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Do You Have Shoulder Pain After Sleeping?

Sleep Science · 02/19/19

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Do you have shoulder pain after sleeping?

Waking up with shoulder pain is a bad way to start your day. When the pain does not get better within a few days, radiates down the arm, the shoulder area or the arm feels weaker, it may be time to visit the doctor. Let’s take a closer look at the shoulder and why you may be feeling that pain.


A Brief Anatomy Lesson

The shoulder is a major ball and socket joint. It is also of the most mobile joints of the body. As such, joint stability is sometimes compromised. The head of the humerus is larger than its accompanying socket. The surrounding tendons, ligaments, and muscles help anchor the bones of the joint. Typically, injuries may occur from overuse, degenerative causes, or falls.

The shoulder is made up of 3 bony components:

  • Clavicle or collarbone
  • Scapula or shoulder blade
  • Humerus or upper arm bone

shoulder pain after sleeping

The shoulder joint also includes ligaments, tendons, and muscles. The ligaments, muscles, and tendons that stabilize our shoulder are known as the ‘Rotator Cuff’, as they form a ‘cuff’ around the humerus. Specifically, the shoulder muscles which are called the teres minor, subscapularis, supraspinatus, and infraspinatus.

Shoulder pain can make very simple tasks painful. Changing position while in bed can become impossible. Many conditions can cause shoulder pain after sleeping. These include poor sleep hygiene to improper sleeping positions. Stress and anxiety can lead to tension in the muscles around the back, neck, and shoulder area. Rotator cuff issues and some medical conditions that are not related to the shoulder at all.

For instance, the gallbladder – which is a small sac-shaped organ located beneath the liver – can cause such issues. After the liver secretes bile, it is stored in the gall bladder. However, there are times that the gallbladder becomes inflamed. The resulting pain can be felt between the shoulder blades.

shoulder pain after sleeping

Typical Reasons For Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain as a result of trauma is not unusual due to the reduction of joint stability. Here are some of the more common shoulder ailments.

  • Rotator Cuff Tendinitis (tendonitis): The rotator cuff tendons are inflamed or irritated. This is an acute condition.
  • Rotator Cuff Tendinosis: Rotator cuff tendinosis is a chronic or recurring condition caused by repetitive wear and tear (degeneration) of the rotator cuff tendons.
  • Torn Rotator Cuff: This rotator cuff injury occurs when one of the shoulder muscles or tendons of the rotator cuff become torn. The tear can be partial or complete. Rotator cuff tears can occur as a result of shoulder injuries or degeneration.
  • Shoulder Impingement: Impingement occurs when the rotator cuff rubs against the part of the shoulder blade called the acromion. The bursa (or space) between the rotator cuff and acromion narrows when you lift your arm. This can lead to impingement as blood flow is reduced and the tendons can start to fray. Sometimes Impingement Syndrome requires surgery to ease the pain and improve mobility. Surgery can also reduce damage to the tendons.
  • Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis): Adhesive capsulitis is very painful and disabling. It occurs when the connective tissue around the glenohumeral joint becomes inflamed and stiff. This greatly restricts movement as even gentle bumping can result in extreme pain and cramping.  The cause is not known.
  • Shoulder Bursitis: This is an inflammation of the bursa or space between the acromion part of the shoulder blade and humerus.
  • Shoulder Arthritis or Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis involves the “wear and tear” of the entire joint including the bone, ligaments, cartilage, as well as the joint lining.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes pain and inflammation.
  • Bone Spurs: A bone spur is a bony growth that forms on normal bone. Sometimes, these require arthroscopic surgery. During this surgery, the doctor will make a series of small incisions to remove bits of extra bone. They are can be caused by localized inflammation process such as with osteoarthritis.
  • Shoulder Separation: This injury involves the separation at the AC joint (acromion-clavicle joint). It typically occurs as a result of trauma.


Treatments For Shoulder Pain After Sleeping

Shoulder pain treatments depend upon the origin of the pain. For simple strains or sprains, rest and intermittent icing may be in order. On the other hand, for an acute fracture or severe degenerative arthritis, shoulder replacement surgery may be required. Chiropractic care and physical therapy are often effective for both acute and chronic pain. Sometimes, injections that include pain reliever and steroids are also of value for stiffness and joint pain.

shoulder pain after sleeping


The Importance of Sleep Position

A poor sleep position is another cause of shoulder pain after sleeping. Sleeping without your spine in a neutral position can put excess pressure on your cervical spine as well as on your neck and shoulder muscles. Many people who suffer from sleep apnea sleep on their left side so that their tongue does not fall back blocking air flow. However, this can cause left shoulder pain as well as numbness and tingling if a “pinched nerve” results.

A poor mattress can also contribute to shoulder pain due to the incorrect positioning head, neck, and back. A too firm mattress will not contour to our body. A sagging mattress may not provide enough support for the back and shoulders. Many people who suffer from joint pain find a memory foam mattress to be of benefit as this provide body contouring around the bones and joints but is firm enough to provide proper support.

shoulder pain after sleeping

Pillows can also affect body alignment. Too many or overstuffed pillows can cause back and shoulder pain. Pillows come in a wide variety of materials such as foam, memory foam, feathers, and fiberfill. They also come in many shapes and sizes depending on whether you want them for your under your head, under your knees, or as back support.

Shoulder pain can also be triggered by your sleep position. For instance, sleeping on the stomach does not keep the spine in a neutral position which adds stress to the muscles surrounding the spine. Side sleeping, on the other hand, can put undue pressure on the shoulder. While sleeping on your back with a pillow beneath the knees can maintain proper spinal alignment.

If you experience shoulder pain after sleeping, and you have not had a recent injury, you may first want first to try changing your sleeping position. If the shoulder pain continues after a few days or worsens despite trying rest, over-the-counter pain relievers and icing, you may want to visit your health care provider to determine the source of the pain and best treatment plan.

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