Ask Dr. Joe: Why Does My Shoulder Hurt When I Sleep?

If intense shoulder pain has you tossing and turning at night, or waking up on the wrong side of the bed in the morning, you’re not alone. Shoulder pain at night is relatively common and may have a variety of different issues causing it. That’s why I’m here.

As a longtime orthopedic surgeon serving the greater Raleigh, NC area, I’ve helped hundreds of patients treat shoulder pain. In this blog, you’ll see that there are three big issues often contributing to nighttime shoulder pain. I’ve also broken down what you can do at home, and when it’s time to see a doctor about your pain.

What Causes Nighttime Shoulder Pain?

While there are a number of different medical conditions that may be causing your nighttime shoulder pain, here are three of the most common issues:


This is an inflammation of the bursa, an important sac of fluid that cushions your bone joints. When injured, usually as a result of overexertion, the bursa’s fluid will increase causing it to swell. That swelling then causes pain and discomfort.

Biceps Tendinopathy

Tendinopathy occurs as a result of age, overexertion, and strain. When the biceps tendon that connects muscles and joints in your shoulder becomes worn down, the tendon will weaken and become less flexible.

This may cause sharp pains in your arm when you rotate your shoulder or reach behind you.

Rotator Cuff Tear

Your rotator cuff is one of the most important parts of your shoulder as it helps it rotate. As a result, it’s also prone to injury and overexertion. While many tears happen after an acute injury, they may also occur gradually over time as that part of the body is overworked through exercise or sports.

At Home Solutions to Relieve Pain Before Seeing a Doctor

Shoulder pain is never fun, but there are a number of things you can do at home to relieve it while you wait to see your doctor. The key is reducing the swelling, which should reduce the pain. Try these remedies:

  • Take anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen
  • Use compression sleeves on the affected shoulder
  • Sleep in a recliner or elevated on many pillows (aim for a 45 degree angle)
  • Take a break from sports or exercise involving your shoulders
  • Use ice packs or heat packs

Schedule an Appointment with a Shoulder Specialist

Painful shoulders at night is typically representative of a larger issue. I highly recommend seeing a shoulder specialist as quickly as possible to properly address the cause of your pain.

Although I am a shoulder surgeon, I treat surgery as a last result. There are a number of other treatment plans for taking care of the pain associated with bursitis, biceps tendinopathy, or a rotator cuff injury.

Treating Shoulder Pain

For example, when working with a patient experiencing shoulder pain at night, I might prescribe the following treatment plan:

  • Physical therapy of the shoulders
  • Cortisone injection
  • Modifications to your exercise routine

However, if you are suffering from a severe rotator cuff tear as the result of an acute injury, surgery may be your best option for feeling 100% again.

Schedule a Consultation

Whatever the cause of your shoulder pain, it’s important to see a doctor to receive proper treatment! If you’re suffering from shoulder pain at night, contact me today to set up a consultation.