How can side sleepers prevent shoulder pain?

Side sleeper shoulder pain

Three quarters of adults sleep on their side, but this doesn’t mean the position is perfect. It does have a few downsides, and the most common one is side sleeper shoulder pain.

If waking up with stiff and achy shoulders doesn’t seem like a great part of your daily routine, read on. Below are some of the most effective tips on preventing shoulder pain, so that you can sleep peacefully.

Why does shoulder pain occur at night?

The shoulder is a complex joint. It consists of a shoulder blade (scapula), humerus, and a lot of tendons, muscles, and ligaments that support the joint. Tendons and muscles ensure the mobility of the shoulder and its range of motion, but they’re also more prone to injuries. Basically, any strain or intense movement can result in painful sensations.

Shoulder joint anatomy

The main causes of morning shoulder pain are the following:
  • Overstretching. Surprisingly, sleeping on your side with your arms stretched may result in shoulder pain the next morning, especially if you’re a larger person.
  • Poor posture. The shoulder region of people who already have certain conditions, such as scoliosis, may be predisposed to injury. In this case, sleeping on your shoulder can cause painful strains.
  • Computer neck syndrome. Although this condition mostly affects the neck, the pain from the cervical region often spreads to the shoulder area, so you may feel aching in your shoulders as well.
  • Bad mattress. If your mattress is old or has indentations, chances are it’s not offering you proper support. In this case, you may feel stiffness and pain, not only in the shoulder area, but also in other regions of your back.

Aging also affects your joints, making them less flexible and causing discomfort and pain during the night.

Treating the underlying cause of shoulder pain

If you suspect that your shoulder pain is caused by a medical condition, you need to see a medical professional to address this.

Things you can do to help prevent shoulder pain:
  • Lose weight. Excess weight puts a load on the joints of your body, not only the shoulders. Losing weight and keeping within a healthy range will protect your joints from wearing out.
  • Work on flexibility. Attend a yoga or pilates class or do some stretching during your workout. Stretching helps extend the range of motion and joint mobility, so you will be less likely to experience pain in the long run.

You can also try complementary treatments, such as massage and acupuncture, for acute episodes of shoulder pain.

Try Switching Positions

An effortless way to prevent shoulder pain — especially if it’s chronic — is to avoid sleeping on the ‘wrong’ side. You can either switch to another side or try sleeping on your back or stomach. Here are some recommendations that can help you achieve a more comfortable sleep.

  • For switching to stomach sleeping: Use a moldable pillow. Stomach sleeping and a rigid pillow is a terrible combo. Most tummy sleepers like to place their arms under a pillow, which creates an awkward angle in the shoulder area and causes pain. But a thin and moldable pillow can help you put your arms in a comfortable position, thereby reducing the pain.
  • For switching to back sleeping: Place a pillow under your lower back area. This might sound counter-intuitive, but a thin pillow under the lumbar area can actually help you relax the whole back, including shoulder blades. Thus, you’ll be less likely to wake up in pain. Note that you should use a really thin pillow.

If you decide to just switch sides, you could try a body pillow. These are large and cushiony, so when you hug a shoulder pillow, you will remove some load from your shoulder region.

People with chronic shoulder pain can benefit from wedge pillows. These pillows make your sleeping surface inclined and reduce the gravity impact on the shoulders. Note that they may not be that comfy for side sleeping, though.

sleeping position

Upgrade your mattress

Finally, if you suspect that your mattress is the reason behind your pain, you may want to consider getting a new one.

What to look for in a good mattress for side sleepers with shoulder pain:
  • Sinkage. Side sleepers tend to sink more deeply into the mattress and have pressure points in their shoulder and hip areas. They are advised to avoid innerspring and hybrid mattresses and opt for memory foam beds instead, as foam performs best in terms of cradling and pain relief.
  • Temperature-neutral design. With more sinkage, comes more body heat. Although overheating and shoulder pain aren’t connected, they both can be equally disruptive for your sleep. So, choose mattresses with natural, breathable materials. For example, latex and wool excel at heat removal and will keep you cool and dry.
  • Durable materials. Finally, you need a mattress made of high-quality materials so that it could offer you support and prevent you from waking up with sore shoulders for years to come.

Please note:  This article is not to be used as medical advice.  Please consult a medical professional before using any sleep treatments.  This post may contain affiliate links.

Author profile
John Breese
John Breese
Founder of

John is a founder and CEO of, a go-to web resource for anyone looking for sleep product reviews and sleep tips. He is passionate about educating people about the importance of getting enough sleep and having a proper environment for that.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *