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How to Sleep with Shoulder Pain

by Patty Weasler, RN April 16, 2021 0 Comments

Woman sleeping

Nighttime shoulder pain can significantly decrease the quality of your sleep. Whether your pain is caused by impingement, arthritis, or injury; finding how to sleep with shoulder pain in a comfortable and supportive position is the first step to getting a good night’s sleep and reducing your shoulder pain. Keep scrolling to for ways to reduce pain in the shoulder joint.

Common Causes of Nighttime Shoulder Pain

The first step in reducing shoulder pain while you sleep is to determine what’s causing your shoulder pain. Here are the most common shoulder injuries. For proper diagnosis and evaluation, be sure to consult with your doctor.

Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder impingement is a condition caused by repetitive movements where the tendons in the shoulder joint rub against bone. This creates swelling and pain. Pressure from improper sleeping positions can make shoulder impingement worse, refer to our guide on how to sleep with shoulder impingement.

Shoulder Impingement

Rotator Cuff Injury

A rotator cuff injury is one of the most common shoulder injuries in the United States. If you are someone who suffers from rotator cuff pain and injuries changing your sleep position and using pillows to support your arm will be an important part of your recovery. Learn more about rotator cuff injuries below.

Rotator Cuff Injury

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is a progressive shoulder condition that causes inflammation in the shoulder creating a limited range of motion within the joint. It can be tender to the touch making sleep tough. Aim to sleep on your back with a pillow on your affected side to prevent you from rolling over onto your frozen shoulder. Another position is to sleep on your unaffected shoulder.

Frozen Shoulder

Arthritis

Shoulder arthritis makes your joint painful and stiff. Sleeping with this condition is no treat. During the day make sure to keep moving to reduce stiffness and at night position yourself so that your shoulder is supported with a wedge pillow or another support piece.

Shoulder Arthritis

Bursitis

Bursitis is a painful condition where the fluid-filled sac in the shoulder joint called bursa becomes inflamed. Laying down on the affected shoulder can be painful, making sleep elusive. Keeping that shoulder in a neutral position while you sleep will not only let you sleep better but also help heal the inflammation.

Bursitis

Shoulder Tendonitis

Shoulder tendonitis is a wear and tear injury from sports or other activities. The best treatment is rest and if you have shoulder pain then sleeping will be hard. Keep your arm down at your side, not above your head, and avoid sleeping on the affected shoulder.

Shoulder Tendonitis

Poor Sleeping Posture

While nighttime shoulder pain usually stems from an underlying condition or injury, it is possible that poor sleeping posture may be the root cause. It’s not uncommon for our bodies to become positioned out of alignment while we sleep; which overtime can cause a variety of pain including back pain, neck pain, and even pain in the shoulder blades.

Proper Sleeping Posture & Position Tips

Best Sleeping Positions for Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain may force you to adjust your sleeping position. By making those necessary adjustments you will create the best sleeping environment for your shoulder. Read below to learn how. 

Back or Stomach

In most cases, sleeping on your back is the best position if you have shoulder pain. This position keeps your shoulders in a neutral position and avoids pressure on the joint. Some people may benefit from placing a pillow or folded blanket under their arm and elbow to support their lower arm.

Sleeping on your stomach is another position that avoids placing pressure directly onto yoru shoulder. However, when you sleep on your stomach your shoulders fall forward creating excess strain on the upper body and shoulder. If you are stomach sleeper and just can’t kick the habit then place a small towel or blanket under each shoulder to provide support.   

Side Sleeping

All is not lost if you are a side sleeper with shoulder pain. If you just can’t sleep in any other position, the first suggestion we have is to sleep on the unaffected side. You’ll keep the comfort of sleeping on your side but won’t put any extra weight on your injured shoulder. If that isn’t an option then when you are in bed take a body pillow and place it directly behind your back. Slowly, rotate your body back so that you are leaning against the body pillow. This should allow you to stay on your preferred shoulder but take some of the pressure off of the shoulder.

Tips for Sleeping with Shoulder Pain

There are ways you can get a restful night’s sleep despite your shoulder pain. Here are our best tips:

  • Keep proper body alignment while sleeping
  • Utilize positioning pillows under your arms and legs if you sleep on your back. Place pillows under your shoulders if you are a stomach sleeper. 
  • Use memory foam pillows
  • Replace your mattress every 6 to 8 years.
  • Consider physical therapy for shoulder pain
  • Implement other conservative treatments during the day:
  • Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen provide pain relief so you can sleep.
  • Seek medical advice if the pain doesn’t improve or worsens

Reduce Shoulder Pain at Night

Shoulder pain is a common complaint that is caused by several conditions and injuries. The pain can ruin your day and make sleep near impossible. With a few modifications in your sleep position, using pillows, and working with your doctor you can finally get to sleep and stay asleep. If the pain does not improve make sure you talk to your doctor to help determine if there are other causes to the pain.

Resources:

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/shoulder-pain-from-sleeping#causes

https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/musculoskeletal-and-rheumatology/2015/october/when-shoulder-pain-disrupts-sleep

Shoulder Pain Products
Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.



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