24 May 2024
Discover the causes of shoulder pain when lying on your back. From poor sleeping posture to underlying medical conditions, learn how to find relief.

If you’ve ever experienced that nagging shoulder pain when you try to get a good night’s sleep on your back, you’re not alone. This article aims to shed light on the various causes behind this discomfort. From underlying musculoskeletal issues to poor sleeping posture and even certain medical conditions, we explore the potential culprits that may be responsible for your shoulder pain. So, before you toss and turn all night, let’s uncover the reasons why your shoulder may be protesting when you lie on your back.

Causes of Shoulder Pain When Lying on Your Back

If you’ve ever experienced shoulder pain when lying on your back, you know how uncomfortable and frustrating it can be. Shoulder pain can disrupt your sleep and leave you feeling restless and tired. However, understanding the causes of shoulder pain when lying on your back can help you find relief and prevent future discomfort. In this article, we will explore some possible reasons behind this common issue and discuss ways to alleviate the pain.

Causes of Shoulder Pain When Lying on Your Back

Poor Sleeping Position

One of the most common causes of shoulder pain when lying on your back is a poor sleeping position. If you tend to sleep with your arms positioned above your head or straight out to the sides, you put unnecessary pressure on your shoulders. This can lead to muscle strain and discomfort. To avoid this, try adjusting your sleeping position by keeping your arms close to your body and using a pillow for support. A pillow between your knees may also help align your body and reduce shoulder strain.

Muscle Imbalances

Muscle imbalances can also contribute to shoulder pain when lying on your back. Imbalances occur when certain muscles are stronger or tighter than others, leading to improper joint alignment. When you lie on your back, these imbalances can become more pronounced, causing shoulder pain. To address muscle imbalances, incorporating exercises that target the muscles surrounding your shoulders, such as the rotator cuff and upper back muscles, can help improve strength and flexibility.

Rotator Cuff Injury

A rotator cuff injury can cause significant shoulder pain, especially when lying on your back. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint. Injuries to the rotator cuff, such as tears or inflammation, can result from overuse, trauma, or aging. When lying on your back, the pressure on the injured rotator cuff can exacerbate the pain. If you suspect a rotator cuff injury, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder impingement occurs when the tendons in the shoulder become irritated and inflamed, leading to pain and limited range of motion. Lying on your back can increase the likelihood of impingement, as the compression of the shoulder joint can aggravate the condition. Avoiding excessive overhead arm movements and incorporating exercises to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint can help alleviate shoulder impingement pain.

Causes of Shoulder Pain When Lying on Your Back

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition characterized by stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint. When lying on your back, the limited mobility in a frozen shoulder can lead to increased discomfort. Seeking professional advice from a physical therapist or orthopedic specialist is crucial for managing frozen shoulder. They can guide you through proper exercises and techniques to gradually regain shoulder mobility and alleviate pain.


Shoulder pain when lying on your back can also be attributed to arthritis. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are two common forms of arthritis that can affect the shoulder joint. These conditions cause inflammation, stiffness, and pain in the joint. When lying on your back, the pressure placed on the arthritic shoulder can intensify the discomfort. Consulting with a rheumatologist or orthopedic specialist can help determine the most suitable treatment plan to manage arthritis-related shoulder pain.

Causes of Shoulder Pain When Lying on Your Back


Tendonitis, or inflammation of the tendons, can cause shoulder pain when lying on your back. Repetitive movements or overuse of the shoulder can lead to tendonitis, resulting in pain, swelling, and limited range of motion. When lying on your back, the inflammation and pressure on the affected tendons can worsen the pain. Resting the shoulder, applying ice packs, and engaging in gentle stretching exercises can help alleviate tendonitis symptoms.


Bursitis occurs when the bursae, small fluid-filled sacs that cushion and protect the shoulder joint, become inflamed. Activities involving repetitive shoulder movements or trauma can lead to bursitis and result in shoulder pain when lying on your back. Avoiding activities that exacerbate the symptoms, gentle stretching exercises, and applying cold packs can help relieve bursitis-induced shoulder pain.

Sprains and Strains

Sprains and strains can occur in the shoulder, causing pain and discomfort when lying on your back. These injuries can result from sudden movements, overstretching, or trauma. When the shoulder is in a resting position, the pain may intensify due to the strained or sprained muscles or ligaments. Applying ice packs, resting the injured shoulder, and gradually reintroducing gentle shoulder exercises can help in the healing process.

Referred Pain

In some cases, shoulder pain when lying on your back may not originate from the shoulder itself. Referred pain refers to pain that is felt in a different area of the body than the actual source of the problem. Conditions such as gallbladder disease or heart conditions can cause referred pain to radiate to the shoulder. If you experience shoulder pain that is persistent or accompanied by other unusual symptoms, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for appropriate evaluation and diagnosis.

In conclusion, shoulder pain when lying on your back can have various causes, ranging from poor sleeping positions to underlying medical conditions. By understanding these causes and making necessary adjustments, such as improving your sleeping position, addressing muscle imbalances, and seeking appropriate medical attention when needed, you can find relief and improve your overall shoulder health. Prioritizing proper posture, regular exercise, and seeking medical advice when necessary will contribute to a restful night’s sleep, free from shoulder pain.

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