7 ways you can improve shoulder pain that occurs when sleeping

shoulder pain relief

Most people will experience shoulder pain at some point in their lives. Some of the most common causes of shoulder pain include rotator cuff injuries, a pinched nerve, frozen shoulder and shoulder impingement. Sometimes sleeping on your side can be enough to cause shoulder pain in the morning, especially if you have osteoarthritis.

Sleeping on the other side doesn’t always solve the problem. Sleeping with shoulder pain on both sides can be difficult. If you can sleep on your back, that may be helpful. Even so, it’s common to move around in your sleep. Fortunately, there are a few more solutions you can try to relieve shoulder pain from sleeping on your side. A few of them are simple stretches, exercises and home remedies you can try right away. If your shoulder pain persists for more than a week and these strategies aren’t helping, physical therapy may be the next best step.

Don’t give up hope for waking up free of shoulder pain just yet. This article covers seven strategies for improving shoulder pain that occurs when sleeping.

How can I minimize shoulder pain from sleeping? 

Having a supportive pillow and mattress with enough cushion is one of the most important ways to stay pain-free while you’re sleeping. You should also make sure you’re getting enough sleep — being sleep deprived can make minor aches and pains feel much worse. Your sleeping position is the next most important thing. Try sleeping on your back if possible. While you’re adjusting your sleeping position, it can be helpful to use a body pillow or stack some standard-sized pillows behind your back to keep you from rolling over.

For short-term pain relief, home remedies like over-the-counter pain relievers and topical ointments can be helpful. You can also alternate ice packs with heating pads for about 20 minutes each to help with acute pain. The next section will include some instructions on how to stretch and strengthen your shoulders, which can help a lot in the long term. Finally, your physical therapist can perform some manual techniques to mobilize your shoulder and release tension and stiffness that may be causing your pain. 

7 ways you can improve shoulder pain that occurs when sleeping

If you’re a side sleeper, your shoulder pain may be aggravated by your sleeping position at night. This can be really hard to control! There are some strategies that may help you change your sleeping position. Using natural sleep aids like melatonin or magnesium while you’re making these adjustments can help you fall asleep faster. Be sure to practice good sleep hygiene habits as well — for instance, avoid screens for an hour before bed or do some gentle yoga and deep breathing exercises to calm down.

Here’s a bit more detail about seven things you can try at home to relieve shoulder pain from sleeping: 

  • Check your pillow and mattress — How long has it been since the last time you replaced your pillow and mattress? A good rule of thumb is to replace your mattress every 10 years. If you’ve been sleeping on a lower-quality mattress, it might be time for an upgrade. You can also search for pillows with more support at the edges for side sleepers.
  • Avoid sleeping on your side — If you’re only feeling pain in one shoulder, you could try sleeping on the other side. If you can sleep on your back with a neutral spine, that’s even better. Try putting a pillow under your knees for more stability. This also helps support the natural curve of your spine. 
  • Use pillows to keep from turning over — Stacking pillows behind your back can help you adjust to sleeping on the side that doesn’t feel quite as natural. Again, you may want to invest in a body pillow or a pillow that’s specifically made for side sleepers.
  • Stretch your shoulders — Stretching your shoulders before you go to bed and when you wake up in the morning can sometimes help reduce pain. Raise one arm above your head and use the opposite hand to gently pull the other one up and over. Stretch your arms backward and down to each side, stretching out your collarbone area. Cross one arm straight over your chest and curl the other one underneath, using it to pull the upper arm toward you. Hold each of these stretches for 15 to 20 seconds on both sides. 
  • Strengthen your shoulders and core — Find something heavy to use as a handheld weight, like a can of soup. Lift it above your head, alternating arms. Next, hold two heavy items with the same weight. Let your arms hang by your sides and shrug your shoulders. Then, hold them at your chest with your elbows out to each side and thrust your arms forward. Repeat each of these exercises about 10 times.
  • Try ice and heat therapy — Ice can help reduce inflammation and numb some types of pain, and heat can get your blood circulating to reduce pain and promote healing. Try alternating both for up to 20 minutes each.
  • Use an over-the-counter pain reliever — Both oral pain relievers and topical ointments can be effective for shoulder pain. If you have a sensitive stomach, acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be a bit more gentle than ibuprofen or aspirin. 

How can physical therapy help with shoulder pain from sleeping?

If you’ve tried the above methods and your pain doesn’t improve within a week, or if it gets worse, you should see your doctor or a physical therapist. It’s important to rule out underlying issues like arthritis or injuries from overuse. Letting your shoulder pain go untreated could lead to a chronic condition. If your shoulder pain is getting in the way of daily activities, it’s definitely time to see a professional. 

If you go to a physical therapist, they’ll start with a detailed assessment. They may be able to help you narrow down potential causes of your shoulder pain. This information will help them determine which treatments to try first and create a personalized plan for you. 

These physical therapy treatments can be helpful for shoulder pain:

  • Manual therapy — Your therapist will use gentle touch and kneading movements to mobilize soft tissue and stimulate blood flow. Releasing tightness and circulating fresh blood to the area can make a noticeable difference.
  • Joint mobilization — In this passive physical therapy technique, your PT will use their hands to exercise your shoulder joint. Joint mobilization can improve your range of motion and flexibility so you can move freely with less pain.
  • Instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) — Your PT may use a set of stainless steel ergonomic tools to get deep into connective tissue and break up stiffness. IASTM is a science-backed method used by many professional sports organizations. 
  • Therapeutic exercise — Your therapist can prescribe specific exercises to help strengthen your shoulder and normalize mechanics, which in turn will help reduce pain.

Get treatment for shoulder pain from sleeping at Advent PT

Pain from shoulder injuries and medical conditions is treatable in most cases. With some care and professional treatment, you may be able to reduce or eliminate your shoulder pain. Physical therapists have several different techniques at their disposal that most doctors don’t offer. If shoulder pain is getting in the way of your daily activities, don’t wait to seek treatment. Seeing a physical therapist now could make a big difference in the long term. 

Could physical therapy help with your shoulder pain? Schedule a free consultation with one of our PTs to find out if it’s right for you. We accept many major insurance plans, including Medicaid. 

If you’re ready to try physical therapy for your shoulder pain, call us or request an appointment today. You may start to notice less pain in as little as one visit.