Understanding and managing night time shoulder pain

Understanding and Managing Night-time Shoulder Pain

Night-time shoulder pain can indicate various shoulder conditions, ranging from mild to severe. This discomfort can disturb your sleep, impacting your overall health and well-being.

This guide provides clear information on the causes of night-time shoulder pain, management strategies, and when to seek help from a specialist.

Common Causes of Night-time Shoulder Pain

Identifying the root cause of your shoulder pain is crucial for effective treatment. Here are some common conditions that might be responsible:

1. Shoulder Impingement:

– Occurs when the rotator cuff tendons and bursa are compressed between the shoulder blade and the upper arm bone.

– Symptoms: Pain on the side of the shoulder, especially when raising the arm, and significant pain at night.

– Common in people who frequently engage in overhead activities like throwing, lifting, or manual labour (e.g., carpenters, painters).

2. Bursitis:

– Inflammation of the bursa, often due to repetitive motions or overuse.

– Symptoms: Pain, tenderness, swelling on the side/front of the shoulder, warmth, pinching or stiffness, especially when lifting or lowering the arm.

– Night-time pain, particularly when lying on the affected side.

3. Tendon Damage (Tendinopathy or Tendinitis) and Rotator Cuff Tears:

– Damage or tears to the tendons around the rotator cuff, often from wear and tear, sports injuries, or sudden movements.

– Symptoms: Pain when reaching overhead or lifting the arm, aching pain at night, especially when lying on the affected side.

4. Shoulder Arthritis:

– Degeneration of tendons and cartilage in the shoulder joint, common with aging.

– Symptoms: Pain, stiffness, weakness, difficulty performing daily activities, and significant night-time pain.

Why Does Shoulder Pain Worsen at Night?

Several factors can intensify shoulder pain at night:

– Sleeping Position: Side sleeping can compress inflamed shoulder structures, increasing pain.

– Reduction in Blood Flow: Decreased blood flow during stillness can lead to discomfort in an injured shoulder.

– Muscle Stiffness: Prolonged inactivity while sleeping can cause muscles to stiffen, resulting in pain.

Tips for Sleeping with Shoulder Pain

Maintaining good sleep posture is essential. Here are some tips:

Back Sleeping: Use a pillow under your head and another under the affected arm for support.

– Side Sleeping: Place a pillow between your knees and another to support your upper arm, keeping the shoulder in a neutral position.

– Avoid Stomach Sleeping: This position can strain your neck and back and worsen shoulder pain.

At-Home Exercises for Night-time Shoulder Pain

Simple exercises can help reduce shoulder pain and improve mobility. Always consult a medical professional before starting any exercise routine. Here are a few exercises to try:

1. Wall Climbs:

– Stand facing a wall with your fingertips touching it.

– Walk your fingers up the wall as high as possible, then back down. Feel a gentle stretch in your shoulder.

2. Pendulum Swings:

– Lean forward slightly, supporting yourself with your non-injured arm on a table or chair.

– Let your injured arm hang and swing it in small circles, gradually increasing the size if it’s not too painful.


3. Prone Retractions:

– Lye on your stomach, and roll your shoulder back gentle

– Lift your palms off the floor hold for a few seconds, then release.

When to Seek Treatment

Conservative treatments like rest and home remedies can manage some shoulder pain, but severe cases require professional care. Consider seeing a shoulder specialist if:

– The pain persists or worsens over time.

– It prevents you from sleeping or performing daily activities.

– There is swelling, redness, or a noticeable change in the shoulder’s appearance.

– You experience weakness or loss of function in your arm.

Taking Action to Relieve Shoulder Pain

Night-time shoulder pain should not be ignored. If your pain is persistent or worsening, consult a shoulder specialist to identify the cause and start a treatment plan. A specialist physiotherapist can diagnose conditions such as bursitis, arthritis, and shoulder impingement, and help you take steps toward reducing your pain and getting a good night’s sleep.

Addressing shoulder pain promptly ensures you maintain your health and well-being, allowing you to return to your daily activities and enjoy restful sleep.


Andrew Ilieff - BeFit Training Physio Double Bay

Andrew Ilieff - BeFit Training Physio Double Bay

Andrew Ilieff is a physiotherapist based in Double Bay, Sydney. Andrew has successfully treated musculoskeletal problems and sports injuries on the basis of a thorough assessment and diagnosis coupled with evidence-based rehabilitation programs tailored to the needs and goals of each individual. Andrew specialises in lower back rehab, sports injuries and is a leading authority on Strength and Conditioning for Physiotherapists as the co-author of the University Of Technology Sydney Strength and Conditioning for Physiotherapists and casual academic lecturer. To book a consultation, click the link below.

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