July 14, 2021 6 min read

Picture this: You wake up after a long night’s rest feeling energized and refreshed. You get up out of bed with a smile on your face, feeling excited for the day ahead. But as you’re on your way to the bathroom, you’re hit with an intense pain in your shoulder. Uh oh. Looks like you slept on your shoulder wrong and didn’t get as good of a night’s rest as you thought you did.

Waking up with shoulder pain is the absolute worst. It’s debilitating, painful, and just downright annoying. It seems like no matter what you do or how you sleep, you can’t seem to find a way to stop the pain from coming. Having shoulder pain not only stops you from getting good sleep, but it makes doing daily activities more difficult. But in order to stop having shoulder pain from sleeping wrong, you need to figure out the root of the problem. Shoulder pain isn’t something that will just go away on its own and not changing your sleeping habits is only going to exacerbate the issue at hand. It’s time to figure out why you are waking with constant shoulder pain.

Potential Causes of Shoulder Pain

If your shoulder hurts after sleeping on a regular basis, you’re likely searching for the source of your discomfort. Sometimes shoulder pain is more complicated than just having slept on your shoulder wrong. There are several potential causes of shoulder pain that may be inflicting pain on your body, resulting in poor quality sleep.

Frozen shoulder

1) Frozen Shoulder

Woke up with shoulder pain? Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis as it’s scientifically caused, could be the reason for it. Frozen shoulder is very common. Between 5-20% of the population will experience a frozen shoulder at some point in their lives. However, those aged 40+ or with a history of diabetes, thyroid problems, heart conditions, or Parkinson’s disease are most at risk for it. Frozen shoulder occurs when your arm and shoulder are immobilized for a long amount of time because the tissues in the shoulder tighten and thicken and develop scar tissue. This can make it uncomfortable to rotate the shoulder naturally, thus causing pain. Those with a frozen shoulder will experience joint pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. There are a few ways you can treat this, like with remobilization, stretching, and physical therapy.

Scapular Dyskinesis

2) Scapular Dyskinesis

Scapular Dyskinesis is the abnormal function of the shoulder blade and could be causing you a lot of pain. This could happen from an injury or a condition that weakens your muscles and causes the position of the scapula to change. This can make moving your arm difficult and painful and can even lead to injury. The good news is that treating Scapular Dyskinesis is relatively simple. You can treat it right from home by restoring good posture, using heat therapy, and balancing your exercise routine.

Thoracic Spine Stiffness

3) Thoracic Spine Stiffness

If you wake up with shoulder pain, you might want to take a look at the way you’re sitting throughout the day. The thoracic spine is the portion of the middle of your back that is located between your shoulder blades. Stiffness in this area can be the cause of shoulder pain and can limit you from performing your daily functions. Thoracic spine stiffness can happen when you sit bending over for long periods of time, like typing at a desk. This type of position leads to an increased rounding of the spine which can cause a loss of mobility over time. To treat thoracic spine stiffness, try icing/heating the area and stretching the back muscles. Going to physical therapy is another way you can treat it.

Rotator Cuff Tendinitis

4) Rotator Cuff Tendinitis / Tendinosis

If you’re finding yourself waking up with shoulder pain, it could be because of tendon inflammation, or rotator cuff tendinitis / tendinosis. Tendon inflammation occurs when a tendon is overused and is very common among athletes. This can cause a burning pain around the tendon, stiffness, and restricted joint movement. It makes doing daily activities more difficult and can hinder your sleep. Thankfully, you can easily treat rotator cuff tendinitis / tendinosis at home by resting, stretching, and using a brace when partaking in exercise.

Referred pain

5) Referred Pain

If you’re experiencing a sore shoulder from sleeping, it could actually be the cause of a deeper issue. For example, you can have shoulder pain that in actuality is coming from a strain in your neck. Referred pain can be caused from abdominal, pelvic, or shoulder problems. Because this pain is the result of a problem elsewhere in the body, it is important to check with a physical therapist in order to receive the proper treatment.

Shoulder pain

How to Correct Nighttime Shoulder Pain

Waking up with shoulder pain is never a great way to start your day—not only does it negatively impact the quality of your rest, but it can also worsen your pain symptoms. Below, we’ll take a look at a variety of approaches to correct nighttime shoulder pain.

Practice good shoulder health

Like in most cases, preventative care is among the most effective steps you can take to minimize your risk of shoulder pain from sleeping wrong. Luckily, there are many options for those interested in at-homeshoulder pain relief:

  • Medication:
    • Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication can help to reduce shoulder pain and fight inflammation
    • Muscle relaxants can reduce stiffness and soreness that may occur if you slept on your shoulder wrong
  • Heat therapy:
    • If your shoulder hurts after sleeping and the source is because of an injury to the muscles, try heat therapy
    • Use heated compresses, hot water bottles, or heat creams to relieve pain and reduce stiffness
  • Shoulder exercises:
    • Stretching is a great and easy way to improve your shoulder health. Here are some stretches you can do if you have a sore shoulder from sleeping:
      • Cross-reach stretch: Use your good arm to lift your affected arm at the elbow and move it across your body. Hold this stretch for up to 20 seconds
      • Pendulum stretch: Relax your shoulder, stand up, and lean over slightly with your affected arm hanging down. Gently swing the arm in a small circle, 10 times each way.

Towel stretch: Hold a towel in a horizontal position across your back, with one hand gripping each side. Hold the bottom of the towel with your affected arm and pull it towards the lower back with the unaffected arm. Repeat this up to 20 times a day.

Shoulder exercises

Sleep in a quarter turn

You may have slept on your shoulder wrong if you’re regularly waking up with a sore or strained feeling. But what distinguishes between a “good” posture for your shoulder and a “bad” one? In many cases, sleeping directly on your shoulder is the main source of nighttime shoulder pain. This position creates a constant compression force between the upper arm bone (humerus) and the “cup” of your shoulder (glenoid). If you turn just a bit onto your front or back the compression is reduced and your chances of waking up in pain are reduced too.

Sleep with your elbow below your shoulder

You could be growing the chances of waking up in pain if you sleep with your elbow closer to the headboard than your back. Your rotator cuff tendons and sensitive shoulder bursae may become pinched between the cup of your shoulder and your upper arm bone when your arm is in this position and your muscles are at rest. Staying in this place will cause you pain, so make sure you sleep with your elbow below your shoulder at all times.

Sleep on your back

Sleeping on your back is the best sleep position for shoulder impingement. Sleeping on your back means you’re lying in a neutral position with little to no pressure being applied to your neck, back, and shoulders. This keeps your spine aligned and leads to a painless sleep. If you’re still experiencing some shoulder impingement even while sleeping on your back, try putting a small pillow under your shoulders to bring your shoulders back and open your chest.

Invest in a Shoulder Pain Relief System

Sometimes finding a comfortable sleeping position isn’t enough to cure your shoulder pain. If you’re feeling defeated, invest in a shoulder pain relief system. A shoulder pain relief system is designed to support your entire body and provide relief from shoulder pain as you sleep. It relieves pressure with patented arm pockets so you can rest comfortably on your side. It also creates a 10° angle of elevation to take pressure off your arm and shoulder. Using a shoulder pain relief system might just be the answer to all your sleeping problems.

Wrapping Up

You shouldn’t have to settle for waking up with shoulder pain every day for the rest of your life. No one deserves that! Whether it’s finding a more comfortable sleeping position or investing in a shoulder relief pillow, it is important to take certain measures to relieve chronic pain that is impeding your daily life. Everyone should be able to wake up feeling pain-free and well slept, with nothing holding you back. Not even shoulder pain.