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Shoulder Pain From Sleeping On Side

Can sleeping on your side cause shoulder pain?

Many people can experience shoulder pain when sleeping in a poor position. This can be for many reasons. Usually, shoulder pain when lying on the side is due to some type of muscular strain, inflammation or compression. However, in more rare circumstances, shoulder pain from sleeping on your side can be due to more serious medical concerns such as chronic pain or frozen shoulder. In this situation, please seek help from a medical professional.


Man laying in bed suffering with shoulder pain from sleeping

What are the symptoms of shoulder pain from sleeping on one side?

For most people, shoulder pain from sleeping on your side will cause a localised aching on tenderness in the affected shoulder. Sometimes this pain can worsen with movement, particularly when lifting your arm above your head.

Sometimes it may worsen with the application of pressure (such as lying down on that shoulder). In some cases, you may experience a weakness in the affected shoulder or arm.

I am experiencing shoulder pain when lying down 

If shoulder pain is only present at night, this might mean that something is going on with the structures of the shoulder, that doesn’t cause much aggravation until laid on. This might be bursitis, a swollen cushion of fluid in the shoulder which is compressed. It might also mean a rotator cuff injury, where a rotator cuff muscle is stretched, irritated and inflamed by the pressure of laying down. Alternatively, shoulder impingement may occur, where your rotator cuff muscles or tendons are pinched down in a smaller compressed bony tunnel of the shoulder.

What is the best sleeping position for shoulder pain?

In order to improve your position, you need to avoid positions that increase your shoulder pain. For example, if you sleep on your left shoulder, you will need to adopt a new position sleeping on your right shoulder, or on your back. Sometimes this can be difficult without switching which side of the bed you sleep in because most people tend to roll towards the outside or exposed edge of their bed.

Using a supportive pillow is extremely helpful to take the stress off your shoulder. Getting a pillow with the right height, density and neck support for your body will make a huge difference. Expert advice should be sought to help fit the pillow to your head, neck and shoulder correctly.

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How else can I avoid shoulder pain related to my sleeping position?

As previously mentioned, consciously changing your sleeping position will make a key difference in your shoulder pain when lying on your side; however, there are certain things you can do to prevent or treat this pain.

During the daytime, you will need to avoid aggravating of the affected shoulder as much as possible. This may mean avoiding repetitive movement of the arm of the shoulder. You may also want to lower the difficulty of certain movements, by reducing the weights lifted, or volume of work performed. Using aids like a wheelbarrow or trolley may be advised for heavy loads.

This is not to say you should only rest and do no work. Staying active is something that decreases body pain globally and boosts circulation.

If you suspect that you are tossing and turning in your sleep, aggravating your shoulder, you may want to improve your habits before sleep time. Avoiding screen time, alcohol and caffeine before bed may allow you to fall asleep faster, and settle into a restful state.

This video below can help improve your general range of motion shoulder.


In conclusion, if you are suffering from shoulder pain when sleeping on side, please enquire with Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy Australia, to see a shoulder physio in Brisbane to help with your shoulder pain. We can help make lifestyle corrections, fit your pillow perfectly and offer the right amount of exercise to help your shoulder heal and not overwork.

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