24 May 2024
Waking up with shoulder pain? Discover the causes & remedies in this informative post. Find relief from injuries, poor sleeping posture & more.

Imagine waking up every morning with a nagging pain in your shoulder, leaving you feeling frustrated and unable to start your day off on the right foot. In this article, we will explore the various causes behind this common issue and uncover some effective remedies that can help alleviate your discomfort. Whether it’s due to an injury, poor sleeping posture, or an underlying medical condition, understanding the root cause of your morning shoulder pain is the first step towards finding the relief you desperately need. So, let’s dive into this insightful journey together and discover ways to wake up without the burden of shoulder pain.

Table of Contents

Common Causes of Shoulder Pain in the Morning

Waking Up with Shoulder Pain: Understanding the Causes and Remedies

Rotator Cuff Injury

One common cause of shoulder pain in the morning is a rotator cuff injury. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint and help to stabilize and move the shoulder. Injury to the rotator cuff can occur from repetitive overhead movements, trauma, or simply wear and tear over time. When the rotator cuff is injured, it can cause pain and stiffness, especially in the mornings.

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, is another common cause of morning shoulder pain. This condition occurs when the shoulder capsule becomes thickened and contracted, leading to a loss of range of motion and pain. People with frozen shoulder often experience more severe pain and stiffness in the morning, which can gradually improve throughout the day.

Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder impingement occurs when the tendons of the rotator cuff become irritated and inflamed as they pass through a narrow space in the shoulder joint. This can be caused by repetitive overhead movements or poor posture. Shoulder impingement can cause pain, especially when reaching overhead or behind the back, and morning stiffness.

Shoulder Tendinitis

Shoulder tendinitis is an inflammation of the tendons in the shoulder, often caused by overuse or repetitive motions. This can lead to pain, tenderness, and swelling in the shoulder. Those who suffer from shoulder tendinitis may experience increased pain and stiffness in the morning, making it difficult to perform everyday activities.


Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursae, which are small fluid-filled sacs that cushion the joints. In the shoulder, bursitis can occur in the subacromial bursa, causing pain and swelling. People with shoulder bursitis may experience increased pain and stiffness in the morning, as well as difficulty lifting objects overhead or reaching behind the back.


Arthritis is a common cause of shoulder pain, particularly in the older population. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other forms of arthritis can cause the cartilage in the shoulder joint to wear down, leading to pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. Morning pain and stiffness are often more pronounced in those with arthritis, as the joint may become more inflamed during periods of inactivity.

Muscle Strain

Muscle strain in the shoulder can occur from overexertion, improper lifting, or sudden movements. This can lead to pain, muscle spasms, and difficulty moving the shoulder. Morning pain and stiffness may be more pronounced if the muscle strain is severe or if the muscles have not had a chance to properly recover overnight.

Poor Sleeping Positions

The way you sleep can greatly affect your shoulder health. Sleeping in awkward positions or on a mattress that does not provide adequate support can lead to morning shoulder pain. When you sleep in a position that puts strain on your shoulder joint or compresses the surrounding tissues, it can cause pain and stiffness upon waking.

Sleeping on Stomach

Sleeping on your stomach can be particularly problematic for your shoulders. When you sleep in this position, you often have to twist your head and neck to the side, which can strain the muscles and tendons in your shoulder. Additionally, lying on your stomach with your arm stretched overhead can put pressure on the shoulder joint and lead to discomfort in the morning.

Sleeping on One Side

While sleeping on your side is generally recommended for optimal spinal alignment, it can also contribute to shoulder pain if not done properly. If you sleep on only one side for an extended period, it can lead to imbalanced pressure on the shoulder joint, potentially causing pain and stiffness in the morning. It is important to switch sides periodically and use a supportive pillow to prevent excessive strain on the shoulder.

Specific Conditions and Their Symptoms

Rotator Cuff Injury Symptoms

Symptoms of a rotator cuff injury may include pain and tenderness around the shoulder, weakness in the affected arm, and difficulty lifting or reaching. The pain may be worse at night or in the morning, making it challenging to sleep on the affected side.

Frozen Shoulder Symptoms

The symptoms of frozen shoulder often develop gradually and worsen over time. Common symptoms include persistent shoulder pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion. Morning pain and stiffness are typically more severe in frozen shoulder, making it difficult to perform simple tasks like getting dressed or brushing your hair.

Shoulder Impingement Symptoms

Shoulder impingement can cause pain when lifting or reaching overhead, as well as difficulty reaching behind the back. Other common symptoms include weakness, popping sensations, and pain that worsens with activities that involve the shoulder. Morning stiffness is often present and can be particularly bothersome.

Shoulder Tendinitis Symptoms

Symptoms of shoulder tendinitis can include shoulder pain, tenderness, and swelling. The pain may worsen with movement or certain activities, such as lifting or reaching. Morning stiffness is common, and the pain may feel worse upon first waking up or after prolonged periods of rest.

Bursitis Symptoms

Bursitis in the shoulder can cause pain, tenderness, and swelling. The affected shoulder may also feel warm to the touch. Pain is often worse with movement, especially lifting objects overhead or behind the back. Morning stiffness is a common symptom, and the shoulder may feel particularly stiff and painful upon waking.

Arthritis Symptoms

The symptoms of shoulder arthritis can vary depending on the type of arthritis and the severity of the condition. Common symptoms include joint pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. Morning pain and stiffness are often more pronounced in arthritis, making it difficult to perform daily activities.

Muscle Strain Symptoms

Symptoms of a muscle strain in the shoulder can include pain, muscle spasms, and difficulty moving the shoulder. The affected muscles may feel tender to the touch. Morning pain and stiffness may be more noticeable, especially if the strain is severe or if the muscles have not had time to recover overnight.

Diagnosing the Cause of Shoulder Pain

Waking Up with Shoulder Pain: Understanding the Causes and Remedies

Physical Examination

During a physical examination, a healthcare professional will assess your shoulder by palpating the area to identify areas of tenderness or swelling. They may also ask you to perform certain movements or resistances to evaluate the range of motion, strength, and stability of your shoulder joint.

Medical History

A comprehensive medical history is an essential component of diagnosing the cause of shoulder pain. Your healthcare provider will ask about the onset of symptoms, any history of trauma or repetitive motions, and any other relevant medical conditions or medications. This information can help narrow down the potential causes and guide further diagnostic testing.

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests, such as X-rays, ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), may be ordered to visualize the structures of the shoulder joint. These tests can help identify any abnormalities or damage to the bones, muscles, tendons, or ligaments.

Laboratory Tests

In some cases, blood tests may be ordered to rule out underlying medical conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, that may be contributing to shoulder pain. These tests can help determine if there are any systemic factors contributing to the symptoms.

Other Diagnostic Procedures

In certain situations, your healthcare provider may recommend additional diagnostic procedures, such as a diagnostic injection or arthroscopy. These procedures can provide more detailed information about the specific cause of shoulder pain and help guide appropriate treatment.

Treating Shoulder Pain

Rest and Modify Activities

Resting the shoulder and avoiding activities that aggravate the pain is often the first step in treating shoulder pain. Allowing the injured or inflamed tissues to heal can reduce pain and promote recovery. It is important to modify activities to avoid repetitive motions or positions that exacerbate the symptoms.

Pain Medications

Over-the-counter pain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen, can help reduce pain and inflammation associated with shoulder pain. If the pain is severe or persistent, your healthcare provider may prescribe stronger pain medications or recommend topical analgesics for localized relief.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy exercises and techniques can help improve shoulder strength, flexibility, and range of motion. A physical therapist can create an individualized treatment plan that may include exercises, stretches, manual therapy, and other modalities to alleviate pain and promote healing.

Steroid Injections

Corticosteroid injections may be administered directly into the shoulder joint to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. These injections can provide temporary relief and may be recommended in cases of severe or persistent pain that does not respond to other treatments.

Alternative Therapies

Complementary therapies, such as acupuncture or chiropractic care, may provide relief for some individuals with shoulder pain. These therapies can help alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, and improve overall shoulder function. It is important to consult with a qualified healthcare provider before trying any alternative therapy.

Surgical Options

In cases where conservative treatments do not provide sufficient relief or the underlying condition is severe, surgery may be recommended. The specific surgical procedure will depend on the cause of the shoulder pain and may involve repairing damaged tissues, removing inflamed bursae, or replacing the joint. Rehabilitation and physical therapy following surgery will be essential for a successful recovery.

Preventing Shoulder Pain

Maintain Good Posture

Maintaining good posture throughout the day is crucial for preventing shoulder pain. Practicing proper alignment of the shoulders, neck, and spine can reduce strain on the shoulder joint and surrounding structures. It is important to be mindful of your posture while sitting, standing, and performing daily activities.

Strengthen Shoulder Muscles

Regular exercise targeting the muscles surrounding the shoulder can help improve stability and prevent injuries. Consider incorporating exercises that target the rotator cuff muscles, such as shoulder external rotation exercises or scapular strengthening exercises, into your workout routine. It is essential to use proper form and gradually increase the intensity and resistance to avoid overexertion.

Avoid Repetitive Overhead Movements

Repetitive overhead movements, such as throwing a ball or lifting heavy objects overhead, can strain the shoulder joint and lead to pain and injuries. If your daily activities involve frequent overhead movements, it is important to take regular breaks, use proper technique, and engage in appropriate shoulder-strengthening exercises.

Use Proper Lifting Techniques

Improper lifting techniques can put excessive strain on the shoulder joint and increase the risk of injury. When lifting heavy objects, it is important to use your legs and core muscles instead of relying solely on your arms and shoulders. Additionally, consider using assistive devices, such as dollies or carts, to reduce the strain on your shoulders when moving heavy items.

Choose Supportive Bedding and Pillows

Your sleeping environment can significantly impact the health of your shoulders. Choose a mattress and pillows that provide adequate support and alignment for your body. A mattress that is too firm or too soft can lead to poor spinal alignment and contribute to morning shoulder pain. Pillows that adequately support your neck and shoulders can also help alleviate discomfort.

Stretch Before and After Sleep

Before going to bed and upon waking up, perform gentle stretching exercises for your shoulders. This can help improve flexibility and increase blood flow to the muscles and tendons, reducing the risk of stiffness and pain in the mornings. Simple stretches like pendulum stretches, chest stretches, or cross-body reaches can be beneficial.

Exercises for Shoulder Pain Relief

Waking Up with Shoulder Pain: Understanding the Causes and Remedies

Pendulum Stretch

Start by bending at the waist and allowing your affected arm to hang freely. Gently swing your arm in small circles, clockwise and counterclockwise. Gradually increase the size of the circles while keeping your arm relaxed. Perform this exercise for a few minutes, several times a day.

Cross-Body Reach

Stand or sit upright and gently bring your affected arm across your body, reaching toward the opposite shoulder. Use your other arm to assist in the stretch if needed. Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds and repeat several times on each side.

Doorway Stretch

Stand in a doorway with your arms extended out to the sides, parallel to the floor. Place your hands on the door frame at shoulder height. Slowly lean forward, allowing your body to move through the doorway, until you feel a stretch in your chest and shoulders. Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds and repeat several times.

Rotator Cuff Exercise

Lie on your side with a rolled towel or small pillow placed between your affected arm and your body. Keep your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle. Slowly lift your forearm towards the ceiling, keeping your elbow at your side. Lower your arm back down and repeat for 10-15 repetitions. Perform this exercise on both sides.

Shoulder Blade Squeeze

Sit or stand upright with your arms relaxed at your sides. Gently squeeze your shoulder blades together, as if you are trying to hold a pencil between them. Hold the squeeze for 5-10 seconds and release. Repeat this exercise for 10-15 repetitions.

Chest Stretch

Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Clasp your hands behind your back and slowly lift your arms away from your body, keeping your shoulders relaxed. You should feel a stretch across your chest and shoulders. Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds and repeat several times.

Home Remedies for Shoulder Pain

Cold or Warm Compress

Applying a cold or warm compress to the affected shoulder can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. Apply a cold compress, such as an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel, for 15-20 minutes at a time. Alternatively, a warm compress, such as a hot water bottle or a warm towel, can provide relief.

Epsom Salt Soak

Adding Epsom salt to a warm bath or foot soak can help relax the muscles and relieve shoulder pain. The magnesium sulfate in Epsom salt can help reduce inflammation and promote healing. Soak in the Epsom salt solution for 20-30 minutes to reap the benefits.

Gentle Massage

A gentle massage can help relax tense muscles and improve circulation, reducing shoulder pain. Use your opposite hand or a foam roller to apply gentle pressure to the affected shoulder. Massage in circular motions or long strokes, focusing on areas of tension or discomfort. If the pain is severe or you are unsure about performing self-massage, consult a professional massage therapist.

Topical Pain Relief Creams

Topical pain relief creams or gels containing ingredients like menthol or capsaicin can provide temporary relief from shoulder pain. These creams work by numbing the area or stimulating blood flow to promote healing. Follow the instructions on the packaging for safe and effective use.

Essential Oils

Certain essential oils, such as lavender, peppermint, or eucalyptus, may have analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties that can help alleviate shoulder pain. Mix a few drops of the essential oil with a carrier oil, such as coconut oil or almond oil, and gently massage it into the affected shoulder. Dilute the essential oil according to the instructions and avoid direct contact with the skin if you have sensitivities.

Rest and Relaxation

Sometimes, simply allowing your body to rest and relax can be the best remedy for shoulder pain. Take breaks from activities that exacerbate the pain and give yourself the time and space to recover. Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, to reduce stress and promote overall well-being.

Importance of Seeking Medical Help

Persistent or Severe Pain

If you are experiencing persistent or severe shoulder pain that does not improve with rest or self-care measures, it is important to seek medical help. This may indicate a more serious underlying condition or the need for additional treatment options.

Loss of Range of Motion

If you notice a significant loss of range of motion in your shoulder, such as difficulty raising your arm or reaching behind your back, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional. This may be a sign of a more severe injury or condition that requires medical attention.

Difficulty Sleeping

If your shoulder pain is causing difficulty sleeping or is significantly impacting your quality of sleep, it is important to address the issue. Lack of sleep can exacerbate pain and make it difficult for your body to heal properly. Seeking medical help can provide guidance on managing your pain and improving your sleep.

Numbness or Tingling

If you experience numbness or tingling in your shoulder, arm, or hand along with shoulder pain, it may indicate nerve involvement. Nerve compression or irritation can cause these sensations and may require medical intervention to prevent further complications.

Fever or Inflammation

If you notice signs of infection, such as fever, redness, or increased swelling in the affected shoulder, it is important to seek immediate medical help. These symptoms may indicate an underlying infection that requires prompt treatment.

When to Consider Surgery

Failure of Non-Surgical Treatments

If non-surgical treatments, such as rest, physical therapy, medications, and injections, fail to provide sufficient relief for your shoulder pain, surgery may be considered. It is important to discuss the potential risks and benefits of surgery with your healthcare provider to make an informed decision.

Significant Functional Limitations

If shoulder pain and limited range of motion significantly interfere with your ability to perform daily activities, work, or participate in recreational activities, surgery may be a viable option. Restoring optimal shoulder function through surgical intervention can help improve your overall quality of life.

Chronic or Recurrent Pain

Chronic or recurrent shoulder pain that persists despite conservative treatment measures may be an indication for surgery. This can be a sign of an underlying structural issue that requires surgical correction to provide long-term relief.

Traumatic Shoulder Injury

In cases of traumatic shoulder injury, such as a fracture, dislocation, or severe tear, surgery may be necessary to repair the damage and restore stability to the shoulder joint. Prompt surgical intervention can help prevent further complications and optimize recovery.


Shoulder pain in the morning can significantly impact your daily life and overall well-being. Understanding the common causes of morning shoulder pain, recognizing the symptoms of specific conditions, and seeking appropriate medical attention are key to managing and alleviating the pain. Through a combination of proper diagnosis, effective treatment options, preventive measures, and self-care strategies, you can reduce morning shoulder pain and regain optimal shoulder function. Remember, if your shoulder pain persists or worsens, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for a comprehensive evaluation and personalized treatment plan.

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