24 May 2024
Learn why you wake up with shoulder pain in this informative post. Discover the causes, from sleeping positions to injuries and muscle imbalances. Find relief and improve your sleep quality.

If you’ve ever woken up with a nagging pain in your shoulder, you know how frustrating it can be to start your day with discomfort. But have you ever wondered why this happens? In this article, we will explore the causes of shoulder pain after sleeping, so you can better understand what might be causing your discomfort and how to prevent it from happening again. So, grab a cup of coffee and get ready to say goodbye to those morning shoulder aches!

Causes of Shoulder Pain After Sleeping

If you have been experiencing shoulder pain after waking up, you are not alone. Many people suffer from this discomfort, and there are several possible causes for it. In this article, we will explore the various reasons why you might be experiencing shoulder pain after sleeping and provide insights on how to alleviate it.

Causes of Shoulder Pain After Sleeping

Sleeping Position

One of the primary factors contributing to shoulder pain after sleeping is your sleeping position. The way you position your body during sleep can put strain on your shoulder joint, leading to discomfort. Let’s take a closer look at different sleeping positions and their impact on your shoulders.

Side Sleeping

Sleeping on your side is a popular position for many people, but it can lead to shoulder pain if not properly supported. The weight of your upper body can compress your shoulder joint, causing discomfort. To alleviate this, try placing a pillow between your knees to align your spine and reduce strain on your shoulder.

Stomach Sleeping

Sleeping on your stomach can be detrimental to your shoulders. This position often requires twisting your head and neck to the side, straining your shoulder joint. If you are a stomach sleeper experiencing shoulder pain, consider transitioning to a different sleeping position that will provide better support for your shoulders.

Back Sleeping

Sleeping on your back is generally considered one of the best positions for reducing shoulder pain. This position evenly distributes your weight and allows your shoulders to rest comfortably. To enhance the support, consider using a pillow beneath your knees to maintain proper spinal alignment.

Sleeping with Arm Underneath the Pillow

While it may feel cozy, sleeping with your arm underneath the pillow can cause shoulder pain. This position puts excess pressure on your shoulder joint and strains the surrounding muscles. To prevent this, place your arm by your side or use a pillow specifically designed to support your arms while sleeping.

Injury or Overuse

Another common cause of shoulder pain after sleeping is injury or overuse. If you have previously injured your shoulder or engaged in activities that strain the joint, this can manifest as pain during sleep. Let’s explore some specific causes related to injury or overuse.

Previous Trauma

If you have experienced a shoulder injury in the past, such as dislocation, fracture, or sprain, it can lead to ongoing pain even while sleeping. The healing process may have left your shoulder vulnerable to discomfort, and certain sleeping positions can exacerbate this pain. Consulting a healthcare professional for appropriate treatment and guidance can help alleviate this issue.

Repetitive Strain Injury

Engaging in repetitive movements or activities that involve the shoulder joint can cause a repetitive strain injury. This can be common in occupations that require frequent overhead motions, such as painters or construction workers. The pain from repetitive strain injury can be intensified during sleep, particularly if you continue to sleep in positions that aggravate the affected area.

Causes of Shoulder Pain After Sleeping


Sometimes, simply overusing your shoulder muscles or engaging in strenuous activities can lead to pain, especially if you are not accustomed to those movements. In such cases, your shoulder muscles may become fatigued and inflamed. Resting your shoulder and avoiding activities that exacerbate the pain can help alleviate this discomfort.

Muscle Imbalances

Muscle imbalances can contribute to shoulder pain after sleeping. When certain muscles are weak or overly tight, it can lead to improper alignment and strain on the shoulder joint. Let’s dive into some specific muscle imbalances that can cause shoulder pain.

Weakness in Rotator Cuff Muscles

The rotator cuff muscles play a crucial role in stabilizing the shoulder joint. If these muscles are weak, it can lead to an imbalance and create unnecessary stress on the joint. This imbalance can become more noticeable during sleep, resulting in shoulder pain. Strengthening exercises and targeted therapy can help address this issue.

Tightness in Chest Muscles

Tight chest muscles can pull the shoulders forward and disrupt the natural alignment of the joint. This misalignment can cause discomfort and pain, particularly while sleeping. Stretching exercises that specifically target the chest muscles can help alleviate this tightness and improve shoulder alignment.

Imbalance in Shoulder Blade Muscles

The muscles around your shoulder blades (scapulae) also play a significant role in shoulder stability. If there is an imbalance in these muscles, it can lead to abnormal shoulder movement and pain. Strengthening exercises that focus on the muscles between your shoulder blades can help restore balance and reduce shoulder pain.


Arthritis, a condition characterized by inflammation of the joints, can also be a cause of shoulder pain after sleeping. Two common types of arthritis that affect the shoulder are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.


Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage that cushions the joints wears down over time. This condition often develops with age, and the pain can be exacerbated by certain sleeping positions that put additional pressure on the affected shoulder. Physical therapy, pain management techniques, and lifestyle modifications can help alleviate the discomfort associated with osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints. If the shoulder joint is affected, it can lead to inflammation, swelling, and pain. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can be particularly bothersome after periods of inactivity, such as during sleep. Working closely with a rheumatologist can help manage the symptoms and provide relief.

Causes of Shoulder Pain After Sleeping


Tendonitis is the inflammation of a tendon, and it can be another cause of shoulder pain after sleeping. Two common types of tendonitis that affect the shoulder are rotator cuff tendonitis and biceps tendonitis.

Rotator Cuff Tendonitis

Rotator cuff tendonitis occurs when the tendons in the rotator cuff become inflamed, usually due to overuse or repetitive motions. The pain from rotator cuff tendonitis can intensify during sleep, as your shoulder is often in a resting position for an extended period. Gentle stretching, avoiding aggravating activities, and using ice or heat therapy can help alleviate the pain.

Biceps Tendonitis

Biceps tendonitis is an inflammation of the tendon that connects the biceps muscle to the shoulder joint. Sleeping in positions that strain the biceps tendon or engaging in activities that require repetitive arm motions can contribute to the development of biceps tendonitis. Resting the affected arm, applying ice or heat, and performing targeted strengthening exercises can provide relief.


Bursitis refers to the inflammation of a bursa, which is a small fluid-filled sac that helps cushion the shoulder joint. Two common types of bursitis that can cause shoulder pain after sleeping are subacromial bursitis and supraspinatus bursitis.

Subacromial Bursitis

Subacromial bursitis occurs when the bursa located between the acromion (part of the shoulder blade) and the rotator cuff tendons becomes inflamed. This inflammation can be exacerbated while sleeping, especially if you lie on the affected shoulder. Using pillows for support and avoiding direct pressure on the affected area can help alleviate the pain.

Supraspinatus Bursitis

Supraspinatus bursitis involves the inflammation of the bursa located above the supraspinatus muscle. This condition can cause pain and discomfort, particularly when the surrounding tissues are compressed during sleep. Adjusting your sleeping position and using pillows to support your shoulders can help alleviate pressure on the affected area.

Rotator Cuff Tear

A rotator cuff tear happens when the tendons connecting the muscles of the rotator cuff to the arm bone are damaged or torn. This injury can occur suddenly due to trauma or develop gradually over time due to wear and tear. A rotator cuff tear can cause significant shoulder pain, especially during sleep.

Partial Tear

A partial tear refers to damage to a portion of the rotator cuff tendons. This type of tear can cause pain and discomfort, particularly during certain movements or positions. While sleeping, the affected shoulder may be subjected to strain in certain positions, leading to pain. Treatment options for a partial rotator cuff tear can include physical therapy, rest, and sometimes surgery in severe cases.

Full Tear

A full tear refers to a complete rupture of the rotator cuff tendons. This severe injury can result in intense pain and limitation of shoulder function. Sleeping with a full rotator cuff tear can be challenging, as certain positions may put undue stress on the damaged area. It is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and to determine the most appropriate course of treatment.

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, medically known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition characterized by stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint. It is caused by the thickening and tightening of the capsule surrounding the joint, limiting its range of motion. Frozen shoulder can progress through three stages, and each stage can be associated with varying degrees of pain during sleep.

Adhesive Capsulitis

In the initial stage of frozen shoulder, known as the freezing stage, pain and stiffness gradually develop. During this stage, sleeping on the affected shoulder can be challenging and uncomfortable. As the condition progresses, the shoulder may become increasingly immobile and painful, further affecting sleep quality.

Stages of Frozen Shoulder

The second stage of frozen shoulder is called the frozen stage. The pain may diminish during this stage, but the shoulder remains significantly stiff and limited in movement. Finding a comfortable sleeping position may be difficult, requiring pillows or support to minimize discomfort.

In the final stage, known as the thawing stage, the shoulder gradually regains its flexibility and range of motion. While sleep may be less disrupted during this stage, residual pain or discomfort can still be present, particularly in certain positions.

Sleeping on a Poor-Quality Mattress

An often overlooked factor contributing to shoulder pain after sleeping is the quality of your mattress. A mattress that lacks proper support or has worn-out springs can lead to improper spinal alignment and increased pressure on your shoulders. If you consistently wake up with shoulder pain, it may be worth considering replacing your mattress with a more supportive and comfortable one.

Pillow Issues

Your pillow can also be a culprit behind shoulder pain after sleeping. Using an inadequate pillow that does not provide proper support for your head and neck can result in misalignment of the shoulder joint. Additionally, using a pillow that is either too high or too firm can strain your shoulders and exacerbate any existing pain. It is essential to find a pillow that suits your sleeping position and provides adequate support for your neck and shoulders.

In conclusion, several factors contribute to shoulder pain after sleeping. The way you position your body during sleep, previous injuries or overuse, muscle imbalances, arthritis, tendonitis, bursitis, rotator cuff tears, frozen shoulder, sleeping on a poor-quality mattress, and pillow issues can all play a role. Understanding these causes and making adjustments to your sleep environment and habits can help alleviate shoulder pain and promote better sleep quality. If the pain persists or becomes increasingly severe, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. Remember, a good night’s sleep is essential for your overall well-being, and addressing shoulder pain can contribute to a more restful and rejuvenating sleep experience.

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