August 21, 2020 7 min read

You don’t know how often you use a body part until it becomes injured. One area of your might you might never take for granted again when it gets hurt is your shoulder. Dealing with shoulder impingement can be extremely uncomfortable, especially when you’re trying to sleep at night. 

Shoulder impingement is when your rotator cuff becomes inflamed, often as a result of repetitive activities like swimming. If you’re sleeping with rotator cuff injury, the best sleeping position for shoulder impingement is sleeping on your back, as it can relieve potential strain and keeps your neck and back aligned.

But this isn’t the only tip you should know when it comes to sleeping with shoulder impingement. To learn how to sleep with shoulder impingement, keep reading below. Or, if you’re looking for a specific answer to a question related to sleeping with rotator cuff injury or shoulder impingement, click one of the following links:

What is shoulder impingement syndrome?

Shoulder impingement syndrome occurs when the tendons in the rotator cuff of your shoulder become pinched between the top of your upper arm, called the humerus, and the tip of your shoulder, called the acromion1. Pain and swelling occur when the muscles connected on one end of your shoulder blade don’t slide smoothly with the muscles connected to your upper arm on the other side of your shoulder blade. This pain is typically felt when you lift your arm and your rotator cuff tendon rubs on your acromion. 

 

nerve impingement syndrome infographic

Of all musculoskeletal complaints, shoulder pain is the third most common2, with 18 to 26 percent of adults experiencing some form of shoulder pain in their lifetime3, making shoulder impingement syndrome a relatively common injury. Shoulder impingement syndrome can be caused by a variety of factors, such as:

  • Shoulder joint injuries
  • Activities that involve repetitive movements of the arm and shoulder, such as football, swimming, tennis, and baseball
  • Bone spurs that result from wear and tear, which can lead to irritation of the tissue around the bone
  • Old age1

If you have shoulder pain and one of these causes relates to you, you may suffer from shoulder impingement syndrome. This injury can make sleeping difficult because when you apply pressure on the injured shoulder when sleeping on your side, it can result in pain that keeps you awake. A decrease in movement while you sleep can also cause pain from shoulder impingement to keep you up at night because fluid can build up, which may leave your shoulder feeling sore the next morning. 

Shoulder impingement syndrome isn’t the only injury that can plague your rotator cuff and impact sleep. Other rotator cuff injuries that might result in pain during the night include:

  • Tendinitis
  • Tendon tear or strain
  • Bursitis
  • Overuse

To get an accurate diagnosis, it’s recommended to seek help from a health practitioner. However, if you received medical help and are wondering how to sleep with shoulder impingement or a rotator cuff injury, we have a few potential solutions, which we’ll dive into in a bit.

Sleeping positions to avoid shoulder impingement or rotator cuff pain

If you have a bruise, you most likely avoid applying pressure on it because it hurts. The same goes for shoulder impingement and rotator cuff injuries. While you may not be able to see a shoulder impingement or rotator cuff injury on the outside like a bruise, you can certainly feel pain on the inside. 


Increased pressure on your shoulder can make the pain feel worse, which is why certain sleeping positions can cause extra strain on your shoulder and elevate the pain. Some sleeping positions to avoid if you have shoulder impingement or rotator cuff pain include: 

  • Sleeping on your side: If you’re like most people, you most likely sleep on your side. In fact, roughly 74 percent of people fall asleep when lying on their side4. If you have shoulder pain, whether from shoulder impingement or rotator cuff injury, switching positions can be difficult. When you sleep on your side, your body weight adds pressure and can increase shoulder pain. It’s best to make an effort to avoid sleeping on the shoulder that is causing the pain and switch to your back instead.
  • Sleeping on your stomach: Stomach sleepers might also find themselves in a state of discomfort when sleeping with shoulder impingement or a rotator cuff injury. This is because when you sleep on your stomach, your shoulders sag forward and apply pressure, which can result in neck and shoulder pain.

 

 sleeping positions to avoid invographic

Sleeping with rotator cuff injury or shoulder impingement is never ideal. Some may even wonder whether the act of sleeping in the wrong position can result in shoulder impingement or rotator cuff injury. In a Danish study, it was found that 67 percent of side sleepers experienced shoulder pain on the side they were sleeping on5. This means that if you’re a side sleeper, the side you sleep on can be more prone to shoulder injuries, such as rotator cuff injuries, shoulder impingement, and tendinitis. Knowing the best sleeping positions for shoulder impingement and other shoulder-related injuries can help alleviate pain at night.

Best sleeping positions for shoulder impingement and rotator cuff pain

Sleeping with shoulder impingement or rotator cuff injury can result in sleepless nights and grogginess the next morning. To sleep comfortably with a shoulder injury, knowing the best sleeping positions can make a world of difference. Take a look at the best sleeping postures for shoulder impingement:

 

  • Sleeping on your back: The best sleeping position for shoulder impingement is sleeping on your back. When you sleep on your back, little to no pressure is placed on your shoulders, neck, and back. This neutral position can provide a pain-free sleeping posture for shoulder pain and help keep your spine aligned. You might also want to consider placing a small pillow underneath your shoulders to bring your shoulders back and open up your chest.
  • Sleeping on your stomach: While sleeping on your stomach can cause increased pain from shoulder impingement, you can alleviate pain with proper support. If you need to sleep on your stomach to get a good night’s rest, place a pillow underneath your hips and pelvis. This will help align your lower body with your upper body to prevent your shoulders from sagging. You can also place a rolled-up blanket or towel underneath your shoulders for added support.
  • Sleeping on your side: Sleeping on your side is the worst sleeping position if you’re dealing with shoulder impingement. However, if this is the only way you can get some shuteye, you should consider sleeping on the pain-free shoulder. 

 

sleeping positions for nerve impingement infographic


Tips for reducing shoulder pain while sleeping

Sleeping on your back is one way to reduce pain from shoulder impingement while sleeping. Other tips for reducing shoulder pain at night include:

  • Sleeping with a shoulder relief pillow. MedCline’s Shoulder Relief System comes with a patented arm pocket that allows your arm to drop down naturally without adding your body weight on your downside arm and shoulder. A pillow approved for FSA and HSA can be approved as a medical expenditure and help alleviate pain placed on your shoulder from a rotator cuff injury or nerve impingement.
  • Taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen may alleviate pain and reduce swelling.
  • Applying ice to your injured shoulder for 15 to 20 minutes before bed can reduce swelling and inflammation that causes pain.
  • Stretching your shoulder before bed and when you wake up. Some stretching exercises that can help reduce shoulder pain include a cross-body stretch where you bring your affect arm across your body and hold for 20 seconds, a towel stretch where you bring both arms behind your back, hold a towel in both hands, and gently stretch the affected shoulder at a 45-degree angle, and the finger walk stretch where you walk your fingers on the arm with the affected shoulder up a wall6.

 

shoulder pain reducing tips infographic

With these tips handy, you can be one step closer to treating your shoulder impingement or rotator cuff injury and getting a good night’s sleep.

Sleeping with Shoulder Impingement

Lying awake at night because the pain from your shoulder impingement is radiating through your body can be a living nightmare. While shoulder impingement or rotator cuff injury can be painful, especially when you sleep, there are ways you can alleviate this pain to get the rest you deserve. After all, sleep is essential for recovery, which means you need it if you want to heal faster. The best sleeping position for shoulder impingement is laying on your back, as it takes pressure off of your shoulder. However, with MedCline’s shoulder relief system, you can comfortably position your arm to reduce shoulder pain and sleep without added pressure. Paired with our tips for reducing shoulder pain while sleeping, you’ll be on your way to a healthy, pain-free shoulder that doesn’t keep you awake at night.


References

  1. “Impingement Syndrome of the Shoulder,” Cedars Sinai, https://www.cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Health-Conditions/Impingement-Syndrome-of-the-Shoulder.aspx. 15 Jul. 2020.
  2. Garving, Christina et al. “Impingement Syndrome of the Shoulder.” Deutsches Ärzteblatt Internationalvol. 144,45 (2017): 765-776. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5729225/, 15 Jul. 2020.
  3. Linaker, Catherine H, and Karen Walker-Bone. “Shoulder disorders and occupation.” Best practice & research. Clinical rheumatology vol. 29,3 (2015): 405-23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4836557/, 15 Jul. 2020.
  4. Anna’s Linens. “National sleep survey pulls back the covers on how we doze and dream.” PR Newswire, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/national-sleep-survey-pulls-back-the-covers-on-how-we-doze-and-dream-184798691.html, 15 Jul. 2020.
  5. Kempf, Bo, and Alice Kongsted. “Association between the side of unilateral shoulder pain and preferred sleeping position: a cross-sectional study of 83 Danish patients.” Journal of manipulative and physiological therapeutics vol. 35,5 (2012). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22608285/, 15 Jul. 2020.
  6. “What to do about rotator cuff tendinitis.” Harvard Medical School, https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/what_to_do_about_rotator_cuff_tendinitis, 15 Jul. 2020.