Shoulder Pain From Sleeping On Your Side: Causes & How To Relieve It

shoulder pain from sleeping on side

Have you ever tried to get to sleep, but were plagued by sudden body aches? Or, do you just have trouble getting comfortable at night? 

Many side sleepers may suffer from sleep-related shoulder pain, and there's a reason for this. 

In this article, we're going to break down why you're likely experiencing side sleeper shoulder pain and what you can do to make sleeping with shoulder pain as painless as possible.

Before we dig into this issue, be old is your mattress? This is the #1 cause of pain while you sleep.

If you're more interested in solving the issue, rather than dwelling on the cause, it may be time to upgrade your mattress to one that's designed to alleviate pain that side sleepers endure, like the GhostBed 3D Matrix

According to GhostBed's owner, Marc Werner:

"Side sleepers will enjoy the benefits of a soft mattress for the same body-contouring qualities, as it molds around the shoulders and hips, holding them in alignment with the spine to provide a restful sleep"

While this mattress is a sizable investment, it's designed to help relieve pain for side sleepers, and can even be financed at interest rates as low as 0%, and GhostBed allows you to try it in your home for 101 nights.

If the mattress isn't the issue, keep on reading to find out more about shoulder pain from sleeping on your side.

Does Side Sleeping Cause Shoulder Pain?

Shoulder pain, and other types of pain too, come from a variety of sources. Generally speaking, sleeping on your side doesn't cause shoulder pain, but it can make a less apparent injury feel worse. 

Side sleeping can cause some shoulder pain.

Sleeping on your side puts additional stress on areas like your shoulder. Your shoulders aren't designed to carry the brunt of your body weight, which is why some people experience shoulder pain from sleeping on their side. 

In fact, there was a recent study that found that 67% of the people who participated had shoulder pain that lined up with the side they most often slept on. 

Sleeping on your side can also cause arm numbness, back pain, and neck pain. This is because there's pressure build-up on the spine and the shoulder blade when sleeping on your side as opposed to back sleeping. The increased pressure can lead to inflammation and irritation around your joints which causes pain in other parts of your body.

While this evidence may support the theory that certain sleeping positions may cause shoulder pain, we can't jump to conclusions just yet. 

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Common Causes of Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain from sleeping doesn't just pop up overnight (unless you had a really rough sleep). Normally, shoulder pain comes from an injury, or overuse of your shoulder. Here are a few examples of how you can injure your shoulder. 

Rotator Cuff Injury

Rotator cuff injuries are fairly common, and can often be overlooked. They don't always happen during an accident. Your rotator cuff is a collection of tendons that surrounds your shoulder joint (the head of the upper arm bone) that helps keep your shoulder securely in its socket.

Such injury happens when your tendons or rotator cuff muscles become inflamed. This can happen for a variety of reasons but is commonly associated with sports injury. Here are the common ways people injure their rotator cuffs.

  • Sports injury - A rotator cuff injury from sports can happen from a high impact event, overuse, or overextension. 
  • Overuse - If you're in a sport like rowing that requires a lot of shoulder use, a rotator cuff injury can happen slowly over time, and often last throughout a good portion of your life if left untreated. 

Rotator cuff tendons may also become squeezed between the scapular bone and the shoulder humerus bone during side sleeping. This can lead to rotator cuff prolonged compression and may even progress to other health conditions like tendonitis, bursitis, and rotator cuff tears.

Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Injury

  • Dull pain deep in your shoulder
  • Pain that gets worse when you do certain activities that involve using your shoulder
  • Loss of motion or stiffness
  • Pain while sleeping

If you sleep on the same side as a potential rotator cuff injury, change your sleeping position. Try back sleeping or side sleeping on your other shoulder.

A better side sleeping posture is sleeping on the opposite shoulder with the injured shoulder toward the ceiling. You can consider putting a pillow in the armpit of the affected shoulder to take pressure off your rotator cuff.

If you can't seem to switch sleeping positions, you may need to upgrade your mattress or add a mattress topper for side sleepers to help minimize shoulder pain.

Solutions for Shoulder Pain from Sleeping On Your Side

Side sleeping is the best sleeping position for spinal alignment. Unfortunately, it's the worst for people with shoulder pain.

What Is The Best Way To Sleep If You Have Shoulder Pain?

The best way to prevent shoulder pain from sleeping on your side is to train yourself to get comfortable sleeping in a different position.

  • Sleep on the other shoulder side
  • Use a pillow to prevent rolling over at night
  • Use a pillow with the right loft to relieve shoulder pain
  • Stay active during daytime
  • Practice good sleep habits

Shoulder exercises, such as upper extremity strengthening and rotator cuff strengthening, can also alleviate pain and tension by strengthening your shoulder's muscles and tendons.

The best way to sleep to curb shoulder pain is to sleep on your back, with proper support for your neck, lower back, and legs, of course. 

Unfortunately, severe shoulder pain,  frozen shoulder, or chronic pain may not improve even with switching sleeping positions or using pillows for additional support. In these cases, you may want to consult your physician, who can give you an effective treatment plan for your condition. Changing your sleeping position or sleeping on a non-painful shoulder can only temporarily help your condition, but a professional medical practitioner can get to the root of the issue and fix it.

Related Content: How to fall asleep after cervical neck surgery 

Get Matched With Your Perfect Mattress

We know how hard it is to find a mattress just by reading information online. 

Thats why we created a mattress finder quiz to help pair you with the perfect mattress for your sleep style and comfort preferences

What If You Can Only Sleep On Your Side?

If you can't bring yourself to change sleep positions, we highly suggest you invest in a good pillow for side sleepers. A good pillow will fill up the neck space relieving pressure from your neck and shoulders. You can also use simple remedies for nighttime shoulder pain, such as alternating ice and heat to the injured shoulder before bedtime or in the morning. 

6 thoughts on “Shoulder Pain From Sleeping On Your Side: Causes & How To Relieve It”

  1. I sleep on side and back. problem is lately I wake up on my side with pain also in the morning when I get up I have shoulder pain. Now I know my age has a lot to do with it but I am tired of it. We did buy a new bed that we can raise up or down but the sides are not separate (mistake) as I could probably solve the issue if I could go up as far as I want also raise the bottom to where comfortable then going on side would be hard to do. Anyways I was hopping there was something I never thought of to help with this problem, thank you

    1. Hi Harold, did you happen get a medium or medium-soft mattress? The biggest thing with people in your situation is not enough pressure relief when you sleep on your side. If you got a medium-firm mattress, that could be a lot of the issue. If your mattress is still new, but too firm, you may want to try a soft topper to see if that helps. Check out this post about mattress toppers for side sleepers.

  2. It seems strange but my shoulder pain at night gets worst when I sleep on the opposite side from the painful shoulder. Right shoulder pain. Left shoulder no pain. Sleep on left side right shoulder aches. Sleep on right side where shoulder hurts, no pain from laying on hurt shoulder. Is that strange?

  3. Have to sleep on side due to 2A/A in 2000. My shoulder’s are starting to hurt so bad. I use muscle rub, ibuprofen, good pillow position. & mattress is softer one. Any other ideas?

    Thank you, in advance
    Marlene Christ

  4. I have a problem sleeping on my right side ever since I did a surgery I had a teared tendon now I’m forced to sleep on my back because when I sleep on my tummy my back aches.

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