Treat Nighttime Shoulder Pain

Treat Nighttime Shoulder PainDiscover common causes of this common ailment and insights into how to treat nighttime shoulder pain for a positive prognosis. 


Do you ever feel like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders — literally?

Shoulder pain is a fairly common medical complaint, sometimes cropping up when you least expect it. Nagging shoulder pain can occur anytime during the day, but it tends to be most noticeable at night. If you’ve ever lost a good night’s sleep due to aching and discomfort in your shoulders, you know how frustrating it can be.

On a short-term basis, shoulder pain at night is annoying, for sure. But when your pain interferes with your sleep on a long-term basis, the effects can be far more serious. Getting a good night’s sleep is important for both your physical and your emotional health. Lack of sleep can cause lots of problems, like daytime drowsiness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and an increased risk of accidents. Chronic sleep problems are also a major cause of depression and anxiety. And when you don’t catch enough Zs, your risks of other illnesses and medical problems increase, too.

Nighttime Shoulder Pain: Causes

Nobody knows for sure why shoulder pain tends to be worse at night. Certainly, if you use your shoulders a lot during the day, it’s only natural for them to be sore when evening rolls around. But often, nighttime shoulder pain occurs even when our shoulders haven’t been subjected to unusual stresses and strains. So why is it happening?

One reason may be your sleeping position. As it turns out, we’re a nation of side-sleepers. According to the National Sleep Foundation, about 56 percent of us sleep on our sides, either stretched out or curled in a modified fetal position. That puts excess strain on our shoulders. And if you’ve already got shoulder pain going on, it’s no surprise a side-sleeping position can wind up causing shoulder pain at night.

Even if you don’t sleep on your side, your horizontal position could still be partly to blame. During the day when you’re sitting or standing, gravity helps expand the shoulder joint, relieving pressure on irritated and inflamed tissues in and around the joint. When you lie down, the joint compresses to some degree, increasing irritation and pain. Lying flat also reduces the support for your neck and shoulders, increasing strain on muscles and tendons. And when the muscles in your shoulders relax, they’re not working to keep the ball part of the joint centered in the socket. That means the joint tends to drift out of its supported position, causing more pain.

Those are some possible reasons why your shoulder pain is worse at night. The question is, what can you do to relieve shoulder pain when you’re trying to sleep? Fortunately, you have some options.

How to Relieve Shoulder Pain at Night

Since sleeping position is probably the biggest culprit in nighttime shoulder pain, the first step is to try a new position. If you’re a side sleeper, try rolling toward your back or sleep on your other side. You can also use pillows to support your arms and neck. Sometimes, hugging a pillow helps your shoulder joint stay more stable and centered. If you sleep on your back, pillows under your neck and lower back can help relieve muscle strain.

Next step: Take a look at your mattress and your pillows. If they’re old, worn, hard, lumpy, or just plain unsupportive, investing in a new pillow or mattress could be money well spent. If you don’t want to buy a new mattress, a memory foam topper can be a good alternative.

You can also try a few tricks before turning in to help relax your shoulders and prevent painful symptoms. Taking a very warm shower relaxes stiff muscles and reduces irritation by promoting circulation in your shoulders and upper back.

Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen are designed to treat pain as well as inflammation, a common contributor to shoulder pain at night. And finally, doing a few simple neck bends and arm stretches are effective at loosening muscle knots before you turn in.

If these tips don’t bring shoulder pain relief, the next step is to see Dr. Van Thiel. While some shoulder pain can be caused by acute stress or strain, other symptoms may be caused by a more serious medical issue, like arthritis, impingement or capsulitis (also called frozen shoulder). Dr. Van Thiel uses advanced techniques to target those issues and resolve them, so you can get a good night’s sleep again.

Best Treatment for Neck and Shoulder Pain

When it comes to treating shoulder and neck pain, it’d be great if there were one, simple solution for everyone. But the fact is, the causes of shoulder pain vary from one person to another. And that means the treatment has to vary as well. Dr. Geoffrey Van Thiel is skilled in diagnosing and treating nighttime shoulder pain in patients of all ages. As a top orthopedist in Rockford, he’ll work with you to provide effective, personalized care that’s focused on your comfort and your health.

Don’t let nighttime shoulder pain interfere with a good night’s sleep. Get the right treatment for your shoulder pain by scheduling an office visit with Dr. Van Thiel today.


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