27 May 2024
Learn effective techniques to relieve shoulder pain caused by sleeping on your side. Find the right pillow, adjust pillow height, try a body pillow, improve sleep positions, stretch, exercise, apply heat or cold therapy, and use pain relief creams. Wake up pain-free and refreshed.

Sleeping on your side can be incredibly comfortable, but it can also lead to annoying shoulder pain. Waking up with a sore and stiff shoulder can ruin your day before it even begins. Luckily, there are simple and effective ways to alleviate this pain and ensure a restful night’s sleep. In this article, we will explore some tried-and-true techniques to relieve shoulder pain caused by sleeping on your side. By implementing these tips, you can wake up feeling refreshed and free from discomfort, ready to take on whatever the day may bring.

How to Relieve Shoulder Pain from Sleeping on Your Side

Table of Contents

Choosing the Right Pillow

Consider the Pillow Material

Choosing the right pillow material can make a significant difference in alleviating shoulder pain and promoting a restful sleep. Opt for pillows that provide adequate support and cushioning for your shoulders. Memory foam pillows are a popular choice as they contour to the shape of your head and shoulders, relieving pressure points and promoting proper alignment. Additionally, latex pillows can offer a similar level of support and comfort.

Opt for a Contoured Pillow

A contoured pillow specifically designed for side sleepers can be a game-changer when it comes to relieving shoulder pain. These pillows are ergonomically shaped to provide proper support to the head, neck, and shoulders, aligning the spine in a neutral position. Look for a contoured pillow that has a higher loft on one side to accommodate the shoulder and a lower loft on the other side for proper neck alignment. This design can help reduce strain on the shoulder, allowing for a more comfortable night’s sleep.

Adjust the Pillow Height

The height of your pillow can greatly affect the angle at which your shoulder is positioned during sleep. If you experience shoulder pain while sleeping on your side, try adjusting the height of your pillow. Experiment with different pillow thicknesses to find the ideal height that keeps your shoulder in a comfortable and neutral position. A pillow that is too high can cause your shoulder to be elevated, while a pillow that is too low may result in your shoulder sinking, both of which can contribute to pain and discomfort.

Try a Body Pillow

Using a body pillow while sleeping on your side can provide additional support and help maintain proper alignment of your shoulder. A body pillow can be hugged or placed between your legs to prevent your upper body from rolling forward, which can strain your shoulder. It acts as a cushion, relieving pressure on your shoulder and allowing for a more comfortable sleep position. Experiment with different body pillow sizes and positions to find what works best for you.

Improving Sleep Positions

Avoid Sleeping on the Painful Shoulder

If you experience shoulder pain while sleeping on your side, it is important to avoid putting direct pressure on the affected shoulder. Instead, try shifting your sleeping position to the opposite side or onto your back. Sleeping on the side that is not in pain can help alleviate discomfort and allow your shoulder to rest and recover. It may take some time to adjust to a new sleeping position, but the benefits of reduced shoulder pain will be worth it.

Place a Pillow Between Your Knees

Placing a pillow between your knees while sleeping on your side can help maintain proper spinal alignment and reduce strain on your shoulders. The pillow acts as a spacer, keeping your hips, knees, and ankles in alignment. This position reduces pressure on your shoulders and allows them to rest more comfortably. Choose a pillow that is firm enough to provide support but soft enough to conform to the shape of your legs.

Use a Rolled-Up Towel for Extra Support

If you find that your shoulder still feels uncomfortable even with a supportive pillow, try using a rolled-up towel for additional support. Place the rolled towel under your shoulder to help elevate it slightly and relieve pressure. This elevation can help reduce strain on the shoulder joint and promote better alignment of the upper body. Adjust the thickness of the towel roll as needed to find the most comfortable position for your shoulder.

Try Sleeping with a Pillow Under Your Arm

Some individuals find relief from shoulder pain by placing a pillow under the affected arm while sleeping on their side. This method can help support the weight of the arm and alleviate pressure on the shoulder. Choose a pillow that is supportive yet soft, allowing your arm to rest comfortably on top. Experiment with different positions and pillow thicknesses to find the most comfortable and supportive setup for your shoulder.

Experiment with Different Side Sleeping Positions

Every individual is unique, and finding the perfect side sleeping position that alleviates shoulder pain may require some experimentation. Try adjusting the angle at which you sleep or the position of your body. Some individuals find relief by slightly tilting their upper body backward, while others find comfort by angling their legs slightly forward. Listen to your body and try different positions to find what works best for you.

Stretching and Exercise

Shoulder Rolls

Shoulder rolls are a simple and effective exercise that can help relieve tension and promote mobility in the shoulders. Start by sitting or standing with your arms relaxed at your sides. Slowly roll your shoulders forward in a circular motion, gradually increasing the size of the circles. After a few rotations, switch to rolling your shoulders backward. Repeat this exercise several times throughout the day to keep your shoulder muscles relaxed and flexible.

Neck Stretches

In addition to the shoulders, the neck can also play a role in shoulder pain. Incorporating neck stretches into your daily routine can help relieve tension and improve overall shoulder mobility. Begin by sitting or standing with your spine straight. Gently tilt your head to the right, bringing your right ear toward your right shoulder. Hold this position for a few seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat on the left side and perform several sets on each side.

Chest Stretches

Tightness in the chest muscles can contribute to shoulder pain, especially if you have poor posture. Performing chest stretches can help release tension in the chest and alleviate strain on the shoulders. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart. Interlace your fingers behind your lower back, and gently squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds, breathing deeply. Repeat this stretch several times throughout the day to maintain chest flexibility.

Rotator Cuff Exercises

Strengthening the rotator cuff muscles can help stabilize the shoulder joint and prevent future shoulder pain. Incorporate exercises that target the rotator cuff into your workout routine. Some effective options include external rotations using resistance bands, side-lying shoulder external rotations with dumbbells, and shoulder blade squeezes. Consult with a physical therapist or trainer to learn proper form and technique for these exercises.

Shoulder Blade Squeezes

Shoulder blade squeezes can help alleviate tension and improve posture, which can indirectly relieve shoulder pain. Sit or stand with your spine straight and your shoulders relaxed. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as if trying to hold a pencil between them. Hold this position for a few seconds, then release. Repeat several times throughout the day to strengthen the muscles in your upper back and improve shoulder stability.

Applying Heat or Cold Therapy

Using a Heating Pad

Applying heat to the affected shoulder can help relax muscles, increase blood flow, and reduce pain and stiffness. Use a heating pad set on a low or medium temperature setting and place it on your shoulder for 15-20 minutes at a time. Be sure to wrap the heating pad in a cloth or towel before applying it to your skin to prevent burns. Heat therapy can be especially beneficial before performing stretching exercises or engaging in physical activity.

Applying a Warm Compress

If you don’t have a heating pad, a warm compress can be a convenient alternative. Soak a towel in warm water, wring out the excess, and apply it to your shoulder. The warmth from the compress can help soothe sore muscles and promote relaxation. Leave the warm compress on your shoulder for 15-20 minutes, and repeat as needed throughout the day. Remember to use a cloth or towel to protect your skin from direct heat.

Trying Hot Showers or Baths

Taking a hot shower or bath can provide overall relaxation to your body, including your shoulder muscles. The warm water helps increase blood circulation, reduce muscle tension, and promote a sense of calm. Allow the warm water to run over your shoulders for a few minutes, gently massaging the area. Take advantage of this time to practice deep breathing and fully relax. Be mindful of adjusting the water temperature to a comfortable level and avoid using extremely hot water.

Using an Ice Pack

Cold therapy can be particularly beneficial for reducing inflammation and numbing pain associated with shoulder injuries. Wrap an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables in a thin cloth or towel and apply it to your shoulder for 15-20 minutes at a time. The cold temperature helps constrict blood vessels and reduce swelling. Remember to take short breaks between ice applications and never apply ice directly to your skin to avoid ice burns.

Alternating Heat and Cold Therapy

Some individuals find relief by alternating between heat and cold therapy. This combination can provide the benefits of both heat and cold treatments, promoting muscle relaxation, reducing inflammation, and relieving pain. Start with a heat application for 15-20 minutes, followed by a cold application for the same duration. Repeat this cycle 2-3 times. Be sure to listen to your body and discontinue the treatment if you experience any adverse reactions.

How to Relieve Shoulder Pain from Sleeping on Your Side

Using Pain Relief Creams or Ointments

Topical Analgesics

Topical analgesics, such as creams and ointments, can provide temporary relief from shoulder pain. These products typically contain ingredients like menthol, camphor, or capsaicin, which work by numbing the area and reducing pain signals. Apply a small amount of the analgesic cream to your shoulder, following the product’s instructions. Gently massage the cream into your skin until it is fully absorbed. Be cautious of any potential allergies or skin sensitivities, and discontinue use if irritation occurs.

Anti-inflammatory Creams

Shoulder pain caused by inflammation can often benefit from the use of anti-inflammatory creams. Look for products that contain ingredients like ibuprofen or diclofenac, as these can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Apply a thin layer of the cream to the affected shoulder and gently massage it into your skin. Follow the instructions on the product packaging regarding frequency and duration of use. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional before using any medications, including topical creams.

Arnica Gel

Arnica gel is a popular natural remedy for reducing pain and inflammation associated with various injuries, including shoulder pain. This gel is derived from the arnica plant and is available in most drugstores or health food stores. Apply a small amount of arnica gel to your shoulder and gently massage it into the skin. Repeat this process 2-3 times a day or as directed by the product packaging. Note that arnica gel should not be applied to broken skin or wounds.

Capsaicin Creams

Capsaicin creams are another topical option for relieving shoulder pain. These creams contain capsaicin, a component found in chili peppers known for its pain-relieving properties. Apply a thin layer of capsaicin cream to your shoulder and massage it into the skin until fully absorbed. The cream may cause a warming or tingling sensation, which is normal. Avoid touching your eyes or other sensitive areas after applying the cream, as capsaicin can cause irritation. Wash your hands thoroughly after use.

Seeking Professional Help

Consulting a Doctor

If you are experiencing persistent or severe shoulder pain, it is crucial to consult with a doctor for a proper diagnosis. A doctor can help determine the underlying cause of your shoulder pain and recommend appropriate treatment options. They may conduct a physical examination, order imaging tests, or refer you to a specialist if necessary. It is important to communicate your symptoms and medical history accurately to receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate medical advice.

Seeing a Physical Therapist

Physical therapy can be highly effective in treating shoulder pain, especially if it is caused by muscle imbalances or postural issues. A physical therapist can assess your shoulder’s range of motion, strength, and flexibility, and develop a personalized exercise and stretching plan to alleviate pain and improve function. They may also utilize various techniques such as manual therapy, ultrasound, or electrical stimulation to help relieve pain and promote healing.

Considering Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine technique that involves the insertion of thin needles into specific points of the body. It is believed to help restore the flow of energy and promote healing. Some individuals find relief from shoulder pain through acupuncture sessions. Consult with a licensed acupuncturist to discuss your symptoms and determine if acupuncture may be a suitable treatment option for you.

Exploring Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disorders, including shoulder pain. Chiropractors use manual adjustment techniques to restore proper alignment and function to the spine and other joints in the body. They may also incorporate other therapies such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation, or massage to alleviate pain and promote healing in the shoulder. Consult with a qualified chiropractor to assess your condition and explore potential treatment options.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy can provide relief from shoulder pain by reducing muscle tension and promoting relaxation. A skilled massage therapist can target the affected shoulder area, applying specific techniques to help relieve pain and improve circulation. They may also incorporate stretches or joint mobilizations to enhance the effects of the massage. Regular massage sessions can help manage chronic shoulder pain and promote overall well-being.

How to Relieve Shoulder Pain from Sleeping on Your Side

Sleeping Environment and Habits

Ensure a Comfortable Mattress

The type of mattress you sleep on can significantly impact your shoulder pain. Choose a mattress that provides adequate support and cushioning for your body. Memory foam or medium-firm mattresses tend to be good options for individuals with shoulder pain, as they contour to your body’s shape, relieving pressure points. Consider upgrading your mattress if it is old or no longer provides the necessary support.

Maintain a Proper Sleep Temperature

The temperature of your sleep environment can affect your sleep quality and shoulder pain. Keep your bedroom cool and well-ventilated to promote optimal sleep. Use breathable bedding materials and consider investing in a cooling pillow to help regulate body temperature. Avoid using heavy blankets or wearing excessive layers, as these can cause overheating and result in discomfort during the night.

Use Supportive Pillows for Other Body Parts

In addition to finding the right pillow for your shoulders, consider using supportive pillows for other body parts as well. For example, if you experience neck pain in addition to shoulder pain, use a cervical pillow that provides adequate neck support. A knee pillow can help keep your spine aligned while sleeping on your side. Supporting other body parts can alleviate strain on your shoulders and promote better overall sleep posture.

Avoid Electronics Before Bed

The blue light emitted by electronic devices can interfere with your sleep quality and make it more difficult to fall asleep. To promote better sleep and reduce shoulder pain, avoid using electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime. Instead, engage in relaxing activities such as reading a book, listening to calming music, or practicing gentle stretching or meditation.

Establish a Regular Sleep Schedule

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can help regulate your body’s internal clock and improve sleep quality. Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This regularity can promote better sleep efficiency and reduce the risk of developing shoulder pain or discomfort from irregular sleep patterns.

Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine

Establishing a soothing bedtime routine can signal to your body that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep. Engage in activities that promote relaxation and reduce stress, such as taking a warm bath, practicing deep breathing exercises, or incorporating gentle stretching or meditation. Creating a calm and peaceful environment in your bedroom can help promote better sleep and alleviate shoulder pain.

Taking Over-the-Counter Pain Medication


Acetaminophen, commonly known as Tylenol, can provide temporary relief from mild to moderate shoulder pain. It works by reducing pain signals in the brain. Follow the recommended dosage instructions on the packaging and consult with a healthcare professional if you have any underlying medical conditions or take other medications. It’s important to note that long-term or excessive use of acetaminophen can have adverse effects on liver health, so use it sparingly and as directed.

Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve), can help reduce inflammation and relieve shoulder pain. These medications can be effective for acute pain or pain caused by inflammation. Follow the recommended dosage instructions and consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns or existing medical conditions. Prolonged or excessive use of NSAIDs can lead to side effects such as stomach ulcers, so use them judiciously and for short-term relief.

Appropriate Dosage and Usage

When taking over-the-counter pain medication, it is essential to follow the recommended dosage instructions and use them responsibly. If your shoulder pain persists or worsens despite over-the-counter pain relief, consult with a healthcare professional for further evaluation and guidance. They can determine if stronger prescription medications or alternative treatments are necessary to address your specific condition.

Addressing Underlying Causes or Conditions

Postural Issues

Poor posture can contribute to shoulder pain, especially when sleeping on your side. Evaluate your posture during the day and make a conscious effort to maintain proper alignment. Sit and stand with your shoulders back, your spine straight, and your head aligned with your shoulders. Incorporate posture-improving exercises and ergonomic adjustments into your lifestyle to correct postural issues that may be contributing to shoulder pain.

Muscle Imbalances

Muscle imbalances can occur when certain muscles are overused or weaker than their opposing muscles. This imbalance can strain the shoulder joint and lead to pain. Work with a physical therapist or trainer to develop an exercise routine that targets both the shoulder and supporting muscles. Strengthening weak muscles and stretching tight ones can help restore balance and reduce shoulder pain.

Injury or Trauma

If your shoulder pain is the result of an injury or trauma, it is essential to seek medical attention for appropriate diagnosis and treatment. Depending on the severity and nature of the injury, treatment options may include rest, physical therapy, medication, or, in some cases, surgery. Prompt medical intervention can help prevent further damage and promote effective healing.


Shoulder arthritis can cause chronic pain and stiffness. If you suspect you have arthritis, consult with a doctor for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. Treatment options may include medication, physical therapy, joint injections, or in severe cases, surgery. Engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding activities that exacerbate pain can help manage arthritis-related shoulder pain.


Bursitis is inflammation of the bursae, small fluid-filled sacs that cushion the bones, tendons, and muscles near joints. If you are experiencing shoulder pain due to bursitis, rest, icing, and protecting the shoulder from further strain are often recommended. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and physical therapy exercises may also be beneficial. If symptoms persist or worsen, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for further evaluation and treatment options.


Tendonitis, inflammation of the tendons, can cause localized shoulder pain. Resting the shoulder, applying ice packs, and avoiding activities that aggravate the pain are often recommended. Physical therapy exercises to strengthen the shoulder muscles and improve flexibility may also be beneficial. If tendonitis symptoms persist or worsen over time, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for further evaluation and treatment.

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is a condition characterized by pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint. Treatment typically involves physical therapy exercises to improve range of motion and reduce pain. In some cases, corticosteroid injections or surgical intervention may be necessary. Consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan if you suspect you have frozen shoulder.

Preventing Future Shoulder Pain

Regular Exercise and Stretching

Engaging in regular exercise and stretching can help strengthen the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint and prevent future pain. Incorporate exercises that target the shoulders, such as shoulder presses, lateral raises, and rows, into your fitness routine. Additionally, prioritize stretching exercises that focus on the shoulders and upper body to improve flexibility and prevent muscle imbalances.

Maintaining Proper Posture

Maintaining proper posture throughout the day can help prevent shoulder pain and discomfort. Be mindful of your posture while sitting, standing, and performing daily activities. Sit and stand with your shoulders back, your spine straight, and your head aligned with your shoulders. Avoid slouching or rounded shoulders, as this can lead to muscle imbalances and strain on the shoulder joint.

Strengthening the Shoulder Muscles

Strong shoulder muscles contribute to better stability and reduced risk of injury. Incorporate exercises that target the shoulders, such as shoulder presses, lateral raises, and push-ups, into your exercise routine. Gradually increase the weight and intensity of these exercises over time to build strength and endurance. Be sure to use proper form and technique to avoid unnecessary strain on the shoulder joint.

Avoiding Excessive Strain on the Shoulders

Avoid activities that place excessive strain on the shoulders, especially if you have a history of shoulder pain or injury. For example, if weightlifting or carrying heavy objects exacerbates your shoulder pain, consider modifying your workout routine or seeking alternatives that are less demanding on the shoulders. Protecting your shoulders from excessive strain can help prevent future pain and promote overall shoulder health.

Taking Breaks from Repetitive Tasks

If your daily activities involve repetitive shoulder movements, such as lifting, typing, or painting, it is important to take frequent breaks to give your shoulder muscles a rest. Prolonged repetitive tasks can lead to muscle fatigue, strain, and eventually, shoulder pain. Incorporate short breaks into your routine to stretch and relax your shoulders, giving them a chance to recover before resuming the task.

Using Ergonomic Sleep Setup

Creating an ergonomic sleep setup can significantly reduce shoulder pain. Invest in a supportive mattress and pillows that provide proper alignment and cushioning for your body. Consider using a contoured pillow specifically designed for side sleepers to alleviate strain on your shoulders. Additionally, using a body pillow or placing pillows strategically to support your body can help maintain proper sleep posture and reduce shoulder discomfort.

Implementing Stress-Relief Techniques

Stress can contribute to muscle tension and exacerbate shoulder pain. Implementing stress-relief techniques such as practicing deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, or engaging in calming activities like yoga or tai chi can help relax your body and mind. By managing stress levels, you can potentially reduce muscle tension and alleviate shoulder pain caused or exacerbated by stress.

In conclusion, shoulder pain from sleeping on your side can be frustrating and disruptive to your sleep. By choosing the right pillow, improving sleep positions, incorporating stretching and exercise, applying heat or cold therapy, using pain relief creams or ointments, seeking professional help when necessary, optimizing your sleeping environment and habits, taking over-the-counter pain medication responsibly, addressing underlying causes or conditions, and implementing prevention strategies, you can effectively relieve shoulder pain and improve your overall sleep quality. Remember to listen to your body and consult with healthcare professionals for personalized advice and treatment options. With a comprehensive approach, you can regain comfort and restful nights, allowing you to wake up refreshed and pain-free.

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