Waking up with shoulder and upper back pain is a common annoyance. But trying to sleep while already experiencing shoulder pain can be downright excruciating.
Finding a comfortable sleeping position that eases shoulder discomfort can be challenging. The wrong posture through the night risks exacerbating and worsening inflammation in the joint.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll provide expert tips on the best sleeping positions, pillow configurations, mattresses, and other remedies to relieve shoulder pain at night. Follow these recommendations to reduce strain on the shoulder and finally get restful, uninterrupted sleep.
Common Causes of Shoulder Pain at Night
Shoulder discomfort when trying to sleep often stems from:
- Arthritis – Inflammation of the shoulder joint space.
- Rotator cuff injury – Damage to the group of muscles stabilizing the shoulder.
- Impingement – Compression of the rotator cuff tendons.
- Tendinitis – Inflammation of the shoulder tendons.
- Bursitis – Swelling of the fluid-filled bursae sacs between bones and tissues.
- Poor posture – Slumping forward strains shoulder joints.
- Mattress too firm – Insufficient cushion and conformity to the shoulder area.
- Sleeping wrong – Positions like side lying that twist and strain the shoulder.
Note: If you aren’t already diagnosed, see a doctor to determine the cause of any persistent shoulder pain before trying remedies.
Now that we’ve covered possible sources, let’s explore ideal sleeping positions to take pressure off the shoulder at night.
Best Sleeping Positions for Shoulder Pain
Modifying sleeping posture can significantly ease shoulder discomfort at night or prevent pain from worsening:
1. Sleep on Your Back
Lying flat on the back with arms resting at the sides naturally distributes body weight evenly without twisting the shoulder joint.
- Align head, neck and spine neutrally without bending.
- Use slim pillow under knees to relax lower back.
- Try lying directly on mattress without thick pillow for true flatness.
- Place thin pillow under arms if needed for alignment.
Back sleeping with proper spinal positioning minimizes gravity stress on shoulder muscles and joints all night long.
2. Sleep On Your Less Painful Side
Side sleeping reduces pressure on the affected shoulder compared to lying on it directly.
- Lie on your non-painful side or the side with less discomfort.
- Draw knees up slightly toward chest.
- Use pillow between knees and optionally under head.
- Avoid thick pillows that misalign the neck and spine.
- Use extra supportive mattress if side sleeping lacks cushioning.
Lying on the side opposite the bad shoulder takes direct weight and tension off the inflamed joint.
3. Reclined Elevated Position
Raising the upper body takes pressure off the painful shoulder while still sleeping.
- Use wedge pillow, adjustable bed, or stacked pillows to elevate.
- Raise upper body 30-60+ degrees to comfortably recline.
- Support neck, arms and low back with surrounding pillows.
- Avoid raising just the head/neck which strains the shoulder.
- Try a recliner chair fully extended if in severe pain.
Elevating the entire chest and torso up redistributes weight away from shoulder without compromising spinal posture.
Avoid sleeping on the painful shoulder or stomach sleeping which twists the joint. Focus on relieving pressure with these better positions instead.
Next, let’s look at how to configure pillows to maximize shoulder pain relief at night.
Pillow Configuration for Shoulder Pain While Sleeping
Properly positioned pillows provide vital cushioning support to keep the painful shoulder stable, aligned and relaxed through the night.
1. Cervical Pillow
These special pillows cradle the head and neck to minimize shoulder torque:
- Look for an indentation that relieves pressure under the head
- Helps keep neck and head weight from pulling on shoulder
- Allows shoulder muscles to fully relax
2. Wedge Pillow
Thin wedge pillows gently lift and align:
- Place under arm of sore shoulder to keep slightly abducted
- Reduces gravitational pull on joint
- Use to prop back or legs for incline
3. Body Pillow
Extra-long body pillows offer cushioning:
- Place lengthwise along back to support spine alignment
- Can prop under knees or injured side too
- Allows hugging or resting arm across for comfort
The right pillow support takes direct strain off irritated shoulder tissues so they can heal.
Now let’s go over the ideal mattress traits for easing shoulder discomfort at night.
Choosing the Right Mattress Firmness
Your mattress firmness, construction and materials significantly impact shoulder pain at night. Here’s what to look for:
Cushioning with Slight Sinkage
Too firm and the shoulder hits a solid, unforgiving surface. This strains tissues and aggravates inflammation and arthritis.
Look for a mattress that gently cradles the shoulder without excessive sinking that throws spine out of alignment.
Mattresses like latex or memory foam mold closely to the body’s natural curves while supporting proper spinal positioning.
This removes pressure from shoulder joints while providing a neutral posture.
Responsive but Not Stiff
A mattress that slightly sinks then rebounds readily when moving prevents you from getting “stuck” in uncomfortable positions that twist the shoulder.
Mattresses made with open cell foams or other air-circulating materials prevent heat buildup around the shoulder during sleep.
Excess warmth can worsen inflammation and discomfort.
Focus on conforming cushion and contouring from materials that dissipate body heat. This fosters ideal conditions for the shoulder to decompress overnight.
Additional Tips for Sleeping with Shoulder Pain
Beyond positions and pillows, a few additional tips help reduce shoulder discomfort for restful nights:
Stretch before bed – Perform gentle shoulder stretches and rotations to loosen tight muscles before lying down.
Warm shower – Take a warm (not hot) shower right before bed to boost circulation and prime muscles for relaxation.
Topical analgesics – Apply topical pain creams containing menthol or camphor to provide cooling pain relief where needed.
Hydrate well – Stay well hydrated during the day to prevent joints from stiffening overnight.
Manage stress – High stress exacerbates perceived pain levels. Try calming practices before bed like deep breathing, meditation or relaxation exercises.
OTC medication – For sudden acute pain, short term over-the-counter NSAID use may help reduce inflammation to allow sleep. Consult your doctor.
Visit a physical therapist – Seek individualized expert guidance on proper sleeping positions, exercises, and pain relief methods.
When to See a Doctor About Shoulder Pain and Sleep Issues
Make sure to promptly consult a physician if:
- Pain persists longer than 2-3 weeks with no improvement
- Pain worsens at night or with certain movements
- You experience swelling, tenderness and limited range of motion
- OTC remedies, massage, heat/cold have not helped
- Discomfort is severely impacting your sleep and daily function
A combination of rest, ice, heat, OTC medication, massage and proper sleep positioning may resolve mild shoulder pain.
But worsening pain at night accompanied by stiffness, weakness and swelling requires medical attention to diagnose the underlying joint or tendon issue and provide proper treatment.
Seeking guidance from a doctor ensures you get on the right track to addressing the root cause so you can sleep comfortably again.
When to Use Caution Sleeping with Shoulder Pain
Certain circumstances warrant extra precautions and possible medical guidance when sleeping with shoulder discomfort:
After Injury or Surgery
Follow all physician instructions on positioning, arm motion limitation and sling use when sleeping post-injury or surgery. Keep immobilized shoulder supported with pillows.
For those with arthritis, bursitis or chronic issues, take care to sleep in the least painful positions and use prescribed medication as directed.
During Physical Therapy
Discuss sleep positioning with your physical therapist and use recommended braces, supports or taping at night as needed.
Dislocated or Separated Shoulder
Avoid any further strain on the injured shoulder. Use a sling device and pile pillows for protection. Seek emergency care.
Fever or Sudden Severe Pain
Call your doctor promptly with any worsened pain, swelling or fever which could signal infection or complications. Adjust sleep position but avoid any vigorous self-manipulation.
While managing shoulder discomfort at night with positioning and pillows, seek prompt medical guidance if pain seems beyond muscle soreness or basic overexertion.
The Takeaway on Sleeping with Shoulder Pain
Waking up with shoulder pain is frustrating enough. Trying to sleep while already experiencing shoulder discomfort can be downright excruciating.
But with the right tweaks to your sleep position, pillow configuration, mattress, and environment, you can take pressure off an inflamed shoulder joint to finally rest peacefully.
Back sleeping, side lying on the good shoulder, and inclined elevations are go-to positions to reduce strain on the sore shoulder all night long.
Cervical contour pillows, supportive wedges, and conforming mattresses further cushion and immobilize the injured joint.
Apply these tips consistently to find the optimal sleep alignment that eases your particular shoulder issue. Alleviating nighttime discomfort through proper body positioning helps you get the restorative rest needed to promote recovery.
So don’t hesitate to see a doctor for any worsening or unresolved shoulder pain. With the right treatment plan and these sleep strategies, you’ll get back to pain-free nights and mornings.
FAQs About Sleeping with Shoulder Pain
What is the best sleeping position for shoulder pain?
The best positions are sleeping on the back, side lying on your non-painful shoulder, and inclined elevations. Avoid lying on the affected shoulder or stomach sleeping.
What kind of mattress is best for shoulder pain?
Choose a medium soft mattress that cushions the shoulder without sagging the spine. Contouring memory foam or responsive latex provide close conforming support.
What pillow should you sleep with for shoulder pain?
Try supportive cervical contour pillows to cradle the head and neck. Also place thin wedge pillows under the arms or knees to gently lift and properly align the upper body.
How can I get comfortable sleeping with shoulder pain?
Apply a topical cooling analgesic cream before bed. Perform gentle stretching of the shoulder. Take a warm shower. Ensure you stay well hydrated and reduce stress during the day.
When should you see a doctor for shoulder pain at night?
See a physician promptly if shoulder pain at night persists longer than 2-3 weeks, suddenly worsens, causes swelling or limited mobility, or fails to improve with conservative efforts.
Don’t let shoulder discomfort disrupt your nights. With proper pillow positioning and sleeping postures that immobilize the joint, you can keep inflammation at bay for restful slumber.
Originally posted on September 18, 2023 @ 6:33 am