Reasons for Sore Shoulder After Sleeping and How to Prevent It

Waking up with shoulder pain can happen to many people. It makes sleeping and daily tasks hard. Dr. Jared Levin, a shoulder surgeon, hears this a lot. People often get by during the day. But, not sleeping well is tough. The good news is, we can do things to help ease this pain and sleep better.

Key Takeaways

  • Shoulder pain is a common issue that can disrupt sleep and daily activities.
  • Sleeping on your side can lead to bursitis and shoulder discomfort.
  • Biceps tendonitis and rotator cuff injuries can also cause nighttime shoulder pain.
  • Stretching and home remedies can help lessen shoulder pain and make sleep better.
  • Changing how you sleep and getting help for bad shoulder pain is key.

Introduction to Shoulder Pain After Sleep

Shoulder pain at night is common and can hurt your sleep and your day. Dr. Levin, a shoulder doctor at University Hospitals, says many patients suffer. They find it hard to rest because of the pain.

Prevalence of Shoulder Discomfort During Sleep

Many people feel pain in their shoulders at night. This can stop you from sleeping well and make you feel tired and low on energy. You might feel an ache around the joint or a burn that goes down your arm.

Impact on Sleep Quality and Daily Life

Shoulder pain makes sleeping hard. You can’t find a good position, so you keep moving in bed. This leaves you tired and not your best during the day.

Common Causes of Sore Shoulder After Sleeping

Waking up with shoulder pain is common. It happens when we put too much pressure on the shoulder when we sleep on our side. Bursitis is one reason. It’s inflammation of the bursa, a pad in the shoulder that helps it move smoothly. When the bursa is swollen, it hurts, especially when laying on that side.

Bursitis and Tendinitis

Sleeping on your side for too long can lead to tendinitis. This is when the tendons in your shoulder get irritated and swell up. It’s very painful, especially at night.

Rotator Cuff Injuries

Rotator cuff injuries can also make your shoulder hurt when you wake up. Sleeping in one position that puts pressure on your shoulder can harm the rotator cuff. When you sleep like this, you might cause strain or tears in your shoulder’s tendons.

Biceps Tendonitis

Sleeping in a way that presses on the front of the shoulder can cause biceps tendonitis. This is when the biceps tendon is inflamed. It leads to overnight shoulder joint ache and stiffness in the morning.

Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Shoulder impingement syndrome can make your shoulder hurt at night. It happens when soft tissues around the rotator cuff get stuck. This can happen from swelling of the tendons or bursa, or from bone spurs that come with age. You might feel pain when lifting your arm or think it feels weak.

This problem can make pain worse when you lift your arm, especially up high. It’s because the tendons and bursa get squeezed between the arm bone and a bony part of the shoulder blade.

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Sleeping on the side that’s hurting can make the problem worse. Doing this puts odd pressures on bones and tissues. This can make shoulder impingement worse.

If your shoulder keeps hurting and it’s hard to sleep, it’s time to see a doctor. They can check your shoulder and suggest ways to feel better. Treating it can help you sleep well again.

sore shoulder after sleeping

Sleeping Position and Shoulder Pain

Your sleeping position is key for shoulder pain, mainly if you sleep on your side. This way, your shoulder carries too much body weight. This leads to discomfort and pain. In a small study, 67% with shoulder pain slept on the hurting side.

Weight Distribution and Side Sleeping

Sleeping on your side makes weight distribution uneven. This strains your shoulder joint and nearby parts. It can cause issues like bursitis, tendinitis, and rotator cuff injuries. Changing your sleep position could help reduce shoulder pain from sleeping position.

Osteoarthritis and Shoulder Joint Pain

Shoulder osteoarthritis is a big reason for shoulder pain, especially at night. It happens when the shoulder joint’s bone cushion breaks down. This often comes with age. It makes your shoulder hurt, get stiff, and harder to move. Sleeping on that shoulder can make it feel worse.

Age-Related Cartilage Breakdown

In the shoulder, osteoarthritis mostly affects the AC joint. It happens a lot to people over 50 as the cartilage wears away.

Previous Shoulder Injuries

Youth can face shoulder osteoarthritis from injuries like fractures or dislocations. These injuries can speed up cartilage breakdown, causing pain earlier in life.

Frozen Shoulder and its Stages

Frozen shoulder is also called adhesive capsulitis. It causes big shoulder stiffness and pain, especially at night. Your shoulder joint’s connective tissue thickens and tightens. This results in less movement and range of motion.

Freezing Stage

In the freezing stage, things start slowly and have three parts. This stage lasts from 2 to 9 months. You’ll feel more shoulder pain and stiffness. It will be hard to move your arm.

Frozen Stage

The next stage, the “frozen” stage, lasts from 4 to 12 months. Your shoulder joint gets very stiff. You also lose a lot of movement. Basic tasks like dressing and sleeping can become hard.

Thawing Stage

The “thawing” stage is the last. It takes from 5 months to 2 years. Your shoulder stiffness starts to get better. You’ll gain back some of your lost movement. But it happens slowly.

Freezing6-9 monthsGradual increase in shoulder pain and stiffness
Frozen4-12 monthsSignificant loss of shoulder joint range of motion
Thawing5 months – 2 yearsGradual improvement in shoulder stiffness and regain of range of motion

Tips for Sleeping with Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain can really mess up your sleep. But there are ways to feel better. You can change how you lay down, use special pillows, and stretch a bit before bed. These things might make sleeping easier.

Adjusting Sleep Position

Sleeping so your sore shoulder doesn’t take your weight can help a lot. Position yourself on your back or the other side. Pillows are great for keeping your body comfortable and shoulder relaxed. It’s best to keep away from sleeping on your stomach.

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Pillow Positioning

The way you use pillows matters, especially if you have shoulder pain. Hold a pillow when laying on your side to reduce pressure on your sore shoulder. For those who prefer sleeping on their back, put a pillow under your elbow. This trick can align and support your shoulder.

Gentle Stretches and Exercises

Lots of little shoulder moves and stretches might help. They relax your shoulder and make it move better. Before bed, try light shoulder exercises like shoulder shrugs and rolls, as well as gentle pec stretches. This could help you have a pain-free night sleep. Just don’t do hard exercises right before bed, as they can make your shoulder hurt more.

Preventive Measures for Shoulder Health

To keep your shoulders healthy, there are simple steps to follow. First, avoid doing the same shoulder moves over and over. Things like lifting above your head or throwing a lot can hurt your shoulders. Also, doing exercises to make your shoulder muscles stronger is a good idea.

Avoiding Repetitive Motions

Don’t do too many activities that use your shoulders the same way. This may be lifting things up high, throwing a lot, or reaching out often. If you have to do these, take breaks. Using help like dollies can make it easier on your shoulders.

Strengthening Exercises

Doing exercises every day can help your shoulders work better and avoid getting hurt. Try moves that make the muscles around your shoulders stronger, like the rotator cuff. You can use special bands or weights for this.

Proper Lifting Techniques

When you pick up heavy stuff, do it right to keep your shoulders safe. Stand up straight, use your stomach muscles, and lift with your legs. Don’t twist your body or reach up high when you lift. This way, the weight is spread out and your shoulders don’t work too hard.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If your shoulder pain is sudden or severe or keeps going for weeks, it’s time to see a doctor. It bothers you during the day and stops you from sleeping, or you notice weakness or can’t move well, it might be serious. You need to get it checked by a pro.

Sudden or Severe Pain

Sudden or very bad pain in your shoulder needs quick attention. This kind of pain without a known cause could mean a rotator cuff tear. It could also point to serious arthritis or a pinched nerve. These issues need to be looked at by a doctor soon to avoid making them worse.

Persistent or Disruptive Pain

If your shoulder pain doesn’t go away or it really messes with your daily life or sleep, see a doctor. This could be a sign of something like a frozen shoulder or osteoarthritis. Getting it treated by experts can help you manage it better.

Weakness or Loss of Motion

Noticing weakness or that you can’t move your shoulder well is worrying. This could mean there’s a serious injury or a nerve problem. Signs like this point to conditions needing special treatments, such as rotator cuff tears. They should be checked by a doctor to keep them from getting worse.

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Shoulder pain at night is common and can be hard to deal with. But, you can tackle the root causes and get relief. It’s important to know what’s causing your sore shoulder after sleeping. This might be due to how you sleep, hidden injuries, or multiple reasons. The first step is to figure this out to plan the right treatment.

Tweaking your sleeping style or choosing better pillows can make things better. Doing simple stretches and exercises can also help. They make your shoulder muscles stronger, reducing pain. If your pain doesn’t get better or gets worse, see a doctor. They can check for any serious issues and suggest the right treatment.

Preventing shoulder pain starts with you. Avoid doing the same movements over and over, and lift things the right way. These little actions can help a lot. They cut down the chance of waking up with a sore shoulder after sleeping. They also make your sleep better overall.


What are the common causes of sore shoulder after sleeping?

There are several reasons for a sore shoulder after sleep. Prolonged pressure on the shoulder is one. Bursitis, rotator cuff injuries, and impingement syndrome are others. Your sleeping position, osteoarthritis, and frozen shoulder can also cause this.

How does sleeping position contribute to shoulder pain?

Sleeping on your side can press down on the shoulder. This can make it hurt. To feel better, try not to lay on that side at night.

What is shoulder impingement syndrome and how can it cause pain at night?

Shoulder impingement syndrome is when your rotator cuff tissues get stuck. They rub against bones or other tissues. This can hurt, especially when you lift your arm.

How can osteoarthritis in the shoulder joint contribute to nighttime shoulder pain?

Osteoarthritis breaks down your shoulder joint’s cartilage. This can lead to more pain and less motion. The pain might get worse at night.

What is frozen shoulder and how does it impact sleep?

Frozen shoulder makes the shoulder’s connective tissues thicken and tighten. This limits how much you can move your shoulder. It causes a lot of pain at night.

What are some tips for sleeping more comfortably with shoulder pain?

To sleep better with shoulder pain, try not to lay on the sore shoulder. Use pillows to keep from rolling onto it. Also, try some light stretches and exercises.

When should you seek medical attention for shoulder pain at night?

You need a doctor if you have very sudden or strong shoulder pain at night. Also, if the pain stays bad for weeks or affects your daily life and sleep. If your shoulder feels weak or you lose motion, get medical help.