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How to Sleep With Shoulder Pain + 5 Tips to Sleep Better According to a Physical Therapist

Updated: May 12, 2023

Sleeping with shoulder pain can feel impossible, but there are positions that can help. Read this blog to find out how you can sleep better tonight.

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Sleeping with an injury can be quite difficult. Falling asleep with a shoulder injury is even harder, as you tend to put pressure on the shoulder and upper back regardless of your sleeping position.

Still, it is possible to get good sleep and allow your shoulder to heal. Here's how you can deal with nighttime shoulder pain, heal your affected shoulder, and get the sleep you need.

How to Sleep With Shoulder Pain

The best way to sleep with shoulder pain will depend on your unique injury. The site of your injury, whether it's in the rotator cuff muscles or shoulder blade, will determine what side you can sleep on.

With that said, it is generally best to sleep on your back when you have shoulder pain. Sleeping on your back can help reduce pain because it takes direct pressure off of your shoulders. Be sure to support your shoulders by sliding a small pillow under each arm.

Side sleepers - you're not out of luck. You may still choose a side sleeping position. Be sure to only sleep on the opposite shoulder (unaffected side) and stack a couple of pillows in front of you as well as a flat pillow under the arm on your affected side. This keeps the arm upright and supports your affected shoulder joint.

Sleeping on your stomach is a bad position for healing shoulder pain. If this is your sleeping position of choice, you'll need to find a new way to fall asleep.

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*Are you looking for something to effectively relieve muscle pain? Try the Theragun Prime massage gun!

Dr. Dawn's Favorite Tools for Shoulder Pain:

5 Tips to Sleep Better Now

1) Choose Your Pillow Wisely

If you wake up with shoulder or neck pain, you're likely sleeping with a lackluster pillow. Be sure to choose a pillow that's firm enough to provide support. A memory foam pillow can typically provide the right support to minimize pressure on your upper body regardless of sleep position. The pillow should also be the right width to fill the space between your head and the bed - about the width of your shoulder.

2) Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

By practicing good sleep hygiene, you address many of the issues that can cause poor sleep. Sleep hygiene simply means having healthy sleep habits. [*] This includes:

  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time daily

  • Using your bed only for sleep and sex

  • Avoiding the use of screens close to bedtime

  • Keeping your bedroom dark, cool, and comfortable

  • Avoiding naps or caffeine if they keep you awake at night

*The Ossur Cold Rush Therapy Machine is one of the most portable and compact options, making it one of the best cold therapy machines.

3) Consider Hot/Cold Therapy

You can improve an inflammatory condition like frozen shoulder or shoulder bursitis by using cold therapy, such as an ice pack. Cold therapy is best for acute shoulder pain and inflammation.

Meanwhile, you can use heat for more chronic shoulder pain and muscular aches that keep you awake at night. However, be careful to limit your exposure to extreme heat or cold and avoid falling asleep while using these therapies.

4) Be Mindful of Posture and Activities During the Day

Ultimately, you'll need to treat the source of the pain. Try to be mindful of any activities that are affecting your shoulder during the day, like repetitive activities at work. New habits may also be the culprit, like a new workout routine or a new job that requires you to lift something heavy or lift something overhead. Avoid these tasks while your shoulder is healing, if possible, and use the correct posture when you do perform them.

A physical therapist can provide a personalized plan for your unique situation. Whether you're dealing with night pain, problems with the rotator cuff tendons, frozen shoulder, shoulder impingement, or different shoulder conditions, they can give you specific advice, including gentle stretches, to help get rid of the pain and heal the shoulder. They can also provide information about the best sleeping position for your injury.

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*Relieve your shoulder pain with this Sombra Warm Therapy Gel that contains warming and cooling ingredients.

When to See an MD for Shoulder Pain

If you're experiencing dull or inconsistent pain, you can likely wait a week or two to see if the pain subsides. Just be sure to take it easy and avoid using that shoulder as much as possible, as well as adjust your sleeping position accordingly.

If you're experiencing pain that is sharp and stabbing, see your doctor as soon as possible to address the root cause. You may also notice swelling, redness, warmth, and tenderness around your shoulder joint - these are all indicators that you should see a doctor. You should also schedule an office visit if you're experiencing pain when reaching across the body, overhead, or backward. [*]

It's important to note that some shoulder injuries require immediate attention. If you're experiencing intense pain, sudden swelling, deformed joints, an inability to use the joint, or an inability to move the arm away from the body, head to the emergency room or urgent care.

When you do see your doctor, be sure to come prepared with questions and take notes that you can reference later. You can use my specialist notes page and ask the following:

  • What movements do I need to avoid?

  • How soon can I resume regular activity?

  • Do I need to wear a brace to immobilize my shoulder?

  • Can you refer me to a physical therapist?

Getting to sleep when your shoulder hurts is no small feat. Finding a comfortable position that can prevent shoulder pain, protect the shoulder muscles, and support the upper back takes some trial and error, but it is possible.

*Release muscle tension using these Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls. They help increase range of motion and mobility!

Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site, including text, graphics, images, and other material, is provided solely for informational purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your specific condition.

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