Why does my shoulder hurt more when I lay down?

Woman with a shoulder pain after she lay down


Experiencing shoulder pain when laying down is a very common problem. Sleep gets affected or disrupted when experiencing shoulder pain at night because no matter what side you sleep on, the pain still remains.

The shoulder is one of the joints that can perform different motions in several directions on a daily basis which makes it susceptible to injury and wear and tear.

Possible Causes of Shoulder Pain when Laying Down

There are a few possible reasons for experiencing shoulder pain while laying down at night. Usually, a shoulder pain that gets worse when laying down may be caused by an injury to the rotator cuff, bursitis, or tendinopathy.

  • Rotator Cuff Injuries

Rotator cuff injuries are the most common cause of shoulder pain at night or when laying down. Rotator cuff injuries usually happen in people who play sports and who have jobs that require them to do overhead motions in their sports and in their jobs. Examples of these athletes and employees are people who play baseball, badminton, tennis, carpenters, and painters, Rotator cuff diseases may be caused by a single major injury on the shoulder or the overuse of the shoulder. Rotator cuff injuries can be as simple as an inflammation but can also be as major as complete tears. It can be as simple as rotator cuff tendonitis or as complicated as rotator cuff tear wherein the tendons of the rotator cuff separate from the bone. Having a tear in the rotator cuff may likely require surgery.

  • Bursitis

Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursa, a sac that is filled with fluid and provides cushioning to the bones. The fluid in the bursa increases when the shoulder is injured and it causes the swelling to be more painful.

  • Biceps Tendinopathy

Biceps tendinopathy is a long-term effect of overusing and the deterioration of the biceps tendon which connects the bones and muscles of the shoulder joint. Tendons are more prone to injury at one age because the tendons are less flexible when aging. Tendinopathy is normal in aging. Biceps tendinopathy gives one sharp pain in the arm when doing certain movements such as reaching behind you.

  • Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is also known as adhesive capsulitis. Frozen shoulder brings about stiffness and pain that make it impossible or very difficult to move the shoulder. The shoulder capsule which surrounds the shoulder joint and holds everything together becomes very thick, tight, and hard to move. There is less synovial fluid to lubricate the joint plus there are bands of scar tissue that form in the shoulder capsule.

  • Shoulder Separation

This type of injury is caused by the disruption of the acromioclavicular joint.

  • Shoulder Dislocation

A dislocation of the shoulder happens when the top of the arm bone gets disconnected from the scapula.

  • Shoulder Instability

Instability of the shoulder is a shoulder problem that results in a loose joint. It can be a result of a dislocation or traumatic injury or may also be a developed condition.

  • Calcific Tendonitis

Calcific tendonitis is the building up of calcium deposits in the rotator cuffs. There is a chemical irritation and a build-up of pressure in the tendon whenever calcium builds up in the tendon.

  • Arthritis

Arthritis in the shoulder is not as common as hip and knee arthritis but it can cause shoulder pain while laying down. This condition may require surgery to replace a joint once the conditions are severe.

  • Labral Tear

The labrum in the shoulder is a cartilage disc that is attached to the socket of the shoulder. It is the one responsible for the stability of the shoulder. This condition may be a result of trauma such as falls, wear and tear, aging, sports trauma, and repetitive stresses.

Treatment for Shoulder Pain when Laying Down

Before seeing a doctor, you can try these quick home remedies to reduce the pain and swelling in the shoulders when laying down.

  1. Try sleeping in a recliner.
  2. Apply an ice pack or make an ice compression wrap. The cooling effect of the ice will help in reducing the pain and in recovering from your injured shoulder.
  3. After applying an ice pack for a couple of days, try applying heart to the inflamed shoulder.
  4. Wear a compression sleeve.
  5. Taking of NSAIDs or anti-inflammatory medication such as Aleve, Advil, Ibuprofen, and Naproxen can also help ease the pain. It’s important to consult with a doctor before taking these drugs to know about the effects and side-effects that these may bring.
  6. Sleep with a shoulder support pillow or system.
  7. Physical therapy can help address the injury causing the shoulder pain.
  8. Injections also reduce the inflammation.
  9. Stop doing the activities that brought about or might have contributed to the shoulder pain
  10. Sometimes, simply letting it pass works.

If the shoulder pain does not go away after doing these suggested home treatments, it is best to see an orthopedic specialist to get a proper diagnosis of the underlying condition that is causing shoulder pain when laying down.

Diagnosing Shoulder Pain when Laying Down

The doctor does a little interview to learn about the patient’s history and to know more the details of the shoulder pain.

X-ray and/or MRI scan is usually recommended to confirm the main cause of the shoulder pain.