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How to Manage Shoulder Pain After Sleeping

Sleeping on your side or on an unsupportive mattress can cause shoulder pain. However, it’s also often a sign of an underlying issue. The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body, making it vulnerable to issues like overuse or injury.

Have your shoulder evaluated to rule out issues and pinpoint the exact cause. Orthopedic shoulder and sports medicine surgeon Matthew Pifer, MD, located in Santa Barbara, California, specializes in providing effective solutions for shoulder pain, including cortisone injections, regenerative therapies, and minimally invasive surgery when appropriate. 

Why does sleeping cause shoulder pain?

Sleep position can contribute to shoulder pain. That is especially true if you sleep on a mattress that is too firm and doesn’t provide pressure relief. If you sleep on your side, the pressure on the shoulder may cause pain in the morning.

In many cases, waking up with shoulder pain is a sign of an underlying issue that sleeping on your side exacerbates. The following are some conditions that can cause shoulder pain: 

Rotator cuff irritation

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that keep your shoulder in its socket. Irritation or a tear in any of the components can make the shoulder more sensitive to pressure and increase the likelihood of shoulder pain after sleeping on your side. 

Shoulder bursitis

Shoulder bursitis is another issue that can lead to shoulder pain after sleeping on your side. Bursae are fluid-filled sacs that cushion the tissues around joints. With shoulder bursitis, the bursae of the shoulder become inflamed. 

While bursitis can develop anywhere, the shoulder is a common area. 


Shoulder osteoarthritis is when the shoulder’s cartilage breaks down. Age or previous shoulder injuries increase the risk of shoulder osteoarthritis. Symptoms may include reduced range of motion or stiffness and pain that often worsens with movement. 

Shoulder impingement

Shoulder impingement occurs when the tissues around the rotator cuff rub or grind against nearby tissue or bones. Tendinitis, bursitis, and bone spurs can cause shoulder impingement. Because shoulder impingement usually causes pain in the outer part of the shoulder, it can cause pain after sleeping.

Easing shoulder pain after sleeping

If you wake up with shoulder pain, there are things you can do to get relief. Starting with a gentle shoulder stretch can ease tension and get blood moving. A warm cloth can reduce inflammation, while a cold pack reduces swelling.

Preventing morning shoulder pain

Adjusting how you sleep can prevent shoulder pain, but it’s important to address the underlying issue. If your mattress is supportive, changing your sleeping position can provide relief. 

If your shoulder pain worsens or recurs, it's time to see an orthopedic physician. Dr. Pifer can perform a comprehensive evaluation to determine the underlying issue, checking for injuries to the rotator cuff, arthritis, or other conditions. Treatment depends on the cause, but rest assured, Dr. Pifer has extensive experience evaluating, diagnosing, and treating shoulder pain.

Schedule a visit today to get answers and effective treatment options. Call our Santa Barbara, California, office to book a visit.

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