What is the best sleeping posture for shoulder pain?

Shoulder pain can be tough to shake off, and it can make getting a good night’s sleep impossible. Finding the right sleeping posture for shoulder pain can help you sleep soundly. Here are our tips to help you end the cycle of bad sleep and shoulder pain. 

What causes shoulder pain during sleep? 

There are a few factors that can cause or contribute to shoulder pain while sleeping, as well as things you can do at home to help, but it’s important not to self-diagnose. See a GP if the pain hasn’t improved after 2 weeks.

Sleeping on your side

Waking up with shoulder pain after a night of disturbed sleep day after day can be miserable, but it might be caused by something as simple as your sleeping position.

Sleeping on your side puts extra pressure on your shoulder, as your shoulder takes much of the weight of your upper body when you’re in this position. This can cause pain if you have an existing shoulder injury, or if your mattress is unsupportive or too firm. 

Sleeping on your front

Sleeping on your front means your neck is twisted to the side for long periods of time. This can leave you with pain in your neck and shoulder in the morning. 

Underlying shoulder conditions

Your sleeping position can lead to you waking up with shoulder pain, and it also can exacerbate pain from underlying shoulder conditions, such as these: 

  • Frozen shoulder: which causes long term pain and stiffness that can be worse at night. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can cause similar symptoms.
  • Impingement: a very common cause of shoulder pain, where a tendon inside your shoulder rubs on nearby bone or tissue when you move your arm. The pain is often worse when you are using your shoulder.
  • Tendonitis: which is when a tendon is injured and becomes inflamed. Bursitis can feel similar, but is caused by inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs that cushion your joints, causing joint pain and swelling.
  • Shoulder instability: causing a tingling or numb arm, sometimes due to hypermobility. Your shoulder may feel like it’s clicking or locking too. 

How to sleep with good posture

Sleeping in the correct sleeping posture for shoulder pain could help you get a better night’s sleep. Just like how standing up straight with your shoulders down is a recommended way to ease shoulder pain, a good sleeping posture can help to tackle pain too. 

Sleep on your back

Sleeping on your back is the most spine, neck and shoulder-friendly way to sleep. On a supportive mattress, sleeping on your back keeps your spine in a healthy neutral S-curve position. Your neck and shoulders are properly supported in this position too. 

When sleeping on your back, if you find that there’s a gap between the curve of your lower back and the mattress, your mattress may be too firm. This means your spine is probably not being correctly supported. Adding a pillow beneath your waist can help give you the right support. 

For a healthy neck and shoulder posture when sleeping on your back, a single head pillow is best. Too many pillows can force your chin towards your chest, putting strain on the back of your neck.

Use pillows for support

If you find that you just can’t sleep on your back, or you often fall asleep in a good position but wake up on your side, using pillows to adjust your shoulder and neck position can help. 

To keep your cervical spine (neck region) straight when sleeping on your side, use a pillow that is higher under your neck than your head. This should take some weight off your shoulder too. Sometimes called neck pillows, the best pillows for neck and shoulder pain help prevent your neck sinking down and straining your shoulder.

Consider the firmness of your mattress too. The best adjustable bed mattress for tackling hip and shoulder pain while sleeping is often a little softer, especially for side-sleepers. 

Other ways to prevent shoulder pain after sleeping

Some things that can cause or worsen shoulder pain are easy to overlook, but can have a big impact. Here are a few things to consider:

Get a diagnosis

If your shoulder pain is getting worse, or it’s lasted longer than two weeks, you should get it checked by your GP. They can identify the problem and give you an appropriate treatment plan to tackle your pain. Some causes of shoulder pain can be more serious. You might need to be seen more urgently if:

  • You have sudden or very bad shoulder pain
  • You can’t move your arm
  • You have severe pain in both shoulders
  • Your arm or shoulder has changed shape or is swollen
  • Your arm or shoulder are numb, or have pins and needles
  • Your arm or shoulder is hot or cold to touch
  • Your pain started after an injury 
  • You are feeling feverish or unwell

If you have any of these symptoms, call NHS 111 for help or go to an urgent treatment centre.

Stretch your shoulders out every morning

If you’re in pain, you may not feel like doing much. But not using your painful shoulder can stop it getting better. Here are a few gentle stretches you can do that can help:

  • Arm raise shoulder stretch: Clasp your hands together in front of you. Keeping your hands together, raise your arms above your head. Use your stronger side to help guide your painful arm and shoulder.
  • Finger walking shoulder stretch: Stand facing a wall, and put the hand of the affected shoulder on the wall in front of you. Using your fingers, walk your arm up the wall as high as you can. Come back to the starting position, and then repeat the process.

Improve your daytime posture

Your daytime posture can also contribute to neck and shoulder pain after waking up. If you work at a desk, make sure your sitting posture is healthy. You should sit up straight, with your thighs parallel to the floor. Hold your shoulders gently back, preventing them from rolling forwards. And if you spend a lot of time sitting down at home, a riser recliner chair can help to spare you from back pain and poor circulation by improving your sitting posture

Try an adjustable bed

Sleeping on your back is the best sleeping posture for shoulder pain when sleeping on a regular bed, but it can be hard to switch position if you have been a side or front sleeper for much of your life. 

Adjustable beds can help improve your posture while you sleep, holding you gently in a neutral spine posture no matter whether you sleep on your side, back or front. This also helps relieve key pressure points on your body when you’re lying down, such as your shoulders. 

Be cautious about sleeping in a chair

Many people with shoulder pain find sleeping in a chair more comfortable than a bed, because unlike in bed it’s very difficult to roll onto your side while you sleep. However, there are some drawbacks to sleeping in a chair, including poor sleep quality, circulation problems, leg and lower back pain.  An adjustable bed is a better alternative that lets you sleep in a comfortable and healthy position. 

Stop waking up with shoulder pain

Chronic poor sleep alone can cause muscular and joint pain, creating a vicious cycle. This means getting better sleep can help clear up any aches and pains. Tackle disturbed sleep and shoulder pain at the source with an adjustable bed that makes it easy to sleep comfortably. 

For any questions, please don’t hesitate to give us a call on 0800 689 9823 (9am-5pm Mon-Fri), or drop us a message. We can organise a home visit for you to trial any bed, as well as give you professional and reliable advice. Let’s help you find the adjustable bed you deserve!