19 May 2024
Wondering why your shoulder hurts after sleeping? Find out the possible causes and practical tips to alleviate the pain in this informative article.

Have you ever woken up with a sore shoulder, wondering why it hurts after a seemingly peaceful night of sleep? We’ve all been there, and it can be quite perplexing. In this article, we will explore the possible reasons behind this discomfort and offer some practical tips to alleviate the pain. So, if you’ve ever found yourself rubbing your shoulder in confusion upon waking up, keep reading to discover the secrets of why your shoulder might be hurting after sleeping.

Common Causes of Shoulder Pain After Sleeping

Shoulder pain is a common issue that many people experience after a restful night’s sleep. While it can be frustrating to wake up with discomfort, understanding the potential causes of shoulder pain after sleeping can help you find relief and improve your overall sleep quality. In this article, we will explore the various factors that may contribute to shoulder pain, including sleeping positions, mattress quality, pillow choice, muscle imbalances, and specific shoulder injuries or conditions.

Why Does My Shoulder Hurt After Sleeping?

Sleeping Positions

The position in which you sleep can have a significant impact on your shoulder health. Different sleeping positions can either alleviate or exacerbate shoulder pain. Let’s take a closer look at each sleeping position and how they may contribute to discomfort:

Side Sleeping

Side sleeping is one of the most popular sleep positions. This position can provide many benefits, such as reducing acid reflux and snoring. However, it can also put strain on your shoulder if not done correctly. There are a few variations of side sleeping that can affect your shoulder differently:

Default Side

Sleeping on your side with your arms resting naturally by your side is considered the default side sleeping position. This position can help distribute the weight evenly across your shoulder joint and minimize unnecessary strain.

Arm Under Pillow

Some individuals prefer to sleep with one arm tucked under their pillow. While this may feel comfortable initially, it can lead to shoulder pain over time. Placing your arm in this position causes your shoulder to rotate inward excessively, putting strain on the joint and the muscles supporting it.

Fetal Position

Sleeping in the fetal position involves curling your body into a ball with your knees drawn towards your chest. While this position can be cozy for some, it can lead to shoulder pain if your shoulders are rounded forward excessively. This posture can cause compression and impingement of the shoulder joint, leading to discomfort.

Stomach Sleeping

Sleeping on your stomach is generally not recommended for individuals experiencing shoulder pain. This position can put strain on your neck, shoulders, and spine, leading to discomfort. Here are a few specific aspects of stomach sleeping that may contribute to shoulder pain:

Neck Rotation

When sleeping on your stomach, it is common to rotate your head to one side. This prolonged neck rotation can strain the muscles and nerves in your neck, which can radiate down to your shoulders and cause pain.

Extended Arm

Many stomach sleepers find themselves tucking one arm under their pillow or beneath their torso. This position can lead to excessive rotation and extension of the shoulder joint, increasing the risk of shoulder pain and injury.

Pillow Accumulation

Another issue with stomach sleeping is the accumulation of pillows under your head or chest. This elevated position can create an unnatural curve in your spine and put additional stress on your shoulders.

Back Sleeping

Sleeping on your back is generally considered one of the best positions for overall spinal alignment and reducing the risk of shoulder pain. However, certain factors can still contribute to discomfort for back sleepers:

Arm Resting Position

When sleeping on your back, your arms can hang naturally by your sides, which helps maintain proper spinal alignment and minimize strain on the shoulders. However, if you tend to sleep with your arms positioned awkwardly, such as above your head or across your chest, it can lead to shoulder discomfort.

Lack of Support

Another common issue with back sleeping is the lack of support beneath your shoulders. If your mattress or pillow does not provide adequate support, it can cause your shoulders to sink, leading to strain on the joint and surrounding muscles.

Why Does My Shoulder Hurt After Sleeping?

Mattress Quality

The quality and firmness of your mattress play a significant role in overall sleep comfort and shoulder health. Here are two extremes in mattress firmness that can contribute to shoulder pain:

Soft Mattress

Sleeping on an overly soft mattress can cause your body to sink, creating an unnatural curve in your spine. This can misalign your shoulder joint and result in pain and discomfort.

Firm Mattress

On the other hand, sleeping on a mattress that is too firm may not provide enough cushioning for your shoulders. This can lead to increased pressure points and strain on the joints, contributing to shoulder pain after sleeping.

Pillow Choice

Choosing the right pillow is crucial for maintaining proper spinal alignment and reducing the risk of shoulder pain. Here are a few factors related to pillow choice that may contribute to discomfort:

Incorrect Height

Using a pillow that is too high or too low for your body can negatively affect your shoulder alignment. If your pillow is too thick, it can tilt your head upwards, straining the muscles and joints in your neck and shoulders. Conversely, a pillow that is too thin may not provide adequate support for your head and neck, leading to misalignment and pain.

Lack of Support

Pillows that lack proper support can cause your head and neck to sink, resulting in misalignment of your shoulders. It is important to choose a pillow that will keep your head and neck aligned with your spine, promoting optimal shoulder health.

Why Does My Shoulder Hurt After Sleeping?

Muscle Imbalances

Muscle imbalances can contribute to shoulder pain and discomfort, particularly if certain muscle groups are stronger or tighter than others. The following three muscles are commonly involved in shoulder pain after sleeping:

Pectoralis Major

The pectoralis major muscle, located in your chest, can become tight and shortened due to prolonged poor posture or certain exercises. This tightness can pull your shoulders forward, leading to strain on the joint and surrounding muscles.


The trapezius muscle, responsible for upper back and neck movements, can become overactive and tight if you frequently engage in activities that require repetitive shoulder motions. This muscle imbalance can cause shoulder pain, especially when lying down.

Rear Deltoids

The rear deltoids, located at the back of your shoulders, can be neglected in many workouts. Weakness in these muscles can disrupt the balance of the shoulder joint, potentially leading to pain and discomfort after sleeping.

Rotator Cuff Injuries

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint. Injuries or conditions affecting the rotator cuff can cause persistent shoulder pain, including after sleeping. Here are a few common rotator cuff injuries:

Rotator Cuff Tears

A rotator cuff tear can occur due to acute trauma or overuse. These tears can cause severe shoulder pain, especially when certain motions, such as lifting your arm or lying on the affected side, put stress on the injured tissue.

Rotator Cuff Tendinitis

Tendinitis occurs when the tendons in the rotator cuff become inflamed. This inflammation can lead to shoulder pain, especially during movements that involve the affected tendons, such as reaching overhead or sleeping on the affected side.

Rotator Cuff Impingement

Impingement occurs when the structures of the shoulder, including the rotator cuff tendons, become compressed during specific movements. This compression can cause pain, particularly when lying on the affected side or performing overhead activities.


Tendinitis, inflammation of a tendon, can affect various tendons in the shoulder and lead to pain after sleeping. Let’s explore this condition in more detail:


Tendinitis can be caused by repetitive motions, overuse, or sudden injury. Activities that require repetitive shoulder movements, such as weightlifting, throwing, or even poor posture over time, can contribute to the development of tendinitis.


Symptoms of shoulder tendinitis include pain, tenderness, and swelling around the affected tendon. The pain may worsen at night or after periods of inactivity, such as during sleep.


Treatment for shoulder tendinitis often involves a combination of rest, ice, physical therapy, and pain management strategies. Your healthcare provider may recommend modifying your activities, applying ice to the affected area, and performing specific exercises to strengthen and stretch the shoulder muscles. In some cases, medications or injections may be utilized to manage pain and inflammation.

In conclusion, there are several potential causes of shoulder pain after sleeping. These include sleeping positions, mattress quality, pillow choice, muscle imbalances, and specific shoulder injuries or conditions. By understanding these factors and making appropriate adjustments to your sleeping habits or seeking professional help, you can find relief and improve your sleeping experience. Remember, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and personalized treatment plan if you are experiencing persistent or severe shoulder pain.

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