Home » Self Care – Shoulder pain when sleeping on your side

Self Care – Shoulder pain when sleeping on your side

Self-Care includes
– Activities to avoid and change,
– Strategies for quick relief,
– Stretching for longer-lasting relief,
– Corrective Exercises, Yoga, and more…

Activities To Avoid or Change:

Change your sleeping position:

You can reduce shoulder pain from this rotator cuff muscle by changing your sleeping position.

This position is a problem. Once the shoulder pain becomes chronic, sleeping on your side aggravates it at night. If the painful shoulder is on the bottom, the arm gets pushed forward in the socket. This activates the trigger point and it hurts more. If it is the painful shoulder on top, draping the arm forward over-stretches the muscle. This also activates the trigger point and increases shoulder pain.

Start by sleeping on your side with the painful shoulder behind you. Give it at least 10 minutes before you change position. It will likely be uncomfortable at first, especially if you have a firm mattress. After a few minutes, the glenohumeral joint will shift and it’ll feel better.

A king-sized pillow along your torso makes this position more comfortable by taking the twist out of your neck. Changing positions to sleep on your back, after the shoulder shifts, usually works. Seeing your bodyworker to get this fixed means you won’t grow old with a gimpy shoulder.

Changing your sleeping position is important. I have worked on the shoulder of my gym partner off and on for a few years. He had quit complaining about it for some months so I asked how it was doing. He smiled and said that he started sleeping as I recommended and the arm quit bothering him.

For Temporary Relief:

Mid-sized IcyHot patches work well in the short term. Place one on the back of your shoulder, just under the shoulder blade. It should cover the center of the muscle shown in the picture. If you can, reach around and place it so that the top of the patch runs along the bony ridge of the scapula.

Avoid topical creams. They tend to stain pajamas and the smell wakes people in the night.

NOTE: The traditional recommendation is that you lay on the “good” side and support your upper arm with a pillow. This positions the painful shoulder so that it is not draped downward, stretching the muscle and activating the trigger point. This doesn’t fix the long term problem but is a good idea for temporary relief, especially with the topical patch.

These self-care activities, like over-the-counter drugs, are not intended to replace appropriate medical attention. If you have concerns about these self-care activities, get help from a professional. Use these suggestions and strategies with discretion and at your own risk. See your doctor when your pain is severe, persistent, or doesn’t respond to these simple suggestions.

Stretches and Exercises for Longer-Lasting Relief:

Stretching is more effective when it involves a full shoulder routine that helps to identify and resolve global problems in the shoulder instead of just addressing the local problem.

This is the standard stretch. It works in several variations. The most common is to use it in the shower with hot water on the back of the shoulder. Gentle repetitions using Active Isolated Stretching offers proven relief.

For more effective and longer-lasting relief:

Some people use a tennis ball or other object to press into the back of the shoulder-blade. Unless you get some guidance from your therapist, you could actually aggravate it more than you help it by doing that. That being said, here is the general idea:

You can lean into a tennis ball to gently compress the trigger points. People usually go to this approach when it is chronically aggravated and they need relief. Some people find it easier to position and control the ball by laying on the floor instead of standing. I don’t. I find that leaning into the wall gives me greater control of the pressure so that I don’t overwork the trigger point. Here are a few tips:

  • Be gentle. Aggressive pressure will aggravate the spot.
  • Limit your time. Prolonged work may also aggravate the muscle.
  • Stay on the shoulder blade. Rolling onto the back of the humerus can make this worse.
  • Don’t expect to completely release the trigger point. This point always seems to be tender when pressed, even on people without shoulder pain.
  • Soothe the shoulder by stretching under a hot shower, icing the shoulder, or using a vapo-coolant, like Icy-Hot.

Place the tennis ball in the center of the shoulder blade. Stay off the humeral head.

Gently apply pressure into the muscle. Don’t push too hard or roll around quickly.

I’d love your feedback
on how this works for you
and any suggestions you might have.
Email me at integrativeworks@gmail.com.

Yoga Corner

Does your Shoulder pinch when you are in the Threading the Needle pose? It usually means the humerus is a little forward in the socket. Laying in the sleep position shown above for 90-180 seconds usually shift the joint and eases the pain of this rotator cuff muscle in this pose. If not, go see your bodyworker.

This trigger point is perpetuated by a small problem in the position of the shoulder joint. Typically, it just gets worse over time. You should see a bodyworker that knows shoulder work. Most NMT therapists address this by working the rotator cuff tendons, especially subscapularis, which mobilizes the humeral head. Many people will let this problem linger for years and eventually get rotator cuff surgery when they could have addressed it earlier.

Other patterns that may better match your pain pattern…

Does another Self-Care post
better match your pain?

Here is the post about the trigger point pattern associated with these Self-Care activities.

Several patterns create shoulder pain while sleeping. You may also want to look at other patterns for shoulder pain

This site is undergoing changes. Starting in early 2020, we began changing the format of the posts to include more extensive self-care, illustrations, therapist notes, anatomy, and protocols. We appreciate your input and feedback. You will see us adding posts and updating older posts as time permits.

Weekly Featured Post

Is the pain from
degenerative discs or
trigger points in the muscle?

This post discusses the differences in pain from disc problems and pain from trigger points. Who should you see to help with your pain?

Tony Preston has a practice in Atlanta, Georgia where he sees clients. He has written and taught about anatomy, trigger points, and cranial therapies since the mid-90s.

Question? Comment? Typo?
(404) 226-1363

*This site is undergoing major changes. We are reformatting and expanding the posts to make it easier to read, more accessible, and
to include more patterns with better self-care. In the meanwhile, there will be inconsistency in formatting, content, and readability until we get the old posts updated. Please excuse our mess.


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