Waking up with shoulder pain can be an unpleasant and frustrating experience. The aching and stiffness makes it difficult to get comfortable and start the day. While there are many potential causes for shoulder discomfort, one of the most common is sleeping in the wrong position. But how long does this type of shoulder pain typically last?
The Duration of Discomfort
For most people, shoulder soreness caused by an awkward sleeping position tends to be temporary. Within a few hours to a couple days, the irritation usually goes away on its own. There are several reasons why this shoulder pain does not persist long-term:
- No Structural Damage: Sleeping the wrong way may strain muscles and cause inflammation, but it does not lead to serious injury or damage in the joint. Once the awkward position is relieved, the area can return to normal function.
- Blood Flow Returns: Compressing the shoulder joint overnight restricts blood flow to the area. When you change positions, blood can circulate again to deliver nutrients and oxygen which helps reduce swelling.
- Muscles Loosen Up: Rotator cuff and shoulder muscles tightened up during the night. As you start moving your arm and shoulder, the muscles progressively relax and loosen up.
- Endorphins Release: Gentle shoulder motions generate endorphins which are natural pain-relieving hormones that block discomfort signals to the brain.
- Inflammation Subsides: Any inflammation caused by unnatural twisting or compression overnight will naturally subside within a couple days.
The most common duration seems to be between 2-5 days. However, if pain exceeds one week even with rest, applying ice, and taking anti-inflammatory medication, it is best to consult a physician.
Factors That Prolong Discomfort
For some individuals, shoulder discomfort from sleeping in the wrong position may linger longer than average. Certain factors can contribute to extended pain:
- Preexisting Injury: If you already had an injury like a rotator cuff tear or impingement, sleeping awkwardly could aggravate the condition leading to prolonged symptoms. Those with arthritis or bursitis may also notice amplified pain that is slower to resolve.
- Age: People over 40 tend to experience longer lasting shoulder pain from compressed joints and strained muscles overnight. The natural effects of aging mean recovery takes more time.
- Poor Posture: Shoulder positioning during the day can impact symptoms. Hunching over a computer or looking down at a phone strains the shoulder area making it prone to pain at night.
- Exercise: Weightlifting and other intense exercise can fatigue muscles. Combine exercise soreness with sleeping in the wrong position and shoulder pain is likely to hang around longer.
- Weight: Excess weight places more pressure on shoulder joints when sleeping in awkward positions. This leads to increased inflammation that may prolong healing.
- Repeated Wrong Sleeping: If you sleep in the same bad position multiple nights in a row, pain is likely to accumulate and remain until you correct your sleeping posture.
Proper sleeping position is important for allowing shoulder muscles, tendons, and joints to rest and recover from daily use.
How to Sleep to Avoid Shoulder Pain
The ideal sleeping position to avoid shoulder pain is on your back with arms at your sides. This evenly distributes weight and keeps the shoulder joint in a neutral, comfortable position. Here are some tips to maintain proper posture:
- Use a contoured cervical pillow to cradle the neck and keep the head aligned with the shoulders. Avoid thick, bulky pillows.
- Place a small pillow under the knees to prevent lower back arching which indirectly strains the shoulders.
- If you prefer side sleeping, use a full body pillow for even spine alignment and place a small pillow between your arms to prevent shoulder compression.
- Avoid sleeping on your stomach which rotates the shoulder joint into an extreme range of motion.
- Check mattress firmness and replace if too soft. Proper support prevents sinking in.
- Keep shoulders relaxed and avoid tensing up.
Seeking Medical Help
While short-term shoulder discomfort from an odd sleeping position generally resolves on its own, there are some instances when it is prudent to seek medical assistance:
- Pain that does not begin improving within 5-7 days
- Ongoing difficulty moving the shoulder or lifting the arm
- Noticeable swelling around the joint
- Any popping, clicking, catching, or grinding sensations
- Numbness or tingling in the arm or hand
- Severe pain at night that repeatedly wakes you up
If any of these symptoms are present, it is best to see an orthopedic doctor or physical therapist for proper evaluation. Depending on the cause, options like steroid injections, massage, chiropractic adjustment, or physical therapy may help alleviate persistent shoulder pain.
Getting a Good Night’s Rest
Shoulder discomfort from improper sleeping position typically clears up within a few days once the strain is relieved. Paying attention to posture, supporting the joints properly, and avoiding sleep positions that compress or twist the shoulder will help prevent pain from developing in the first place. With some adjustments to your sleep routine, you can enjoy restful nights and productive days free from nagging shoulder aches. Proper positioning is key for protecting your shoulder health.