September 8, 2022

How To Sleep With Shoulder Pain

According to recent clinical studies, nearly 26 percent of adults in the United States suffer from shoulder pain. While most people experience symptoms during the day, sleeping with a high level of discomfort can be just as bothersome.

In this article, you will learn how to sleep with shoulder pain. You will also discover the underlying conditions causing your discomfort and how to prevent them from keeping you up at night.

5 Potential Reasons for Shoulder Pain While Sleeping

1. Osteoarthritis

The shoulder, or the rotator cuff, is a ball and socket joint that contains cartilage between the bones to provide vital shock absorption. Osteoarthritis is the breakdown of this tissue and exposes the bone to deterioration.

Although age is a primary cause, injuries, such as falls, can also speed up the breakdown of cartilage in the shoulder, accelerating the onset of the condition.

Common symptoms of shoulder osteoarthritis include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Impaired joint mobility
  • Crackling sounds during movement

The good news is that many effective treatments are available to manage osteoarthritis, such as:

  • Hot and cold therapies
  • Over-the-counter — OTC — medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen
  • Analgesic creams such as menthol and capsaicin
  • Physical therapy
  • Corticosteroid injections

Surgical interventions are typically recommended if all of these other therapies fail to bring lasting relief of symptoms.

2. Bursitis

Deep within various parts of the shoulder lie the bursae. Each one consists of a small sac containing fluid to help cushion the bones, tendons, and muscles around the joint.

Bursitis is a condition where one or more bursae become inflamed. When this happens, movement of the shoulder becomes painful and restricted.

The most common cause of shoulder bursitis is repetitive motion injuries. The movement of tendons and muscles over inflamed bursae leads to increased inflammation. As a result, the problem often becomes worse over time.

Here are some of the symptoms of shoulder bursitis:

  • Painful movement
  • Feeling of swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty reaching overhead
  • Painful to sleep on the affected side

Recommendations for treating bursitis at home:

  • Rest the affected shoulder
  • Use ice to reduce inflammation
  • Reduce pain and swelling with OTC medications

Steroid injections may help reduce symptoms temporarily. However, in extreme cases, your provider may recommend surgery.

3. Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is a condition that disrupts normal movement of the upper arm. It typically affects people between the ages of 40 and 60, with women more likely to report it.

While it is unclear what causes a frozen shoulder, it usually happens after an injury or prolonged inactivity brought on by chronic pain. Connective tissues around the joint capsule stiffen and contract, resulting in a decreased range of motion.

Treatment options are often limited to:

  • Heat and cold therapies
  • OTC pain relievers
  • Physical therapy

You may undergo an MRI to determine if you have an underlying condition such as arthritis, dislocation, or a rotator cuff tear. In these cases, surgery may be necessary to correct the problem.

4. Impingement Syndrome

Shoulder impingement syndrome is a set of symptoms involved with dysfunction of the rotator cuff. The most common ones are:

  • Dull, lingering pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Limited movement of the affected shoulder
  • Grinding or popping during activity

Causes of shoulder impingement include:

  • Bone spurs
  • Inflammation of the tendons — tendonitis
  • Inflammation of the bursa — bursitis
  • Improper positioning of bones in the shoulder joint over time

To diagnose the condition, your provider will elevate your arm to reproduce your pain during movement. However, you may also have to undergo an ultrasound or MRI to help further pinpoint the problem.

Of all the possible shoulder complications you could experience, impingement syndrome is the most likely to cause pain while sleeping. This is because it tends to remain constant even while at rest.

Possible treatments include OTC non-steroidal anti-inflammatories — NSAIDs — and physical therapy. However, surgery is sometimes necessary if structural changes in the shoulder joint have occurred.

5. Shoulder Injury

Your shoulder joint contains bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. If any of these vital structures become injured, it could cause pain while sleeping.

There are two general types of shoulder injuries: acute and chronic.

Acute injuries, such as falling or suddenly lifting something heavy overhead, are often accompanied by a sharp, shooting pain. It usually lasts only a short time, or at least until the stimulus causing it has been removed.

In contrast, chronic shoulder pain can last for several years. It often feels like a dull aching during activity or at rest. Common ailments associated with chronic shoulder pain are:

  • Arthritis
  • Repetitive work-related injuries
  • Excessive sports participation
  • Tendonitis

Treatment for acute shoulder injuries is rest, ice, or sometimes compression. However, if pain and swelling persist, it is crucial to seek medical help immediately.

For chronic injuries to the shoulder, it is necessary to utilize several treatment methods, including:

  • Analgesic creams
  • OTC pain relievers
  • Heat and cold
  • Physical therapy
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Surgery in extreme cases

Your doctor or physical therapist may also prescribe home exercises to increase range of motion and strengthen the muscles around the shoulder.

Does Sleeping On Your Side Cause Shoulder Pain?

Adults typically need between seven to nine hours of sleep each night. However, if you mostly sleep on the same side on one shoulder, then it might hurt or feel stiff when you wake up in the morning.

While you sleep, your brain shuts off vital protective feedback and control of your shoulder muscles. This puts undue pressure on the rotator cuff, which often leads to pain.

Best Ways to Sleep With Shoulder Pain

You may struggle to get a good night’s rest with shoulder pain or sore shoulders. However, you can decrease the pain in your shoulder simply by changing your sleeping position at night. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Avoid sleeping on one side. Instead, try lying on your back to help relieve pressure on the affected shoulder.
  2. Use specialized pillows. Your provider can help you choose a pillow that will help take the load off your shoulders.
  3. Sleep on your stomach. Sleeping in the prone position will naturally roll your shoulders forward and take the weight off them, including possible shoulder blade pain.
  4. Sleep with your arms at your side. Avoid raising your arm over your head while lying down. This position can result in too much stress on the sore shoulder.
  5. Change sides. If you must sleep on your side, try switching to the one that isn’t causing you pain. For example, when trying to decide how to sleep with left side shoulder pain, simply switch to the right side.

Preventing Shoulder Pain While Sleeping

What you do during your waking hours can affect how well you sleep. Here are some steps you can take during the day to reduce shoulder pain at night:

  1. Schedule regular check-ups. During routine visits to your health care provider, you should discuss any shoulder pain you are experiencing. This will help prevent most problems from becoming worse.
  2. Keep moving. Regular, moderate exercise can help keep your shoulders flexible and strong.
  3. Don’t overdo it. While participating in work and sports activities, it is crucial to take a break now and then.
  4. Find a lifting partner. Never try to lift heavy objects by yourself. Instead, get help from a friend or co-worker.

When To Seek Medical Advice

While you probably could live with shoulder pain for a short time, at some point, you may want to schedule an appointment with your provider. Here are some signs where that may be necessary:

  1. Losing too much sleep. If you find yourself becoming increasingly irritable from lack of sleep due to shoulder pain, it may be time to schedule a visit.
  2. Acute injury. If you experience an injury at work or while engaged in physical activity, don’t hesitate to seek medical help.
  3. Sudden swelling of the shoulder. This could be a sign of a serious condition that needs immediate attention.
  4. Popping or crackling sounds. If your shoulder starts making unusual noises while moving your arm, this could signal a new problem that has developed.
  5. Strange-looking position. If you look in the mirror and notice your shoulder severely elevated or forward, it could indicate a problem that needs medical attention.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you now have some idea about how to sleep comfortably with shoulder pain, how to sleep with pain on both sides, and how to relieve shoulder pain from sleeping. Still, the longer you live with it, the more likely it will become too much to handle.

If you experience shoulder pain while sleeping, it is best to talk with a healthcare provider sooner than later. Feel free to contact your local doctor’s office to make an appointment before your symptoms worsen.

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Posted in: Pain Management, Sleep