Shoulder pain at night?

If you’re waking up with shoulder pain, it’s not just a bad dream. It’s a real problem that affects millions of people every year. Shoulder injuries are among the most common musculoskeletal problems for all ages and genders. Inflammation or injury to the rotator cuff, the tendons connecting the arm bones and shoulder blades, usually causes shoulder pain at night.

While there are many different types of shoulder injuries, they all share one thing: they can cause extreme discomfort while sleeping! If you’re experiencing this discomfort yourself or know someone suffering from these symptoms, read for some tips on getting some relief tonight!

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Why is my shoulder pain worst at night?

Various factors, including poor posture, overuse injuries, and some medical conditions, can cause shoulder pain at night. Postural strain can also be a factor in making the muscles in your shoulder become tense and tight, worsening the pain at night when lying down. Overuse injuries such as rotator cuff tendonitis or bursitis can also cause shoulder pain that is worse at night. Inflammatory medical conditions causing arthritis or bursitis can also cause shoulder pain to worsen at night. 

Causes of Shoulder Pain at Night

Several different conditions can cause shoulder pain at night. Below are some common causes of shoulder pain at night:

Subacromial bursitis

The shoulder joint is extremely strong and mobile. These various functions are cracked into one joint, which is where our issue begins.

All the movement available in your shoulder requires lubrication. That’s where the bursae come in. The subacromial bursae is designed to make sure the movement in your shoulder doesn’t cause too much friction. This friction can be an injury-causing mechanism.

Bursitis occurs when direct trauma or repetitive strain causes the bursae to become inflamed and enlarged. This inflammation can be incredibly painful, even when you are not using the arm. This pain when the arm is not in use is what makes practitioners associate ‘shoulder pain at night’ with subacromial bursitis.

Shoulder impingement

Impingement of the shoulder is a common cause of nighttime shoulder pain. It happens when the tendons and muscles in your shoulder become irritated or inflamed from overuse, repetitive use, and trauma.

As you sleep, you may experience pain in your shoulder joint when lying on it, rotating or raising your arm overhead to reach for something. You might also experience pain if you sleep with one arm under your head or hang it down by your side while sleeping.

If you have any of these issues, you should see an osteopath who can determine the cause and provide effective non-surgical treatment.


If you’re experiencing shoulder pain at night, it could be arthritis. Arthritis is a degenerative joint disease that causes pain, stiffness, and loss of function. It is most common in the fingers, hands, knees, hips, and spine but can affect any joint.

As practitioners, we often see shoulder joint arthritis that occurs due to postural strain from desk work or old injuries to the shoulder. 

Frozen shoulder

A frozen shoulder causes stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint, especially when one first wakes up in the morning. The thickening and adhesion of the shoulder capsule’s lining to the joint surfaces causes pain and restricts movement. We have a whole blog on frozen shoulder coming soon. So keep an eye on the website or our social media for it to drop. 


Tendonitis is an inflammation of the tendon. Tendonitis can occur due to injury, or overuse and it is important to identify and treat it effectively. When suffering from tendonitis, stressing the affected area throughout the day can cause a worsening of the pain at night.

Symptoms include:

  • Pain near where the tendon attaches to the bone
  • Inflammation or warmth in this same area
  • Tenderness when pressing down on this spot
  • Stiffness when using that particular joint after sleeping with an arm above shoulder level all night long
  • Pain in the shoulder when lifting heavy items 

Risk Factors for Shoulder Pain at Night

Shoulder pain at night is common in people of all ages. It is more likely to occur in physically active patients with a medical condition, such as arthritis or tendonitis. Your sleep position may also affect whether you suffer from shoulder pain at night.

Applying too much stress on the shoulder throughout the day can also increase your chances of experiencing shoulder pain at night. If you have a chronic shoulder injury or are experiencing pain in your shoulders at night, seeing a licensed healthcare practitioner can help you determine the root cause of your pain and develop a treatment plan that works best for your lifestyle.

Treatment Options for Shoulder Pain at Night

One of the easiest ways to treat shoulder pain at night is by discussing your concerns with an osteopath. An osteopath can give you a detailed assessment, provide treatment options, prepare a personalised exercise rehabilitation plan and advise on how best to manage your condition.

Osteopathy treatment may involve manipulation, stretching and soft tissue therapy (e.g., massage). These treatments aim to improve mobility in the joints of your shoulders by identifying and treating any underlying causes of stiffness or inflammation. Once the pain is under control, a personalised exercise plan will help your body heal the tendon and allow a long-term resolution of your shoulder pain.

If you have shoulder pain at night and want to learn more about osteopathy treatment, please contact us today by calling (02) 8054 7166.

shoulder pain at night

How can we help treat and manage shoulder pain at night:

Our practitioners at MPR Health have 3 main priorities;

  1. Get the pain under control
  2. Treat the underlying cause(s)
  3. Strengthen the tendons of the shoulder 

Pain is often the priority when treating an issue It is likely why you’re reading this blog and why most patients book an appointment.

To treat the pain we will use :

  • soft tissue techniques
  • dry needling
  • joint mobilisation
  • stretches in treatment alongside advice that you can implement at home
  • Advice on icing, anti-inflammatory creams and other pain management protocols

Keep an eye out later in the blog for a few of our favourite tips and tricks for shoulder pain at night.

If bursitis has occurred as a result of a shoulder tendon injury, your practitioner will conduct orthopaedic tests. This allows us to determine what exactly has happened.

Once we have diagnosed the underlying cause and have the pain in control, we will create a tailored exercise plan. This exercise plan not only is designed to rehabilitate the tendon but also to prepare the shoulder for your return to normal day-to-day use. This is to give you the best chance of a full recovery with minimal chance of recurrence.

When to see an Osteopath

If you have shoulder pain at night, your body is likely compensating and causing extra stress on adjacent areas of your body. An osteopath believes in not only treating the site of pain but the whole body and system. If you have shoulder pain during the day or both day and night, it’s a good idea to seek professional advice as soon as possible.

If you are experiencing any pain that has come on suddenly and is affecting your ability to move freely, then feel free to call one of our practitioners to ask for advice specific to you.

Tips and tricks:

Subacromial bursitis that is waking you at night can be tricky to combat. Everyone has their favourite sleeping positions, and you can’t really stop yourself from rolling over onto the shoulder at night.

So here are 3 tips that we think may help:

  1. Swap sides. If you share a bed with a partner, most people tend to sleep facing away from their partner during the night. If this causes you to lie on the affected shoulder, try swapping sides of the bed. Try this for about a week to see if you stop rolling over onto the shoulder whilst sleeping.
  2. Ice ice baby. Bursitis is an inflammatory, so try icing the shoulder for 20 minutes within the hour before you get to bed. Whilst not the most pleasant, it can be effective at decreasing inflammation and shoulder pain while sleeping.
  3. Pillow forts aren’t just for kids. Try to create a small pillow fort for yourself to keep you from rolling over onto the affected shoulder. It also means there is finally a proper use for all those decorative pillows.

Exercises to Relieve Shoulder Pain at Night

If you’re experiencing shoulder pain at night, taking the proper steps toward relief is essential.

Try the following exercises:


Shoulder pain at night can be incredibly painful and draining both physically and emotionally. Subacromial bursitis is often the cause of pain in the shoulder while sleeping and can either occur by itself or due to an underlying injury.

Our goal as practitioners at MPR Health is to first manage the pain in the shoulder and then treat and rehab any underlying injuries. You should be sleeping through the night with that pain-free feeling. Our tailored plans will look to keep your pain from returning in the future.

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Our North Shore Osteopaths are here to help you with your pain so you can get back to living your best life without worrying about pain.

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In the spirit of reconciliation, MPR Health acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.


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