Why Sleeping on Your Side Is Killing Your Shoulder

Why Sleeping on Your Side Is Killing Your Shoulder

When you wake up, you should feel refreshed and rejuvenated, but shoulder pain or aches may be getting in the way of a good night’s sleep. If you are experiencing shoulder pain when waking up, you may want to change your sleeping position.

Can Sleeping On Your Side Cause Shoulder Pain?

Yes, sleeping on your side can cause shoulder pain, as your sleep posture plays an important role in the health of your body. Just as our posture while awake can cause or worsen joint pain or general discomfort, our sleep posture can also cause various aches and pains throughout the body.

Considering we sleep for approximately eight hours a night, certain sleeping positions may cause strain on our shoulders and body, resulting in stiffness and soreness over time. Some people may even develop shoulder impingement or tendinitis from their bone pressing against the sensitive tendons of the shoulder.

Why Sleeping on Your Side Is Killing Your Shoulder

Certain sleeping positions can cause stress and strain on your shoulder. Research has found 10% of Americans wake up with pain each day. While your sleeping position may cause shoulder pain, it may also be exacerbating an underlying medical condition, such as frozen shoulder

Numerous shoulder conditions may cause pain or discomfort while sleeping, including:

  • Rotator cuff injury: rotator cuff injury can happen when the rotator cuff’s tendons are irritated and inflamed, known as tendinitis, or partially or completely torn. Sleeping on your side can worsen or exacerbate rotator cuff injury symptoms, including dull pain or aches in the shoulder and reduced range of motion from stiffness. Rotator cuff injury pain may cause disrupted sleep and worsening pain when using the shoulder.
  • Shoulder bursitis: Bursae are fluid-filled sacs that help cushion the delicate tissues around joints and are found all over the body. Shoulder bursitis is when the bursae of the shoulder become irritated and inflamed. While bursitis can develop anywhere that bursae are located, the shoulder is one of the most common areas for bursitis to develop. Symptoms of shoulder bursitis include redness, inflammation and stiffness in the shoulder, pain that worsens with movement, localized tenderness and increased pain from pressure.
  • Osteoarthritis: Shoulder osteoarthritis is when the shoulder’s cartilage, which is designed to cushion the bones, deteriorates and breaks down. While shoulder osteoarthritis can occur naturally with age, it may also develop from previous trauma or injury. Shoulder osteoarthritis symptoms may include reduced range of motion, stiffness and pain that often worsens with movement. Some cases of shoulder osteoarthritis may cause clicking or grinding sounds within the shoulder.
  • Shoulder impingement: Shoulder impingement occurs when the tissues around the rotator cuff begin to rub or grind against nearby tissue or bones. This rubbing may be caused by tendinitis, bursitis or bone spurs. Commonly, shoulder impingement causes pain at the outer part or top of the shoulder and a general feeling of weakness in the shoulder.

Solutions to Shoulder Pain From Sleeping on Side

How long shoulder pain lasts from sleeping wrong depends on your sleeping posture and if any underlying medical conditions are contributing to shoulder pain. If you are wondering how to get rid of shoulder pain when waking up, you may want to consider these potential treatments.

Best At-Home Treatment for Shoulder Pain

Fortunately, there are many effective at-home shoulder pain treatments to alleviate pain and tension. While at-home shoulder pain treatments can be effective, we do suggest consulting with your physician before introducing any shoulder exercises or medicine into your routine. Some of the most popular shoulder pain treatments include:

  • Shoulder exercises: Shoulder exercises and physical therapy methods can help alleviate tension and pain by strengthening your shoulder’s tendons and muscles. Common shoulder exercises include range-of-motion exercises, rotator cuff strengthening and upper extremity strengthening.
  • Heat and ice packs: An effective way to improve shoulder pain is by applying heat and ice to the affected areas, depending on your shoulder symptoms. If you have shoulder arthritis or osteoarthritis, moist heat can help relax the muscles and stiff joints. If you have a shoulder strain, an ice pack and cold compress can help minimize pain and alleviate the swelling. Following ice, heat can help improve stiffness after the initial swelling has subsided. For shoulder tendinitis, ice packs alleviate inflammation.
  • Anti-inflammatory medicine: Over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory medicine can also help minimize painful shoulder symptoms. You may want to try over-the-counter medication, including Aleve, Tylenol, Motrin or Advil.
Shoulder Strain

Best Sleeping Positions for Shoulder Pain

Another important thing to consider when looking to minimize shoulder pain is your sleeping position. In general, if you have shoulder pain, you should avoid sleeping positions that apply direct pressure to the shoulder, such as sleeping on your side. Keeping pressure off your shoulder can reduce the risk of worsening symptoms and allow your shoulder time to heal.

If only one shoulder is painful and you prefer to sleep on your side, you can sleep on the unaffected shoulder. It may be beneficial to sleep on your back, keeping your back and neck straight to reduce potential strain and pressure. Sleeping on your back keeps the spine in a neutral position and prevents excess stress on the shoulders.

When Should You See a Doctor for Shoulder Pain?

You may want to see your doctor if you are experiencing severe shoulder pain that interrupts your daily life or inhibits your ability to perform essential tasks. While shoulder pain may need a couple of weeks to improve with at-home treatments and medicine, shoulder pain that persists longer than a few weeks may also be a reason to seek medical assistance. You may want to see a doctor if you experience:

  • Pain that does not improve and persists for more than a few weeks
  • Grinding, snapping, clicking or popping noises in the shoulder
  • Previous shoulder injury or dislocation
  • Inability to perform daily tasks
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • A visible growth or swollen mass on the shoulder

Sleeping and Shoulder Pain FAQs

Some of the most commonly asked questions about shoulder pain and sleeping include:

How Do You Stop Your Shoulder From Hurting When Sleeping on Your Side?

One of the most effective ways to improve shoulder pain while sleeping is to sleep in different positions that do not cause stress or strain on your shoulder. Some useful tips and tricks for sleeping with an uncomfortable or sensitive shoulder include:

  • Sleeping on your back or a position that causes no pressure on the shoulder
  • Use pillows to support your shoulder or adjust positions
  • Maintain healthy sleeping habits
  • Stay active throughout the day
  • Try lying down on your stomach

Can You Tear Your Rotator Cuff While Sleeping?

Yes, it is possible to tear or injure your rotator cuff while sleeping. A rotator cuff injury while sleeping often occurs if the shoulder is already damaged or unhealthy. If you are sleeping on a sensitive or injured shoulder, you apply excess pressure to the rotator cuff, leading to potential injury or tearing.

How Do You Get Rid of Shoulder Pain When Waking Up?

If you are experiencing shoulder pain or immobilization when you wake up, you may want to gently stretch and exercise your shoulder, helping to alleviate stiffness. You may also want to apply a hot compress or cold icepack, depending on your symptoms.

Introduce small and simple changes to your sleeping routine to see if anything betters or worsens your shoulder pain. In addition to switching your sleeping position, you should see if adding or removing pillows may help support your body and shoulder.

You should avoid sleeping with your arm under a pillow or your elbow above your head, as these positions add pressure and tension to your shoulder tendons. Tear-drop or cervical support pillows can help support the body as you sleep. You may also want to invest in a supportive mattress topper to alleviate pressure on the shoulder.

How Long Does Shoulder Pain Last From Sleeping Wrong?

Shoulder pain may improve within the first few hours of waking up, but more severe cases may persist throughout the day. Unfortunately, severe shoulder pain may not improve throughout the day, even with stretches, exercise or pain medicine. In these cases, you should consult your physician.

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