the knees. Stomach sleepers need to unlearn this sleep position, especially when their shoulders are starting to hurt.

There are other solutions to back and shoulder pain from sleeping on your side. These include using over-the-counter pain medications. If you find that your shoulder pain is not going away, or that the pain worsens, have it checked by your doctor as it may require other treatments.