Shoulder Pain Sleeping on Side

While a rotator cuff injury or frozen shoulder are common sources for shoulder pain when sleeping on your side, sleeping on your side in-and-of-itself can actually be contributing to your pain as well

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There are many things you can do to remedy shoulder pain from sleeping on your side, including heating or icing, stretching the shoulder and surrounding neck muscles, or anti-inflammatory medication. Resting and avoiding strenuous activity will keep you from injuring yourself further, but remaining somewhat active and keeping the joint mobile will also aid in recovery.

We’ll be further detailing the causes of and solutions for shoulder pain from sleeping on your side, so if you’re losing sleep to pain and need relief, read on.

Sleeping Position and Your Shoulders

When it comes to pain, not all sleep positions are created equal.  

Unfortunately, side sleepers are more prone to aches and pains than back or stomach sleepers. This position puts more pressure on the hips and shoulders than others, especially on the wrong mattress. It may also create a curve in the spine instead of keeping it in a straight line. 

Side sleepers frequently complain of back pain, but shoulder issues are common as well. These issues are the result of putting the body in an awkward position, which causes strain on delicate shoulder muscles. 

Sleeping on your side may also compress the shoulder and restrict blood flow to the area, especially if the mattress is hard. In this case, you may notice numbness or a pins-and-needles sensation, which leads to soreness and sometimes more serious pain. 

Common Causes of Shoulder Pain Sleeping on Side

Sometimes the direct cause of shoulder pain is sleeping on your side. Other times, the pain is due to an underlying condition that the position aggravates. Some of the most common conditions include:  

  • Rotator Cuff Injury – Rotator cuff injuries tend to occur from overuse, which can cause problems like tendonitis and strains. 
  • Rotator Cuff Tear – Rotator cuff tears happen after trauma, such as falling onto the shoulder or lifting something too heavy. 
  • Frozen ShoulderFrozen shoulder is due to the connective tissue in the shoulder joint thickening, leading to a decreased range of movement. 
  • OsteoarthritisOsteoarthritis is when cartilage, or the cushioning between bones, starts to break down, leading to stiffness and aches. 

Finding out whether you are suffering from an underlying condition can help you find the proper treatment. In some cases, seeking help from a medical professional is the best course of action.  

How to Relieve Shoulder Pain from Sleeping on Side

Relieving shoulder pain from sleeping on your side requires a multi-pronged approach. You may want to try some or all of the following steps during the day. 

  • Rest Your Shoulder – In the case of a temporary injury, resting the shoulder can help you find relief. Avoid any activities that might aggravate your shoulder. 
  • Apply Heat and Ice – Both heat and ice can reduce pain in the area by relaxing the muscles and bringing down the inflammation. 
  • Remain Active – Engaging in physical activity is an excellent way to promote blood flow, which can help the muscles and tendons in the area recover more quickly. You may also benefit from performing light shoulder stretches. 
  • Take Anti-Inflammatory Medication – Over-the-counter pain relievers, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can help you find relief. Try taking one shortly before bedtime. 
  • Improve Sleep HygieneStudies show that not getting enough sleep can increase pain. Plus, if you’re tossing and turning throughout the night, you may be aggravating your shoulder more than you realize. Improving sleep hygiene can help you be more relaxed at bedtime and fall into a deeper sleep.  

How to Sleep with Shoulder Pain

In many cases, experiencing shoulder pain from sleeping on your side prevents you from getting a good night’s sleep. Here are some tips to make sleep more restful.

  • Avoid sleeping on the shoulder that hurts. Some people find it difficult to switch sides, but it’s sometimes the only way to sleep comfortably. 
  • Use extra support. A pillow can help put your injured shoulder in a better position when sleeping on the non-affected side. Place it in your armpit to hold the shoulder up and reduce pressure. 

Solutions to Shoulder Pain from Sleeping on Side

As long as it’s not caused by an underlying condition, the solution for shoulder and neck pain from sleeping on your side is straightforward: you have to change how you sleep. It may be challenging to change your sleep position, but it’s a simple solution that will prevent your injury from getting worse. 

So which position is best? 

Back sleeping is recommended for anyone experiencing shoulder pain. Sleeping on your back allows you to stay off the injury and keep your spine in alignment, which is why it’s worth training yourself to sleep this way. 

However, sleeping on your stomach is not a good idea. This sleeping style requires you to turn your head to the side to breathe, straining your neck and putting your spine in an unnatural position. 

How to Sleep on Your Side Without Hurting Your Shoulder

For some people, changing their sleep position is impossible. In this case, you should learn how to sleep on your side without hurting your shoulder, which involves making some changes to your sleep surfaces. 

  • Purchase a new mattress. The right mattress makes a world of difference for side sleepers. If you have the means, investing in a softer version can significantly reduce pain. Memory foam and latex are the best options, as they contour and conform to the body. These materials also provide high support and relieve pressure on the joints.
  • Get a new pillow. If your pillow is too high or too low for your body, it can take your spine out of a neutral position. Consult a sleep expert to find the right pillow for you. 
  • Invest in a mattress topper. If a new bed isn’t in the cards, a less expensive mattress topper can help you find the relief you need. Look for a topper for side sleepers, which are specifically designed to support this sleep position. 

Final Thoughts

While there are plenty of ways to improve shoulder health on your own, sometimes medical intervention is necessary. If your pain is persistent, disruptive, or worsens over time, it’s best to consult a doctor. 

Nate Devore
Nate Devore
For over 15 years Nate has been obsessed with solving his own personal and difficult health challenges related to sleep, energy, and fatigue. As one of our sleep experts at sleeping.com, Nate is passionate about helping you get the best night’s sleep possible.

Medical Disclaimer: The content on this page should not be taken as medical advice or used as a recommendation for any specific treatment. Always consult your doctor before making any decisions.

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