Why Do I Have Shoulder Pain Sleeping on Side?

Published on: January 29, 2022 (Last modified on: January 28, 2022)
Man woken up by shoulder pain.

Many people experience shoulder pain that keeps them awake at night. Many people wonder if sleeping on their side causes the shoulder pain or if there is something else causing their shoulder discomfort. If you have asked yourself, “Why do I have shoulder pain sleeping on side?” here is what you need to know.

If you have shoulder pain from sleeping on side, it is a sign of a shoulder problem. While the pressure of your torso on the shoulder while sleeping on your side may aggravate your shoulder, it is likely not your sleeping position causing the pain. There are a few different conditions that can cause nocturnal shoulder pain.

Causes of Shoulder Pain from Sleeping on Side

The shoulder joint is very complex and unique in its configuration. Two joints are in the shoulder, with various tendons, ligaments and tissues that allow for its wide range of motion. When any of these tissues are inflamed or pinched, it can cause pain. Here are some common causes of shoulder pain.

Bursa is found throughout the body, especially near joints. The shoulder bursa provides a cushion for the bones, but it can be irritated when there is a shoulder injury. Shoulder bursitis is a common cause of shoulder pain sleeping on side as pressure on the inflamed bursa can result in extreme discomfort.
Rotator Cuff Injuries
Your rotator cuff is a group of tendons attaching the shoulder to the upper arm bone. When these tendons are stretched, torn or inflamed, they can cause pain in the shoulder. If you have a rotator cuff injury, it could be causing your shoulder pain when you sleep on that side of your body.
Bicep Tendonitis
The tendon that attaches the bicep muscle to the shoulder can be torn or stretched. Aging impacts the strength of tendons, and certain movements can injure the bicep tendon. For example, laying on your side while sleeping can put pressure on the bicep tendon, aggravating and irritating it while you sleep.
Frozen or Impinged Shoulder
Both frozen shoulder and shoulder impingement can result in shoulder pain from sleeping on side. These conditions restrict movement in the shoulder and result in inflammation of the tissues in the shoulder joints. In addition, weight placed on the shoulder can increase the pain when you are sleeping.

Symptoms and Treatment for Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder pain can hinder your daily activities. If there is inflammation or damage impacting your rotator cuff, you may have shoulder impingement. Those who put...Read More

Almost any shoulder injury or condition can be irritated when you sleep on that side of the body. While your sleeping position does not cause the condition, sleeping on your side can make the pain worse and interrupt your sleep. However, there are ways to reduce this discomfort to get the rest you need each night.

Solutions to Shoulder Pain from Sleeping on Side

If you have one of the above conditions that is causing shoulder pain from sleeping on side, there are ways to minimize your discomfort. Treating the underlying condition is the best way to reduce pain and improve function of the shoulder. Some solutions to shoulder pain from sleeping on your side include:

  • Taking NSAIDs before bedtime. Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen before bedtime can relieve inflammation. For bursitis, arthritis or tendonitis in the shoulder, this may offer relief from shoulder pain sleeping on side.
  • Stretching the shoulder. Doing shoulder stretches can loosen the tendons and ligaments before bed can minimize shoulder pain. Shoulder shrugs up and down and rolling the shoulders backward can stretch the soft tissues for relief.
  • Apply heat or ice. Inflammation can be relieved with ice packs, and heat can calm sore muscles. Try applying heat or ice to your shoulder before bedtime to get relief.
  • Change your sleep position. While not sleeping on your side will not fix your shoulder condition, it can allow you to get the rest you need. Try sleeping on your back or on your other side to reduce pain. To avoid rolling over in your sleep, place a pillow to block your movement.

Minor injuries to the shoulder may heal on their own over time. You can stop aggravation while you sleep by trying the previous solutions to shoulder pain from sleeping on side. However, if you continue to have shoulder pain during the day and night, you should see a doctor to find pain relief.

Most shoulder pain conditions can be treated without surgery. Pain injections, physical therapy, rest and other non-invasive treatments are usually recommended first before surgery is considered. You may need to see an orthopedic specialist for more complex shoulder conditions.
A man with pain shoulder being examined by a doctor.
Shoulder pain sleeping on side can be a frustrating condition. First, it is important to get a clear diagnosis of your shoulder problem to determine the best treatment. Then, follow the solutions to shoulder pain from sleeping on side and get the medical care you need to improve your comfort at night.

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