18 July 2024
Discover the causes of shoulder pain while sleeping and learn how to find relief. From improper positions to injuries and inflammation, find out what could be causing your discomfort.

One of the most frustrating things that can happen while you’re trying to catch some much-needed rest is waking up with an achy shoulder. Whether it’s a sharp pain or a dull ache, dealing with shoulder discomfort can disrupt your sleep and leave you feeling exhausted the next day. In this article, we’ll explore some common causes of shoulder pain while sleeping, helping you understand why it’s happening and how you can find relief. So, if you’ve been tossing and turning, trying to understand why you’re experiencing pain in your right shoulder while sleeping, keep reading – we’ve got you covered!

Causes of Shoulder Pain While Sleeping

Causes of Shoulder Pain While Sleeping

Improper sleeping positions

One of the most common causes of shoulder pain while sleeping is adopting improper sleeping positions. Sleeping on your side with your arm positioned under your pillow or head can place excessive pressure on the shoulder joint and lead to discomfort and pain. Similarly, sleeping on your stomach with your arms stretched above your head can strain the shoulder muscles and ligaments, causing pain the next morning. It is recommended to sleep on your back or side with a pillow that adequately supports your neck and shoulders to alleviate the risk of developing shoulder pain.

Rotator cuff injuries

Rotator cuff injuries are another frequent cause of shoulder pain while sleeping. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint and help to stabilize and rotate the arm. Overuse, repetitive movements, or trauma can lead to rotator cuff strains or tears, resulting in considerable shoulder pain, especially during sleep. If you experience a sharp or nagging pain in your shoulder while sleeping, it is advisable to consult a medical professional who can diagnose and provide appropriate treatment options for a rotator cuff injury.

Causes of Shoulder Pain While Sleeping

Frozen shoulder

Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, is a condition characterized by stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint. It occurs when the capsule surrounding the shoulder thickens and tightens, limiting the range of motion. While the exact cause of frozen shoulder is unknown, prolonged inactivity, certain medical conditions such as diabetes, and previous shoulder injuries or surgeries may contribute to its development. The pain associated with frozen shoulder can be particularly pronounced during sleep, as lying on the affected side can further aggravate the condition. Physical therapy and pain management techniques can help alleviate symptoms and restore shoulder mobility.


Bursae are small, fluid-filled sacs that cushion the joints and reduce friction between bones, tendons, and muscles. When these bursae become inflamed due to repetitive movements, overuse, or trauma, bursitis can occur. Shoulder bursitis often causes swelling, tenderness, and pain that may intensify during sleep. The increased discomfort can be attributed to the pressure exerted on the inflamed bursa when lying on the affected side. Applying ice packs, avoiding aggravating activities, and taking over-the-counter pain medication can usually provide relief from bursitis-related shoulder pain. However, if the symptoms persist, medical attention should be sought.

Causes of Shoulder Pain While Sleeping


Tendonitis, also known as tendinitis, refers to the inflammation of tendons that connect muscles to bones. The tendons in the shoulder can become irritated or inflamed due to repetitive motions, overexertion, or age-related degeneration. Shoulder tendonitis commonly causes pain and stiffness, especially when lifting or moving the arm. During sleep, the pressure exerted on the shoulder joint can aggravate the inflamed tendons, leading to increased pain. To manage tendonitis-related shoulder pain, rest, gentle stretching exercises, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be beneficial. Consultation with a healthcare professional may be necessary for severe or persistent symptoms.


Arthritis, specifically osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, can be a source of shoulder pain while sleeping. Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage in the joints wears down over time, leading to pain, stiffness, and limited mobility. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease that causes the inflammation of the joints. Both forms of arthritis can cause discomfort and difficulty sleeping due to the increased pressure on the shoulder joint. Treatment options for arthritis-related shoulder pain vary, ranging from pain management medication and physical therapy to surgical interventions in severe cases.

Muscle strain or sprain

Muscle strains or sprains in the shoulder can result from sudden movements, overexertion, or incorrect lifting techniques. These injuries often cause pain, swelling, and limited range of motion. When attempting to sleep, the strain placed on the affected shoulder can exacerbate pain due to the lack of support or pressure on the injured area. Rest, icing, and avoiding activities that worsen the symptoms are crucial in managing muscle strain or sprain-related shoulder pain. If the pain persists or intensifies, consulting a healthcare professional is recommended.

Pinched nerve

A pinched nerve occurs when excessive pressure is applied to a nerve, causing pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the affected area. In the shoulder, a pinched nerve can be caused by poor posture, excessive overhead activities, or conditions such as herniated discs or spinal stenosis. The discomfort associated with a pinched nerve can be especially bothersome during sleep as certain positions may exacerbate the pressure on the affected nerve. Physical therapy, pain medication, and lifestyle modifications are common treatment approaches for shoulder pain caused by a pinched nerve.

Shoulder instability

Shoulder instability refers to a condition in which the shoulder joint is prone to dislocation or subluxation (partial dislocation). It can result from previous shoulder injuries, loose ligaments, or certain medical conditions. Individuals with shoulder instability often experience shoulder pain that can be aggravated while sleeping, particularly when resting on the affected side. Rehabilitation exercises, bracing, and in severe cases, surgical intervention, may be necessary to manage shoulder instability and alleviate associated nighttime pain.

Referred pain

Sometimes, shoulder pain while sleeping is not directly caused by an issue within the shoulder itself but rather referred from another part of the body. Conditions such as gallbladder disease, heart conditions, or neck problems can cause pain that radiates to the shoulder. When lying down, referred pain may become more noticeable, leading to discomfort during sleep. Identifying and treating the underlying condition causing the referred pain is essential in addressing the shoulder pain effectively.

In conclusion, shoulder pain while sleeping can be caused by various factors, including improper sleeping positions, injuries, inflammation, instability, or referred pain. It is crucial to identify the specific cause of the shoulder pain in order to tailor the appropriate treatment approach. If the pain persists or significantly interferes with your daily activities, it is advisable to consult a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. By addressing the underlying cause, you can effectively manage shoulder pain while sleeping and improve your overall quality of sleep and well-being.

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