23 May 2024
Discover the causes of morning shoulder pain and how to find relief. From muscle imbalances to injuries, explore the reasons behind your discomfort.

Have you ever woken up in the morning with a nagging pain in your shoulder? It can be quite frustrating and leave you wondering what might be causing it. In this article, we will explore some of the possible reasons behind morning shoulder pain, helping you understand and potentially alleviate this discomfort. From posture issues to rotator cuff injuries, we will delve into the various factors that could be contributing to your morning shoulder pain. So, let’s dive right in and find out what might be causing that pesky shoulder pain of yours!

Causes of Morning Shoulder Pain

Causes of Morning Shoulder Pain

Morning shoulder pain can be a frustrating way to start your day, but understanding the underlying causes can help you find relief and prevent future discomfort. There are several potential reasons why you may be experiencing this discomfort, ranging from muscle imbalances to injuries or trauma. In this article, we will explore the various causes of morning shoulder pain and provide insights into each condition.

Muscle Imbalances

Muscle imbalances are a common cause of morning shoulder pain. These imbalances can occur when certain muscles in the shoulder become tight, while others become weak. This imbalance can lead to muscle strains and discomfort, especially after prolonged periods of inactivity during sleep.

Tight Muscles: Tight muscles in the shoulder, such as the pectoralis muscles or the muscles around the neck and upper back, can cause morning shoulder pain. These muscles can become tight due to poor posture, prolonged sitting, or repetitive motions. Stretching exercises and massage therapy can be helpful in relieving tight muscles.

Weak Muscles: On the other hand, weak muscles in the shoulder, such as the rotator cuff muscles or the muscles in the scapula, can also contribute to morning shoulder pain. Weak muscles can lead to poor stability in the shoulder joint, making it more susceptible to injuries and discomfort. Strengthening exercises targeted at these muscles can be beneficial for alleviating pain.

Causes of Morning Shoulder Pain

Injury or Trauma

Shoulder injuries or trauma can also cause morning shoulder pain. Whether you have experienced a dislocation, fracture, or sprain/strain, these injuries can result in lingering discomfort that is particularly noticeable when you wake up in the morning.

Shoulder Dislocation: Shoulder dislocation occurs when the humerus bone pops out of its socket, resulting in intense pain and a limited range of motion. Sometimes, the shoulder may partially dislocate, causing subluxation. Both dislocations and subluxations can contribute to morning shoulder pain.

Fracture: A fracture in any of the bones that make up the shoulder joint, such as the clavicle, scapula, or humerus, can lead to morning shoulder pain. Fractures usually require immediate medical attention for proper healing.

Sprain or Strain: Sprains and strains are common injuries that involve the stretching or tearing of ligaments or tendons in the shoulder. These injuries can occur due to sudden movements, falls, or overexertion. Adequate rest, ice, and physical therapy are often recommended for healing these injuries.

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition characterized by stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint. It typically develops slowly over time, and the symptoms can be particularly bothersome in the morning.

Primary vs. Secondary Frozen Shoulder: There are two types of frozen shoulder: primary and secondary. Primary frozen shoulder has no known cause and can develop spontaneously. Secondary frozen shoulder occurs due to an underlying medical condition or trauma.

Risk Factors: Certain factors may increase the risk of developing frozen shoulder, such as age (40-60 years old), gender (more common in women), certain medical conditions (diabetes, thyroid disorders), and previous shoulder injuries.

Causes: The exact cause of frozen shoulder is still unknown. However, it is believed that inflammation and the thickening of the capsule surrounding the shoulder joint are contributing factors. This inflammation and thickening can limit mobility and lead to morning shoulder pain.

Causes of Morning Shoulder Pain


Arthritis is another possible cause of morning shoulder pain. There are different types of arthritis that can affect the shoulder joint, each with its own unique characteristics and symptoms.

Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that commonly affects older individuals. It occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the bones in the shoulder joint progressively wears down, leading to pain, stiffness, and limited mobility.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation in the joints, including the shoulder joint. The body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the synovium, a membrane that lines the joint, leading to pain, swelling, and morning stiffness.

Other Types of Arthritis: In addition to osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, other types of arthritis, such as gout, psoriatic arthritis, or infectious arthritis, can also affect the shoulder joint and result in morning shoulder pain.

Rotator Cuff Tear

A rotator cuff tear is a common injury that can cause morning shoulder pain. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint, providing stability and facilitating movement. Tears in the rotator cuff can occur due to degenerative changes or acute trauma.

Degenerative Tears: Degenerative tears develop gradually over time due to wear and tear on the tendons, often associated with aging. These tears can worsen with continued use and cause morning discomfort.

Acute Tears: Acute tears, on the other hand, occur suddenly due to a traumatic event or injury. This can happen during falls, accidents, or while lifting heavy objects. Acute tears often cause severe pain and may require surgical intervention for proper healing.


Tendinitis refers to the inflammation of a tendon, commonly caused by repetitive motions or overuse. In the shoulder, two types of tendinitis are frequently associated with morning shoulder pain.

Biceps Tendinitis: Biceps tendinitis occurs when the biceps tendon becomes inflamed. This inflammation can cause morning shoulder pain, especially when lifting or reaching overhead. Activities involving repetitive shoulder motions, such as lifting weights or throwing a ball, can contribute to biceps tendinitis.

Supraspinatus Tendinitis: Supraspinatus tendinitis affects the supraspinatus tendon, one of the tendons in the rotator cuff. It is often caused by repetitive overhead movements or excessive strain on the shoulder joint, leading to morning pain and difficulty raising the arm.


Bursitis is the inflammation of a fluid-filled sac called a bursa, which helps reduce friction between tissues in the shoulder joint. When the bursa becomes inflamed, morning shoulder pain can result.

Subacromial Bursitis: Subacromial bursitis is the most common form of bursitis in the shoulder. It occurs when the bursa located beneath the acromion, a part of the shoulder blade, becomes irritated or inflamed. This can cause morning pain with overhead activities or when lying on the affected shoulder.

Supraspinatus Bursitis: Supraspinatus bursitis affects the bursa above the supraspinatus tendon in the rotator cuff. It can develop due to overuse, trauma, or excessive pressure on the shoulder joint. Morning shoulder pain is a common symptom of supraspinatus bursitis.

Poor Sleeping Position

Your sleeping position can also contribute to morning shoulder pain. Certain positions can put excessive pressure on the shoulder joint or cause the arm to be in an awkward position throughout the night.

Sleeping on the Same Side: Sleeping on the same side consistently can lead to morning shoulder pain. This is particularly true if you continuously sleep on the affected shoulder, as the compression and lack of movement can cause discomfort.

Sleeping with Arm Overhead: Sleeping with your arm overhead, such as when lying on your stomach with one arm extended, can strain the structures in the shoulder joint. This can result in morning pain and stiffness.

Sleeping on the Stomach: Sleeping on your stomach puts your shoulder joint in an unhealthy position, with the arm often twisted or extended. This can lead to morning shoulder pain, especially if maintained for extended periods.

Nerve Impingement

Nerve impingement occurs when the nerves in the shoulder or neck become compressed or irritated, leading to pain and discomfort. Two specific conditions can cause morning shoulder pain due to nerve impingement.

Cervical Radiculopathy: Cervical radiculopathy refers to the irritation or compression of a nerve root in the cervical spine (neck). This can cause pain that radiates into the shoulder and down the arm. Morning pain may be more pronounced due to the position held during sleep.

Brachial Plexus Injury: The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that originates in the neck and travels through the shoulder region. Injury or compression of the brachial plexus can lead to morning shoulder pain, along with numbness, tingling, or weakness in the affected arm.

Understanding the causes of morning shoulder pain is crucial for finding appropriate treatment and preventing further discomfort. If you are experiencing persistent morning shoulder pain, it is always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional who can provide a proper diagnosis and guide you towards the most effective treatment options. Remember, with the right care and intervention, relief from morning shoulder pain is achievable, allowing you to start your day feeling refreshed and free from discomfort.

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