20 July 2024
Discover how to relieve shoulder pain at night and achieve a peaceful sleep. Make simple adjustments to your sleeping position and try targeted exercises for pain relief. Find out more here.

Having shoulder pain at night can be a frustrating and uncomfortable experience. Whether it’s caused by an injury, arthritis, or simply sleeping in an awkward position, the throbbing ache can disrupt your sleep and leave you feeling drained the next day. But fear not, there are simple and effective ways to relieve shoulder pain and ensure a peaceful night’s rest. By making small adjustments to your sleeping position, trying out targeted exercises, and considering the use of supportive aids, you can find relief and wake up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Say goodbye to restless nights and hello to pain-free shoulders!

How to Relieve Shoulder Pain at Night

Table of Contents

Causes of Shoulder Pain at Night

Rotator Cuff Injury

A common cause of shoulder pain at night is a rotator cuff injury. The rotator cuff consists of a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint and help to stabilize and move the shoulder. When these muscles or tendons become injured or torn, it can cause pain, especially when lying down or sleeping on the affected side.

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is another potential cause of nighttime shoulder pain. This condition occurs when the tissues around the shoulder joint become thick and tight, leading to stiffness and limited range of motion. The pain at night can be particularly intense and may make it difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position.

Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder impingement occurs when the tendons of the rotator cuff become irritated or pinched between the bones in the shoulder joint. This can cause pain and inflammation, especially when the arm is raised or moved in certain positions. The discomfort may become more pronounced at night, as the pressure on the shoulder joint increases when lying down.


Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursa, which are small fluid-filled sacs that cushion the bones, tendons, and muscles around the joints. When the bursa in the shoulder becomes inflamed, it can lead to pain, swelling, and tenderness. Sleeping on the affected shoulder can exacerbate the pain, making it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.


Tendinitis, also known as tendonitis, refers to the inflammation or irritation of a tendon, which is the thick fibrous cord that attaches muscle to bone. When the tendons in the shoulder become inflamed or irritated, it can result in pain and discomfort, particularly at night when the arm is at rest. Tendinitis can be caused by overuse of the shoulder, repetitive motions, or aging.


Arthritis, specifically osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, can also contribute to shoulder pain at night. Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage in the joints wears down over time, causing the bones to rub against each other. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and joint damage. Both types of arthritis can lead to significant shoulder pain, making sleep challenging.

Shoulder Instability

Shoulder instability refers to an increased range of motion in the shoulder joint, often caused by ligament or labrum (cartilage) tears. This instability can result in frequent shoulder dislocations or subluxations, which can be extremely painful and disrupt sleep. Individuals with shoulder instability may find it difficult to find a comfortable position at night due to the heightened risk of further injury.

Referred Pain

Sometimes, shoulder pain at night may not actually be originating from the shoulder itself. Referred pain occurs when pain is felt in one part of the body, but the actual source of the pain is in another area. For example, pain from a neck or upper back problem can manifest as shoulder pain at night. Identifying and addressing the underlying cause of referred pain is essential for effective treatment.

Poor Sleeping Posture

Poor sleeping posture can also contribute to shoulder pain at night. Sleeping in positions that place excessive strain or pressure on the shoulder can aggravate existing shoulder conditions or create new ones. It is important to maintain proper spinal alignment and use pillows or supports that provide adequate cushioning and support to the shoulder during sleep.

Sleeping on the Affected Side

Sleeping on the affected side can directly exacerbate shoulder pain and discomfort. The pressure and weight of the body can compress the already sensitive or injured structures in the shoulder, leading to pain and inflammation. It may be necessary to adjust sleeping positions to alleviate pain and promote better sleep.

Diagnosing the Cause of Shoulder Pain

Medical History

When seeking a diagnosis for shoulder pain, your medical professional will typically start by taking a detailed medical history. They will ask questions about the nature of your pain, its duration, and any factors that aggravate or alleviate it. Additionally, they will inquire about any previous injuries or shoulder-related problems.

Physical Examination

A thorough physical examination will be conducted to evaluate the range of motion, strength, and stability of the shoulder joint. This may involve various tests and maneuvers to assess specific structures and identify areas of tenderness or weakness.

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI scans, or CT scans may be ordered to provide a more detailed view of the shoulder joint and surrounding structures. These tests can help identify any structural abnormalities, such as fractures, bone spurs, or soft tissue damage.

Blood Tests

Blood tests may be performed to rule out underlying systemic conditions that may contribute to shoulder pain, such as certain types of arthritis or infections.

Nerve Conduction Studies

If nerve involvement is suspected, nerve conduction studies may be conducted to assess the electrical activity and function of the nerves in the shoulder region. This can help determine if a nerve compression or injury is contributing to the pain.

How to Relieve Shoulder Pain at Night

Non-Surgical Treatments

Rest and Activity Modification

Rest is crucial in the initial stages of treatment to allow the injured shoulder to heal. It may be necessary to modify activities that worsen the pain or aggravate the shoulder condition. This may involve temporarily avoiding certain sports, exercises, or repetitive movements.

Ice or Heat Therapy

Applying ice or heat to the affected shoulder can help reduce inflammation, alleviate pain, and promote healing. Ice packs can be applied for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day, while heat therapy can be in the form of warm compresses or gentle heat wraps.

Physical Therapy Exercises

A targeted physical therapy program can help improve strength, flexibility, and range of motion in the shoulder. Specific exercises will be prescribed based on the underlying cause of the shoulder pain, and it is essential to follow the guidance of a qualified physical therapist.

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Over-the-counter NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can help reduce pain and inflammation in the shoulder. However, it is important to consult a healthcare professional before starting any medication regimen, as they can advise on the appropriate dosage and potential side effects.

Topical Pain Relievers

Topical pain relievers, such as creams, gels, or patches containing ingredients like menthol or capsaicin, can provide temporary relief from shoulder pain. These products can be applied directly to the affected area and may help soothe discomfort.

Corticosteroid Injections

In some cases, corticosteroid injections may be recommended to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain in the shoulder. These injections are typically administered directly into the affected joint or surrounding tissues by a healthcare professional.

Shoulder Immobilization

In certain instances, immobilizing the shoulder with the use of a sling or brace may be necessary to allow for proper healing. Immobilization can help prevent further injury and relieve strain on the affected shoulder.

Exercises to Relieve Shoulder Pain at Night

Pendulum Stretch

The pendulum stretch involves bending at the waist and gently swinging the arm in a circular motion. This exercise helps to alleviate tension and increase mobility in the shoulder joint.

Cross-Body Reach

To perform a cross-body reach, start by standing or sitting upright. Use your unaffected arm to gently bring the affected arm across your body towards the opposite side, feeling a stretch in the shoulder. Hold for a few seconds and then return to the starting position. This exercise helps improve flexibility and relieve tension in the shoulder.

Sleeper Stretch

The sleeper stretch targets the muscles and tendons in the back of the shoulder. Lie on your side with the affected shoulder facing upwards. Place your unaffected hand on the affected arm’s wrist and gently push down towards the bed or floor. You should feel a stretch in the back of your shoulder. Hold for a few seconds and then release. Repeat on the other side if necessary.

Shoulder Rolls

Shoulder rolls involve shrugging the shoulders forward, then upward, then backward, and then downward in a circular motion. This exercise helps to improve posture, release tension, and promote natural movement in the shoulder joint.

Wall Push-Ups

Wall push-ups are a modified version of traditional push-ups that can help strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint. Stand facing a wall, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place your hands on the wall at shoulder height and slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Slowly lower your body towards the wall by bending your elbows, then push back up to the starting position. Repeat for a set number of repetitions.

Scapular Squeeze

Sit or stand with your arms by your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, focusing on bringing them towards the spine. Hold for a few seconds and then release. This exercise helps to improve posture and strengthen the muscles that support the shoulder blades.

Arm Circles

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and extend your arms straight out to the sides. Make small circles with your arms, gradually increasing the size of the circles. After a set number of rotations, reverse direction. Arm circles help improve shoulder range of motion and increase blood flow to the area.

Towel Stretch

Hold a towel behind your back with one hand and grasp the other end of the towel with your opposite hand. Gently pull on the towel with your top hand, while simultaneously pushing down with your bottom hand. This exercise stretches the muscles and tendons in the shoulder and can help relieve tightness and discomfort.

Doorway Stretch

Stand in a doorway with one arm extended out to the side, resting against the doorframe. Slowly lean forward, feeling a stretch in the front of the shoulder and chest. Hold for a few seconds and then repeat with the other arm. The doorway stretch helps to open up the shoulder and chest muscles, increasing flexibility and reducing pain.

Chest Stretch

Extend your arms out to the sides and then bring them forward, crossing them over each other in front of your chest. Gently press your palms together, feeling a stretch in the chest and shoulders. Hold for a few seconds and then release. This exercise helps to counteract the forward-reaching posture that can contribute to shoulder pain.

How to Relieve Shoulder Pain at Night

Sleeping Positions to Reduce Shoulder Pain

Sleeping on Your Back with a Pillow

Sleeping on your back with a pillow can help align the spine and provide support to the shoulders. Place a pillow or small rolled towel under each arm to reduce any pressure on the shoulder joints.

Sleeping on the Side with a Pillow

If you prefer to sleep on your side, place a pillow between your knees to help align your hips and spine. Additionally, use a contoured or specially designed pillow that supports the head and neck while keeping the shoulders in a neutral position.

Choosing the Right Pillow

Selecting the right pillow is essential for maintaining proper spinal alignment and reducing shoulder pain at night. Look for pillows that provide adequate support and allow for proper neck and head alignment. Different pillow types, such as memory foam or adjustable pillows, may cater to individual preferences and needs.

Using a Shoulder Pillow

For individuals with specific shoulder issues, such as rotator cuff injuries or bursitis, using a shoulder pillow can provide support and relieve pressure on the affected shoulder. These pillows are designed with a cutout or divot that accommodates the shoulder, promoting better alignment and comfort during sleep.

Avoiding Sleeping on the Affected Side

If you are experiencing shoulder pain, it is best to avoid sleeping on the affected side. Opt for sleeping on your back or on the unaffected side to minimize pressure and strain on the shoulder.

Home Remedies for Shoulder Pain Relief

Applying a Cold Compress

Applying a cold compress or ice pack to the affected shoulder can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. Wrap a cold pack or a bag of frozen vegetables in a thin towel and apply it to the shoulder for about 15-20 minutes at a time. Repeat as needed.

Using a Heating Pad

A heating pad can help relax tight muscles and promote blood flow to the shoulder. Apply a heating pad set on low or medium heat to the painful area for about 15-20 minutes at a time. Be cautious not to apply heat directly to the skin and use a protective barrier such as a towel or cloth.

Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can provide temporary relief from shoulder pain. Follow the instructions on the packaging and consult a healthcare professional before starting any new medication regimen.

Essential Oils

Certain essential oils, such as lavender or peppermint, may help reduce muscle tension and provide pain relief when applied topically. Dilute a few drops of essential oil with a carrier oil, such as coconut or jojoba oil, and massage the mixture into the affected shoulder. Always perform a patch test first to check for any allergic reactions or skin sensitivities.

Water Therapy

Water therapy, such as swimming or water aerobics, can be beneficial for individuals with shoulder pain. The buoyancy of the water reduces the impact on the joints while providing resistance for muscle strengthening and gentle stretching.


Massage therapy can help relieve tension, reduce muscle spasms, and promote blood circulation in the shoulder. Consider seeking the services of a licensed massage therapist experienced in treating shoulder pain.

Epsom Salt Bath

Soaking in a warm bath with Epsom salt can help relax muscles and alleviate shoulder pain. Add a cup or two of Epsom salt to warm bathwater and soak for about 20 minutes. Be cautious if you have any skin or health conditions that may be aggravated by Epsom salt.


Turmeric, a spice commonly used in cooking, contains curcumin, which possesses anti-inflammatory properties. Incorporating turmeric into your diet or taking curcumin supplements may help reduce shoulder pain and inflammation. Consult a healthcare professional for guidance on the proper dosage and form of turmeric supplementation.


Ginger has natural anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Consuming ginger in different forms, such as freshly grated ginger in tea or adding it to meals, can help reduce shoulder pain and discomfort. Consult a healthcare professional if you have any underlying health conditions or take certain medications that may interact with ginger.

Rest and Relaxation

Giving your body adequate rest and relaxation is crucial for promoting healing and reducing shoulder pain. Ensure you are getting enough sleep, managing stress levels, and practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Persistent or Increasing Pain

If you are experiencing persistent or increasing pain in your shoulder, despite trying conservative measures, it is important to seek medical attention. This may indicate a more serious underlying condition that requires further evaluation and treatment.

Severe Pain or Swelling

If you are experiencing severe pain or swelling in your shoulder, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional promptly. These symptoms may suggest a significant injury or inflammation that needs immediate attention.

Limited Range of Motion

If your shoulder pain is accompanied by a limited range of motion or difficulty moving your arm, it is advisable to seek medical advice. Limited mobility may indicate a more severe injury or condition that requires professional assessment and treatment.

Persistent Numbness or Tingling

If you are experiencing persistent numbness or tingling in your shoulder or arm, it may indicate nerve involvement. Nerve compression or injury can have long-term consequences if not addressed promptly, so it is important to consult a healthcare professional for evaluation and appropriate management.

Signs of Infection

If you notice any signs of infection around the shoulder, such as redness, warmth, swelling, or pus-like discharge, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention. Infections can spread rapidly and may require antibiotics or other interventions to prevent complications.

Surgical Options for Shoulder Pain


Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure that utilizes small incisions and the insertion of a tiny camera and specialized instruments to diagnose and treat conditions affecting the shoulder joint. It allows for a detailed examination of the joint structures and the performance of procedures such as removing loose bodies, repairing torn ligaments or tendons, or removing damaged tissue.

Open Surgery

In some cases, open surgery may be recommended for more complex or severe shoulder conditions. Open surgery involves making a larger incision to directly access and visualize the affected area. This approach may be necessary for extensive repairs, joint replacements, or complex reconstructions.

Shoulder Replacement

Shoulder replacement surgery may be considered in cases where the joint has become severely damaged or degenerated, often due to osteoarthritis or other conditions. During this procedure, the damaged parts of the shoulder joint are removed and replaced with artificial components, allowing for improved joint function and pain relief.

Preventing Shoulder Pain at Night

Maintaining Good Posture

Maintaining good posture throughout the day can help prevent shoulder pain at night. Avoid slouching, rounding the shoulders, or drooping the head forward. Practice proper spinal alignment and be conscious of your posture when sitting, standing, or performing daily activities.

Regular Exercise

Regular exercise can help strengthen the muscles and tendons around the shoulder, improving stability and reducing the risk of injury. Incorporate exercises that target the shoulder, such as resistance training and stretching, into your fitness routine. Consult a healthcare professional or a qualified exercise specialist to develop a personalized exercise program.

Gradually Increasing Activity Intensity

When engaging in physical activities or exercise, it is important to gradually increase the intensity and duration to avoid overexertion and potential shoulder injuries. Give your body time to adapt and build strength, and listen to any warning signs of pain or discomfort.

Using Proper Techniques

Whether it be sports, weightlifting, or performing everyday tasks, using proper techniques and body mechanics can help prevent shoulder injuries. Learn the correct form and technique for any physical activity, and always ask for guidance or instruction if unsure.

Avoiding Overuse

Repetitive overhead activities or excessive use of the shoulder joint can lead to overuse injuries. Take regular breaks during activities that place repeated stress on the shoulder, and alternate between different movements to avoid continuous strain on the same structures.

Taking Frequent Breaks

In jobs or activities that require prolonged periods of shoulder use or repetitive motions, taking frequent breaks can help prevent shoulder pain. Use these breaks to stretch, relax the shoulders, and change positions to avoid sustained strain on the joint.

Using Ergonomic Equipment

Incorporating ergonomic equipment into your daily life can reduce shoulder strain and discomfort. This may include using ergonomic chairs, adjustable desks, or properly positioned computer monitors to promote good posture and reduce the risk of shoulder pain.


Shoulder pain at night can significantly impact sleep and quality of life. It is important to identify the underlying cause of the pain to develop an appropriate treatment plan. Whether it be rest, physical therapy exercises, home remedies, or more invasive interventions, there are various options available to alleviate shoulder pain and improve sleep. By following preventive measures and making necessary lifestyle adjustments, individuals can reduce their risk of experiencing shoulder pain at night and maintain optimal shoulder health. Remember to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.

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