27 May 2024
Learn how to alleviate shoulder pain from side sleeping. Find tips and tricks to enjoy a comfortable and pain-free night's sleep. Say goodbye to restless nights!

If you often experience shoulder pain when you sleep on your side, you’re not alone. Many people find that sleeping on their side leads to discomfort and soreness in their shoulders. But fear not, there are ways to alleviate this pain and wake up feeling refreshed. In this article, we will explore some simple tips and tricks that can help you enjoy a comfortable and pain-free night’s sleep, even if you prefer to sleep on your side. Say goodbye to those restless nights and hello to a peaceful slumber!

How to Alleviate Shoulder Pain from Side Sleeping

Causes of Shoulder Pain from Side Sleeping

Pressure on the Shoulder Joints

Sleeping on your side can put pressure on your shoulder joints, especially if you tend to sleep with your arm positioned under your head. This can cause the tissues around the shoulder joint to become compressed, leading to pain and discomfort.

Inadequate Pillow Support

Another common cause of shoulder pain from side sleeping is using an inadequate pillow. If your pillow is too flat or doesn’t provide enough support, your shoulder may sink too far into the mattress, leading to misalignment and strain on the joint.

Poor Sleeping Posture

Sleeping in an improper posture can also contribute to shoulder pain. When you sleep on your side, it’s important to maintain proper alignment of your spine, shoulders, and hips. If your posture is off, it can put excess pressure on your shoulder, leading to pain and discomfort.

Choosing the Right Mattress and Pillow

Firmness Level of the Mattress

When selecting a mattress for side sleeping, consider choosing one with a medium to medium-firm firmness level. This helps to ensure that your shoulder and hips are well-supported, reducing the risk of shoulder pain. A mattress that is too soft may cause your shoulder to sink too deeply, while a mattress that is too firm may not provide enough cushioning.

Pillow Loft and Material

Choosing the right pillow is equally important. Look for a pillow with an appropriate loft that keeps your neck and spine aligned. Additionally, consider the material of the pillow. Memory foam or down pillows can provide better support and cushioning compared to basic fiber-filled pillows.

Contour or Memory Foam Pillows

Contour pillows or memory foam pillows can be especially beneficial for side sleepers with shoulder pain. These pillows adjust to the shape of your head and neck, providing optimal support and reducing pressure on your shoulder. They can help maintain proper spinal alignment during sleep, minimizing discomfort in the shoulder area.

How to Alleviate Shoulder Pain from Side Sleeping

Improving Sleeping Posture

Aligning the Spine

To alleviate shoulder pain from side sleeping, it’s crucial to maintain proper alignment of your spine. Try to keep your spine in a straight and neutral position throughout the night. Avoid excessive twisting or bending of your spine, as this can put additional strain on your shoulder.

Placing a Pillow between the Knees

Placing a pillow between your knees when sleeping on your side can help reduce pressure on your shoulder. This supports proper alignment of your hips, pelvis, and spine. It can also help prevent your top leg from pulling down on your shoulder, which may contribute to pain and discomfort.

Using a Body Pillow

Using a body pillow can provide additional support for side sleepers with shoulder pain. This type of pillow allows you to wrap your arms and legs around it, helping to distribute your body weight more evenly. It can help keep your shoulders, hips, and spine aligned, reducing the risk of shoulder pain.

Exercises and Stretches to Relieve Shoulder Pain

Shoulder Rolls

Shoulder rolls are a simple exercise that can help relieve tension and improve flexibility in the shoulder area. Stand or sit up straight and roll your shoulders in a circular motion, forward and backward. Perform several repetitions to loosen up the muscles around your shoulders.

Cross-Body Arm Stretch

This stretch targets the muscles in your shoulders and upper back. Begin by standing tall and crossing one arm across your body. Use your other arm to gently pull the crossed arm towards your chest until you feel a stretch in your shoulder. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Sleeper Stretch

The sleeper stretch specifically targets the rotator cuff muscles in your shoulder. Lie on your side with your affected arm positioned at a 90-degree angle. Keeping your elbow against your side, use your opposite hand to gently push your forearm up and towards your head until you feel a stretch in your shoulder. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

How to Alleviate Shoulder Pain from Side Sleeping

Applying Heat or Cold Therapy

Hot Compress

Applying a hot compress to your shoulder can help relax the muscles and alleviate pain. Use a heating pad or a warm towel and apply it to your shoulder for 15-20 minutes. Make sure the heat is not too intense to prevent burns or skin irritation.

Cold Compress

Alternatively, a cold compress can be beneficial for reducing inflammation and numbing the area. Wrap a few ice cubes in a cloth or use a freeze gel pack and apply it to your shoulder for 10-15 minutes. Remember to place a cloth between the ice pack and your skin to prevent frostbite.

Modifying Sleeping Position

Back Sleeping with Pillow Support

If you find that side sleeping consistently causes shoulder pain, try switching to sleeping on your back. Place a pillow under your knees to support your lower back and maintain the natural curve of your spine. This can help reduce pressure on your shoulder and promote proper alignment.

Switching Sides Regularly

If you prefer sleeping on your side, it’s important to switch sides regularly to prevent overloading one shoulder. This allows for a more balanced distribution of pressure and reduces the risk of developing shoulder pain on one side. Consider placing a pillow against your back to create a barrier and prevent yourself from rolling onto the painful shoulder.

Avoiding Extreme Arm Positions

Be mindful of your arm position when side sleeping. Avoid tucking your arm under your pillow or placing it above your head, as this can lead to compression and strain on your shoulder joint. Instead, keep your arm relaxed and positioned alongside your body to minimize stress on the shoulder.

Utilizing Recommended Sleep Accessories

Shoulder Brace or Support

If you experience persistent shoulder pain from side sleeping, consider using a shoulder brace or support. These devices provide additional stability and can help alleviate pain by reducing movement and supporting the shoulder joint. Consult with a healthcare professional to determine if a shoulder brace or support is appropriate for your specific condition.

Mattress Topper for Added Cushioning

If your mattress feels too firm and contributes to shoulder pain, adding a mattress topper can provide extra cushioning and support. Opt for a topper made of memory foam or a material that conforms to your body shape. This can help reduce pressure on your shoulder and provide a more comfortable sleep surface.

Adjustable Bed Frame for Elevation

An adjustable bed frame that allows you to elevate the upper portion of your body can be beneficial for relieving shoulder pain during side sleeping. By slightly elevating the head and upper torso, you can reduce pressure on your shoulder and promote better alignment of your spine.

Seeking Professional Help

Consulting a Physical Therapist

If shoulder pain from side sleeping persists or worsens, it may be beneficial to consult a physical therapist. They can assess your sleeping posture, identify muscle imbalances, and provide targeted exercises or manual therapy techniques to address the underlying issues and alleviate your pain.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy can be an effective complementary treatment for shoulder pain. A skilled massage therapist can help relax tight muscles, improve circulation, and enhance overall shoulder mobility. Regular sessions can provide relief from pain and promote better sleep quality.


Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese therapy that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body. It has been shown to provide pain relief and promote healing. Acupuncture sessions targeting the shoulder area can potentially alleviate shoulder pain caused by side sleeping.

Understanding When to Seek Medical Attention

Persistent or Chronic Pain

If your shoulder pain persists for an extended period or becomes chronic, it is important to seek medical attention. Chronic shoulder pain may be a sign of an underlying condition or injury that requires further evaluation and treatment.

Loss of Range of Motion

If you experience a significant decrease in your shoulder’s range of motion and find it difficult to perform everyday activities, it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional. Loss of range of motion may indicate a more serious issue that requires medical intervention.

Numbness or Tingling Sensations

Shoulder pain accompanied by numbness or tingling sensations in the arm or hand should not be ignored. This could be a sign of nerve compression or damage, which requires prompt medical attention to prevent further complications.

Preventing Shoulder Pain from Side Sleeping

Maintaining Good Posture throughout the Day

Proper posture throughout the day can significantly impact your comfort while side sleeping. Be mindful of your posture when sitting, standing, or performing activities. Strengthen your core muscles and maintain good spinal alignment to reduce the risk of developing shoulder pain during sleep.

Exercising and Strengthening Shoulder Muscles

Regular exercise and strengthening of the shoulder muscles can help prevent shoulder pain. Incorporate shoulder-specific exercises into your routine, such as shoulder presses, lateral raises, and rows. Strengthening these muscles can provide better support and stability for your shoulders during side sleeping.

Regularly Replacing Mattress and Pillows

Over time, mattresses and pillows can lose their support and cushioning, leading to increased shoulder pain. It is recommended to replace your mattress every 7-10 years and pillows every 1-2 years, depending on their quality and condition. Regularly evaluating and updating your sleep surface can help prevent shoulder pain and ensure optimal sleep comfort.

By understanding the causes of shoulder pain from side sleeping and implementing the appropriate strategies, you can alleviate discomfort and improve your sleep quality. Experiment with different sleeping positions, invest in a suitable mattress and pillow, and incorporate exercises and stretches into your routine. If shoulder pain persists or worsens, don’t hesitate to seek professional help for a thorough evaluation and personalized treatment plan. Remember to prioritize your sleep and take care of your shoulders to wake up refreshed and pain-free.

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