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Is Sleeping on My Side Causing My Shoulder Pain?

Is Sleeping on My Side Causing My Shoulder Pain?
Is Sleeping on My Side Causing My Shoulder Pain?
  1. Do you sleep on your shoulder at night?
  2. Does your shoulder hurt when you wake up in the morning?
  3. Does your shoulder pain wake you up at night?

Can Sleeping on My Side Cause Shoulder Pain?

  1. Hours of sleep at night – Most adults need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep at night. Sleeping for prolonged periods of time on our shoulders can lead to shoulder pain.
  2. Stiffness and soreness – Certain sleeping positions can cause strain on our shoulders. When we fall asleep, we lose the protective normal muscular control and pain feedback of the shoulder. When we sleep for prolonged periods on our shoulder, this can cause abnormal loading pressures on the bones, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons.
  3. Interrupted sleep or morning shoulder soreness – This can be a sign that you are injuring your shoulder during sleep.

Why Sleeping on Your Side Is Causing Your Shoulder Pain?

There are several reasons why sleeping on your shoulder may cause shoulder pain.

  1. Impingement –Rotator cuff tendons may become squeezed between the shoulder humerus bone and the scapular bone during side sleeping. This can result in rotator cuff prolonged compression, friction and may progress to other conditions such as bursitis, tendonitis, and rotator cuff tear. Symptoms of impingement include pain and weakness with reaching or overhead activities.
  2. Bursitis – The bursae are fluid filled sacs in the shoulder that help cushion bones and tendons. Prolonged impingement due to side sleeping may lead to inflammation of the bursal tissues in the shoulder. This may lead to continued pain, stiffness and difficulty with motion of the shoulder.
  3. Rotator cuff tears – The rotator cuff muscles attach to the bone by way of a rotator cuff tendon. Prolonged or repetitive impingement of the rotator cuff tendons may cause microscopic tears (tendinitis) leading to eventual full thickness rotator cuff tears. Symptoms include pain and weakness at the shoulder.
  4. Osteoarthritis – Prolonged side sleeping may cause cartilage breakdown in the shoulder or inside the acromioclavicular (AC) joint of the shoulder. This may lead to shoulder osteoarthritis or AC joint osteoarthritis. This may result in stiffness, painful clicking or popping, and pain that worsens with movement.

How Can You Prevent Shoulder Pain from Sleeping on Your Side?

There are several ways to minimizing the time you sleep on your painful shoulder.

  1. Sleeping on your back. This is the best way to offload your shoulders. Maintain a comfortable neck position by using pillows. Sleeping in an inclined position (such as a reclining chair, raising the head of the bed, or by using pillows) can also help keep you from rolling onto your side.
  2. Sleeping with specialized side pillows. There are commercially available pillows that can be used to remove direct pressure off the shoulder when sleeping on your side.
  3. Sleeping on your stomach. This may also help unload the pressure on your shoulders.
  4. Sleep on the non-painful shoulder. If possible, consider sleeping on the unaffected shoulder.
  5. Avoid sleeping with your arm under a pillow or with your elbow overhead. These positions can result in prolonged periods of pressure on the shoulder.

Home Remedies for Night Time Shoulder Pain?

There are several home remedies that may improve your shoulder pain.

  1. Ice, heat – Your shoulder may feel considerably better by simply alternating ice and heat to the shoulder in the morning or prior to bedtime.
  2. NSAIDS (over-the-counter Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs such as Aleve, Motrin) – These can help reduce shoulder inflammation due to impingement, bursitis, tendinitis, and arthritis. Consider using NSAIDS in the morning and/or prior to bedtime. Make sure you have not contraindications to NSAIDS such as allergies or kidney failure.
  3. Home therapy and physical therapy exercises – Engage in regular daily stretching and light strengthening exercises to keep your shoulder healthy. In the setting of acute pain, you can lightly stretch your shoulder by simply dangling your arm to the ground while leaning forward or stretching your arm across a kitchen countertop. As your shoulder pain minimizes, you can progress to overhead stretching and even strengthening exercises.

When Should You Call Your Doctor About Your Painful Shoulder?

  1. Persistent pain. Most night-time shoulder pains tend to subside within a few hours of waking up. You should seek help from your orthopedic surgeon if your pain continues for several days or weeks and is not alleviated with home exercises, ice, heat, anti-inflammatory medications, and by adjusting your sleeping habits.
  2. Popping, catching, locking, dislocations. If you experience these mechanical symptoms, you should consult your orthopedic surgeon.
  3. Prior shoulder conditions worsening at night. If you have prior shoulder problems that are worsening at night time, you shoulder consider consulting your orthopedic surgeon.
  4. Swelling or warmth at the shoulder. These symptoms should prompt you to seek help with your orthopedic surgeon.

If your shoulder hurts from sleeping on your side at night, Request an Appointment Online or call 305-520-5625.

Location of Dr. J. Pieter Hommen - Orthopedic Surgeon & Sports Medicine

7800 SW 87th Avenue
Suite A110, Miami, FL 33173

Office Hours

  • Monday - Thursday : 8:30 am - 5:00 pm
  • Friday : 8:30 am - 3:00 pm


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Fax : (305) 520-5628

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