Best Sleeping Position for Shoulder Pain

Do you find yourself waking up to aching muscles every single day?

Are you wondering about the best sleeping position for shoulder pain?

Let's explore the different steps you can do to relieve shoulder pain before sleeping at night and waking up in the morning.

What Are the Different Causes of Shoulder Pain?

Shoulders are a part of your body that you can easily overlook and take for granted even if you use them every day.

If there’s one thing, though, that can force you to appreciate it, that would be pain.

Shoulder pain can either develop gradually or happen suddenly overnight.

It can range from mild to excruciating, but in the end, it will always prove to be an inconvenience.

Different things can cause shoulder pain: arthritis, injury, and aging are just some of the most common culprits.

It can even be a manifestation of a condition developing from another part of the body.

Unfortunately, according to Harvard Health, it is not always possible to determine the cause of shoulder pain.

Hence, it would still be best to consult a medical professional for a more thorough diagnosis and treatment.

However, this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing you can do to alleviate the pain.

For instance, there are shoulder exercises that you can perform for some relief.

Apparently, physical activity can help in managing shoulder pain.

It is probably why shoulder pain is more apparent before bedtime and upon waking up.

That means the hours when we are more at rest rather than at work.

Why Is Shoulder Pain Worse at Night?

According to the Orthopedic Associates of Central Maryland, three conditions can cause shoulder pain to worsen at night.


It is a condition caused by the inflammation of the bursa, which is the pad that cushions the joints, particularly in your shoulders.

Bursitis could lead to a lot of swelling that can get aggravated when you’re lying down.


Tendons can suffer from inflammation as well. Unfortunately, a decrease in blood flow can worsen the swelling.

It can usually happen due to the gravitational effect on our bloodstream when we’re lying down.

Rotator Cuff Injuries

Rotator cuffs are the muscles and tendons that hold your upper arms and shoulder blades together.

Injuring this part of the body is fairly common.

These injuries can be caused by something as simple as forcibly lifting a heavy object or something as serious as a vehicular accident.

Sadly, due to its physical location, it can also be easy to apply pressure to it accidentally when we’re lying down.

Best Sleeping Position for Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain hinders your sleep, but the worst thing about it is that the lack of sleep can further lower our pain tolerance and make everything hurt even more.

Hence, it really is imperative to get a decent sleep.

The best sleeping position for shoulder pain will depend on two factors: your original sleeping position and the location of the injury.

We can provide you tips on how to make minimal adjustments to hopefully help mitigate the pain and improve the quality of your sleep.

To serve the main objectives of this article, we'll divide our tips according to the three common sleeping positions: on your back, side, and stomach.

Shoulder Pain Relief for Back Sleepers

Back sleeping is actually ideal for shoulder pain, especially when compared to side sleeping.

It is also easier to support your shoulders this way.

First of all, you would want to get a proper pillow that supports your neck and spine alignment.

It will lessen the burden that your shoulders would need to make to support your body.

Speaking of support, we also recommend giving your affected arm its own pillow to lift it slightly and minimize the strain on your shoulder muscles and joints.

Doing so will also prevent you from accidentally rolling to that side in deep sleep if you are prone to shifting sleeping positions.

Shoulder Pain Relief for Side Sleepers

Side sleepers must sleep on their non-painful side. Again, the right pillow is essential to support your spine and prevent further muscle strain.

We highly recommend placing another pillow or a rolled towel behind your back to prevent you from rolling to the other side.

We also find it more comfortable to hug a pillow while sleeping.

It will help support your painful shoulder and prevent it from slumping forward.

It will also keep it more stable throughout the night.

Shoulder Pain Relief for Stomach Sleepers

Shoulder Pain Relief for Stomach Sleepers, woman sleeping soundly on stomach

Stomach sleeping is the worst position for shoulder pain.

Unfortunately, the best thing that you can do about it is to change the way you sleep.

We know how difficult it can be to train your body and switch the sleeping position you’ve been used to all your life.

You can seek the help of a sleep expert to help you out.

In the meantime, you can apply the same tip we’ve mentioned above.

Place pillows strategically to prevent yourself from rolling over to your stomach while you’re sleeping.

Tips To Further Minimize Shoulder Pain

Aside from the tips we’ve shared above, here are more ways to minimize shoulder pain:


Harvard Health suggests regular shoulder stretches to keep your muscles flexible and mobile.

It’s only natural to avoid moving any part of your body when it’s throbbing and painful.

However, that’s not always beneficial, especially when it comes to shoulders.

Instead, you want to improve and continue its mobility and function through simple and careful exercises.

Just a quick disclaimer, though. Stop any exercise immediately when you’ve noticed that it’s worsening your pain rather than improving it.

It is also wise to consult your doctor or physical therapist to refine your form and stretching routines for added efficiency.

We have no way to determine your specific case. Shoulder pain may vary from person to person.

Please keep this in mind, even before attempting our other tips below.


Massage to minimize shoulder pain, woman getting massage

Massage therapy is another effective step to relieve shoulder pain.

A study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science that included 635 participants concluded that the positive effects are immediate and long-term.

Cold Compress

Cooling can instantly provide numbing relief for throbbing pain. It is also known to reduce swelling.

In fact, one study concluded that it is a great alternative intervention compared to no treatment at all. It’s easy to perform a cold compress.

Just apply an ice pack over the affected area for 20 minutes. You can do this as frequently as five times a day.

Hot Compress

Heat can provide relief, but John Hopkins Medicine doesn’t recommend this method during the first 48 hours after the injury or after the pain manifested.

It is ideal for reducing stiffness and spasms. You can perform a hot compress with a warm towel or a heating pad.

Just make sure that your heating pad will not come in direct contact with your skin to prevent burns.

Pain Medication

There are medications that you can take to relieve pain and inflammation.

There are also pain-relief creams or gels that you can apply topically to the affected area.

We highly recommend consulting your doctor, though, as there are pain medications with certain side effects, especially if you’re already taking prescription meds for other health concerns.

Activity Adjustment

Analyze the root cause of your shoulder pain. Was it an injury caused by a certain activity or sport?

Can you do something to modify your practices and ensure that it won’t happen again?

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy for shoulder pain at night, woman getting physical therapy session for her shoulder

Finally, you can also undergo professional physical therapy.

Your therapist can provide even further tips focused on your specific case.

To Sum Up

Shoulder pain can be really detrimental to one’s quality of life. It can hinder your mobility and can cause trouble sleeping.

Fortunately, there are ways to manage and alleviate the pain.

You can use pillows to support your shoulder at night, depending on your sleeping position.

Unfortunately for stomach sleepers, you would probably need to switch to either back or side sleeping to prevent worsening their condition.

Consulting a sleep expert can help make the transition easier.

Finally, there are also other steps that you can try for both instant and long-term relief.

Massages, shoulder exercises, and pain medication are just some of the tips we’ve shared above.