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Does Sleep Position Cause Shoulder Pain?


Take Home Points

  1. Patients with shoulder pain are more likely to sleep on their shoulder.
  2. Sleep is essential for the recovery process.
  3. If having shoulder pain, schedule an evaluation with a physical therapist. 

Shoulder pain is common in the general population and athletes. During any evaluation, COR Physical Therapist go through a detailed history, unlocking the current signs and symptoms of any ailment. Sleep position is one area often discussed, as many have pain in the morning and wonder what is the best sleeping position. We are commonly asked:

  • Does sleeping position influence shoulder pain?
  • What is the best position for me to sleep in?
Kempf (2012) evaluated 83 participants from ten different clinics.
The side of shoulder pain was associated to the side patients slept on, with 67% of those sleeping on one side lying on the painful shoulder. Patients were more likely to turn away from their sleeping partner at night, and 76% slept on the opposite side.

These results imply an association is present between side of sleeping and shoulder pain, however the association is small and the researchers did not analyze why the difference was present.

Overall, it seems those with shoulder pain are more likely to sleep on their shoulder. However, the mechanism behind this sleep position is unknown. This must be determined prior to recommending a patient switching which side they sleep.

Also, keep in mind inflammation is likely higher in the morning, due to the lack of mobility, often the main cause of morning joint stiffness. If you are having shoulder pain and are unsure if sleep position is influencing your pain, try sleeping in a different position, but realize sleep position is difficult to change. Also, getting enough sleep is vital for recovery and repair of the body. Overall, don’t compromise your sleep, if you are not sure if sleep position is influencing shoulder pain. However, any extra stress on a joint can cause pain and increase symptoms, so if you are experiencing, get evaluated by a physical therapist today!