27 May 2024
Discover the causes of shoulder pain upon waking and how to find relief. From sleeping position to rotator cuff injuries, explore the culprits behind your discomfort.

Is waking up with shoulder pain becoming a familiar experience for you? If so, you’re not alone. Many people find themselves grappling with this discomfort, and in this article, we’ll explore the causes behind it. Whether it’s a twinge, stiffness, or full-blown agony, we’ll uncover the reasons behind your morning discomfort, helping you understand why your shoulder may be protesting when you rise and shine. Get ready to discover the possible culprits behind your morning discomfort, and gain insights on how to alleviate and prevent this pesky pain from disrupting your day.

Causes of Shoulder Pain Upon Waking

If you’ve ever experienced shoulder pain upon waking up, you know just how unpleasant it can be. The discomfort can range from a dull ache to sharp, stabbing pain, making it difficult to start your day on a positive note. But what exactly causes this pain? In this article, we will explore some common causes of shoulder pain upon waking and delve into each one to provide a comprehensive understanding of what might be causing your discomfort.

Causes of Shoulder Pain Upon Waking

Sleeping Position

The position in which you sleep can greatly impact the health of your shoulders. If you tend to sleep on your stomach, you may be putting unnecessary strain on your shoulder joints. This position often involves twisting your neck and placing your arm beneath your body, causing misalignment and potential irritation. Sleeping on your side can also lead to shoulder pain, especially if you don’t properly support your arm with a pillow. On the other hand, sleeping on your back with appropriate pillow support can help maintain a neutral position for your shoulders, reducing the likelihood of pain.

Rotator Cuff Injuries

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint, providing stability and facilitating movement. Injuries to the rotator cuff can occur due to traumatic events, repetitive overhead movements, or natural wear and tear over time. Rotator cuff injuries, such as tears or tendonitis, can cause significant discomfort, especially upon waking up. A rotator cuff tear involves a partial or complete tear in one or more of the tendons, while tendonitis refers to inflammation of the tendons. Both conditions can result in morning shoulder pain that may intensify with movements.

Causes of Shoulder Pain Upon Waking

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition characterized by stiffness, pain, and limited range of motion in the shoulder joint. It typically progresses through three stages: freezing, frozen, and thawing. During the freezing stage, the shoulder gradually becomes more painful and stiff. The frozen stage is characterized by persistent stiffness and limited mobility. Finally, during the thawing stage, the shoulder gradually regains its range of motion. Morning shoulder pain is a common symptom experienced by individuals with frozen shoulder, particularly during the initial stages.

Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder impingement occurs when the tendons of the rotator cuff become compressed or irritated as they pass through a narrow space in the shoulder joint. There are several types of shoulder impingement, including subacromial impingement, internal impingement, and secondary impingement. Subacromial impingement is the most common form and involves compression of the tendons beneath the acromion, a bony prominence on the shoulder blade. Internal impingement affects the tendons at the back of the shoulder joint, while secondary impingement is often a result of other shoulder injuries or conditions. Morning shoulder pain is a common symptom of shoulder impingement.

Causes of Shoulder Pain Upon Waking


Arthritis refers to inflammation of the joints and can also affect the shoulder joint, leading to pain and reduced mobility. Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the bones gradually wears down. This can cause morning shoulder pain as the joint may become stiff and less able to move smoothly. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation in multiple joints, including the shoulder. Post-traumatic arthritis can develop following an injury or fracture to the shoulder, leading to chronic pain.


Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursae, small fluid-filled sacs that provide cushioning and reduce friction between tendons and bones. There are different types of bursitis that can affect the shoulder, including subacromial bursitis, suprascapular bursitis, and bicipital bursitis. Subacromial bursitis occurs when the bursa beneath the acromion becomes inflamed, leading to shoulder pain. Suprascapular bursitis affects the bursa located near the suprascapular notch, a bony indentation on the scapula. Bicipital bursitis involves inflammation of the bursa near the biceps tendon. Morning shoulder pain can be a symptom of these bursitis conditions.


Tendonitis is the inflammation of tendons, which are thick cords that connect muscles to bones. Several tendons in the shoulder can become inflamed, leading to pain and discomfort. Biceps tendonitis specifically affects the tendon that connects the biceps muscle to the shoulder joint and can cause morning shoulder pain. Supraspinatus tendonitis and subscapularis tendonitis involve inflammation of the tendons located in the rotator cuff. Other tendonitis conditions can also contribute to shoulder pain upon waking.

Referred Pain

Sometimes, shoulder pain upon waking may not be directly related to shoulder problems but instead originates from other parts of the body. Referred pain can occur when pain signals from one area are perceived in a different location. In the case of morning shoulder pain, it is essential to consider possible sources of referred pain, such as neck problems, gallbladder disease, or liver disease. These conditions can cause pain that radiates to the shoulder, leading to discomfort upon waking up.

Muscle Strain

Muscle strains, often caused by overexertion or improper lifting techniques, can also contribute to shoulder pain. The muscles surrounding the shoulder joint can become strained, leading to localized pain and difficulty moving the arm. Morning shoulder pain may be experienced if the strain is aggravated during sleep, such as by resting the arm in an awkward position.

Stress and Tension

Last but certainly not least, stress and tension can manifest as shoulder pain, particularly upon waking up. Emotional stress and physical tension can cause muscles to tighten and become sore. This can result in morning shoulder pain as the muscles have had limited time to relax and recover during sleep. Stress-related muscle tightness can be relieved through relaxation techniques, exercise, and addressing the underlying causes of stress.

In conclusion, there are various causes of shoulder pain upon waking, ranging from sleeping position and rotator cuff injuries to conditions like frozen shoulder, shoulder impingement, arthritis, bursitis, tendonitis, referred pain, muscle strain, and stress. Identifying the specific cause of your shoulder pain is essential for obtaining an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. If you continue to experience morning shoulder pain or it worsens over time, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional who can provide proper evaluation and guidance for managing your symptoms. Remember, prioritizing your shoulder health is crucial for starting each day pain-free and enjoying a more comfortable life overall.

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