Shoulder Pain When Sleeping: Causes and Relief Tips

Shoulder pain when you sleep is common and very annoying. Dr. Jared Levin from the University Hospitals says many patients find it hard to sleep because of shoulder pain. This pain can come from issues like bursitis, rotator cuff injuries, biceps tendonitis, and osteoarthritis. Some positions, like sleeping on your side, might make the pain worse. This happens because it puts a lot of pressure on your shoulder joint.

Things like doing the same overhead motions again and again, getting older, and having old injuries can also lead to shoulder pain at night. If you figure out what’s causing your pain, you can make some changes. Adjusting how you sleep, stretching, and other things can reduce the pain.

Key Takeaways

  • Shoulder pain during sleep can be caused by various conditions like bursitis, rotator cuff injuries, and osteoarthritis.
  • Sleeping positions, especially lying on the affected shoulder, can exacerbate shoulder pain.
  • Factors like repetitive overhead motions, aging, and previous injuries contribute to nighttime shoulder discomfort.
  • Adjusting sleep posture, incorporating stretching, and using home remedies can help provide relief.
  • Consulting a medical professional is recommended for persistent or severe shoulder pain.

Understanding Shoulder Pain While Sleeping

Sleeping on your side can push on your shoulder a lot. This is true especially if your shoulder or upper arm is not feeling well. This pressure can cause a lot of pain for people who sleep on their sides.

Common Causes of Shoulder Pain at Night

Some common reasons for shoulder pain at night are bursitis, rotator cuff injuries, and biceps tendonitis. These happen when the bursa, rotator cuff, or biceps get hurt.

Bursitis is when the small, fluid-filled sacs in your shoulder get swollen. It happens because of too much pressure on your shoulder. Rotator cuff injuries can be from a fall or doing too much, like lifting heavy things.

Biceps tendonitis comes from using your arm over and over. It’s like your arm is tired of doing the same work. This can make your shoulder ache at night.

Doing the same shoulder movements too much, like in sports, can make it hurt at night too. It wears your shoulder down. So, that’s why people can feel sore when they sleep.

Rotator Cuff Injuries

Rotator cuff injuries often cause shoulder pain, especially at night. There are four muscles and tendons in the rotator cuff. They help the shoulder move and keep it stable.

When these parts are injured, your shoulder might hurt, swell, or feel sore.

Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Injuries

If you have a rotator cuff injury, you might feel a dull ache. It can be painful to lift your arm or reach behind your back. And, if lying on it makes it worse, your sleep might get interrupted. These injuries can happen from overuse, aging, or sudden accidents.

Treatment Options for Rotator Cuff Injuries

At first, you should rest and maybe take some medicine to reduce swelling. Doing special exercises can help too. If that doesn’t work, a doctor might also suggest a shot or surgery for bad tears or constant pain.

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It’s important to see a doctor. They can check you properly and make a plan just for you.

Bursitis: Inflammation of the Bursa

Bursitis is a common reason for shoulder pain, mostly in side sleepers. It happens when cushioning sacs around your shoulder’s bones, tendons, and muscles get swollen. This swelling may be from an injury or too much use. Sleeping on the sore shoulder makes the pain worse. Causes can include falls or working the shoulder too hard.

Causes and Symptoms of Bursitis

If you have shoulder bursitis, you might feel pain, tenderness, swelling, and stiffness in your shoulder. First steps in treatment is to rest, take anti-inflammatory drugs, and do easy shoulder exercises. If the pain stays, you might need a steroid shot or surgery to fix it.

Biceps Tendonitis and Overuse Injuries

Biceps tendonitis is a painful swelling of the tendon in the upper arm. It connects the arm bone to the shoulder. The pain is often worse at night. This issue comes from using the shoulder a lot. It can happen more when we get older and our tendons get stiff. Doing a lot of actions like throwing in sports or work can cause it, too.

Repetitive Motions and Aging Process

Getting older can make biceps tendonitis more likely. Our tendons become less bendy and tougher over time. This makes them easy to hurt with too much use. People who do activities with a lot of arm movement, like playing some sports or hard work, can get this issue.

Symptoms of Biceps Tendonitis

Biceps tendonitis makes the front of your shoulder hurt. The pain might go down your arm. It gets bad when you move your arm certain ways, like reaching back. Lifting or doing things over your head can also be very painful. In bad cases, the tendon may even tear. This makes a loud pop, causes a lot of pain, and your arm might bruise.

To help with biceps tendonitis, doctors might say to rest and take anti-inflammatory drugs. They might also suggest physical therapy or shots to help with pain and swelling. Doing specific exercises to make your shoulder stronger and more flexible can help a lot. It’s all about treating the injury from overuse.

Importance of Stretching Before Bedtime

Stretching brings relief for shoulder pain at night. It adds range of motion. This reduces discomfort. Exercises like shoulder shrugs, rolls, and wall stretches are easy and useful.

Stretching before sleep makes joints ready for a good night’s rest. It also avoids shoulder pain later.

Simple Stretching Exercises for Shoulder Pain

Try these stretches before bed: neck stretch, twist, “T” twist, cat-cow stretch, and more. They reduce tension and make you feel better.

These bedtime exercises boost blood flow and help you relax for sleep.

shoulder pain when sleeping

Sleeping Positions and Shoulder Pain

Your sleeping position can make your shoulder pain better or worse. Lying on the affected side adds pressure and can make it hurt more. If you sleep on your back or stomach, it might not hurt as much.

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Adjusting Sleeping Posture for Relief

For side sleepers, a pillow between your knees and one behind your back can help a lot. It keeps your shoulder in a good spot and stops you from turning too much. Sleeping on your back with a pillow under your arm also works. This keeps your arm in a comfy place. Changing how you sleep and using pillows the right way can make your shoulder feel better. You might even sleep better at night.

Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Shoulder impingement syndrome is when the rotator cuff’s soft tissues get irritated. They may “catch” or rub on a nearby bone when moving your arm. This can be due to swelling or tendon issues like tendinitis, bursitis, bone spurs, or a not normal shoulder blade bone shape. You might feel pain on the top or outside of your shoulder. It gets worse when you move your arm above your head. It can also make you wake up at night if you lay on that shoulder.

Causes and Symptoms of Impingement

Lying on your side can make shoulder impingement worse. This can cause 50% to 90% of shoulder pain coming from the rotator cuff. It might lead to bursitis. Also, the shoulder could get torn if it keeps getting rubbed wrong.

Treatment Options for Impingement

First, you should rest your shoulder if you have impingement. Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and doing physical therapy can help too. Sleeping on your back is good to take the pressure off your shoulders. If things don’t get better, you might need shots or surgery to fix the problem.

Osteoarthritis and Frozen Shoulder

Osteoarthritis of the shoulder and frozen shoulder can cause pain at night. When the shoulder’s cartilage breaks down, it causes osteoarthritis. This leads to pain, stiffness, and trouble moving the shoulder. Frozen shoulder makes the connective tissue in the shoulder joint thick and stiff. This makes it hard to move the shoulder.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis and Frozen Shoulder

Osteoarthritis and frozen shoulder both lead to pain that gets worse at night. The shoulder hurts more because it’s still and under pressure. People may feel a dull ache, sharp pain, or have trouble moving their shoulder.

Managing Arthritis and Frozen Shoulder Pain

To help, people can take over-the-counter pain medicines and do physical therapy. They may also get steroid shots or have surgery. It’s important to work with a doctor for a plan to treat shoulder osteoarthritis and frozen shoulder. This can help lessen the pain at night and improve your life.

Home Remedies and Medical Interventions

At night, you can ease shoulder pain with home remedies or medical help. Take over-the-counter pills like ibuprofen or naproxen. These can lower swelling and make you feel better. Also, putting ice or heat on your shoulder helps.

Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications like ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen can be a big help. They reduce swelling and stop the pain. These are easy to buy at the store.

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Physical Therapy and Steroid Injections

Doing special exercises with a therapist can make your shoulder better. They help it move and stay strong. Sometimes, a doctor might give you a corticosteroid injection to lower swelling.

Surgical Options for Severe Cases

If things don’t get better with simple treatments, surgery might be needed. Surgical options include decompression or fixing the rotator cuff. A doctor will check and decide the best way to help you. It’s always good to talk to an expert first.


Shoulder pain at night can really mess up your sleep. But, there are ways to help yourself feel better. Knowing what causes it is the first step. This includes things like rotator cuff injuries, bursitis, overuse conditions, and arthritis.

You can change how you sleep and do certain exercises. Also, using ice and taking some medicines can make you more comfortable at night.

If your shoulder hurts a lot when you sleep, talking to a doctor is a good idea. They can figure out what’s wrong and make a plan to help you sleep better. With the right help, you can sleep well again. It’s important to take good care of yourself. Doing that can really help with the pain and let you sleep better.


What are the common causes of shoulder pain when sleeping?

Injuries like bursitis, rotator cuff problems, and biceps tendonitis often cause night shoulder pain. These issues can get worse if you sleep on your side. This places too much pressure on the shoulder.

How can rotator cuff injuries lead to nighttime shoulder pain?

Rotator cuff injuries make the shoulder swell, causing pain. Sleeping on the sore shoulder can make it hurt more. You might feel pain lifting your arm or while trying to rest.

What is bursitis and how can it contribute to shoulder pain at night?

Bursitis is when the bursae, which cushion the shoulder, get inflamed. Overuse or an injury can cause this. The pain can feel like a sharp ache, especially when you sleep on that shoulder.

How can biceps tendonitis cause nighttime shoulder discomfort?

Biceps tendonitis comes from overuse and wears on the biceps tendon. It can create a sharp pain in your shoulder. This pain might move down your arm, making it hard to sleep on that side.

What is shoulder impingement syndrome and how does it impact sleep?

Shoulder impingement pinches the soft tissues of the rotator cuff against the bone. It happens when you move your arm. This leads to shoulder pain that gets worse at night and may keep you from sleeping well.

How can osteoarthritis and frozen shoulder contribute to nighttime shoulder pain?

Osteoarthritis wears down the shoulder’s cartilage. Frozen shoulder makes the shoulder’s movement stiff. Both can lead to severe nighttime pain and discomfort, especially when lying down.

What home remedies and medical interventions can help alleviate shoulder pain at night?

You can try things like anti-inflammatory drugs and ice or heat. Exercises can also help. If it’s really bad, you might need shots or surgery.