How to Sleep with Shoulder Pain

Not being able to fall or stay asleep can make it extremely difficult to enjoy your life and be productive. Do you have trouble sleeping because of shoulder pain? The reason may be due to a rotator cuff problem. Here’s what you need to know about rotator cuff pain, along with how physical therapy can help.

Shoulder Anatomy and the Rotator Cuff Area

First, it helps to understand the anatomy of the shoulder, focusing on the rotator cuff area. In order to move bones, your muscles pull on tendons. The group of tendons and muscles in your shoulder is called the rotator cuff. This area of the shoulder stabilizes the head or ball of the humerus (upper arm bone), keeping it in place as well as helping you raise and rotate your arm.

Common Causes of Resting Shoulder Pain

  • The main cause of shoulder pain during sleep, which is known as resting shoulder pain, is the rotator cuff. In fact, the pain is even worse when sleeping than when you’re awake.
  • Shoulder bursitis, which is also known as rotator cuff tendonitis, shoulder tendonitis, or shoulder impingement, is another rotator cuff condition. A worn or torn rotator cuff causes irritation to the bursa, which is a tiny pocket that rests on the top of your rotator cuff.
  • A shoulder injury can cause nighttime shoulder pain. While some shoulder injuries are acute or temporary, others are chronic, which means they last for six months or longer.
  • Frozen shoulder can be a reason for nighttime shoulder pain. Fortunately, shoulder manipulation or physical therapy is an effective way to treat this problem.
  • Osteoarthritis can be a cause of resting shoulder pain.

Common Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Injury

Besides feeling pain when sleeping on the affected shoulder, there are several other common symptoms of a rotator cuff injury, which include:

  • Dull achiness deep within the shoulder
  • Difficulty in reaching behind your back or combing your hair
  • Arm weakness
  • Tenderness and swelling in the front of your shoulder
  • Hearing a clicking noise when raising your arm above your head

Types of Rotator Cuff Tears

There are several types of rotator cuff tears.

  • A partial tear is where the rotator cuff tendon is damaged but isn’t totally severed.
  • A complete tear involves the soft tissue being torn into two pieces.
  • Acute tears are from trauma or injury. They can be caused by improperly lifting heavy items, in addition to lifting them too quickly or from falling.
  • Another type of rotator cuff tear is a degenerative tear in which a tendon wears down over time.

People Most at Risk for Rotator Cuff Injuries

  • Older people—As you age, you’re more likely to get a rotator cuff injury. In fact, rotator cuff tears usually happen to people age 40 and older.
  • Females—If you’re a female, you’re more susceptible to a rotator cuff injury.
  • Construction workers—People who work in construction jobs, such as carpenters and house painters are more at risk for injuring the rotator cuff.
  • Athletes—If you engage in certain sports that require repetitive arm movements, such as tennis, archery, or baseball, you stand a higher chance of getting a rotator cuff injury.
  • Genetics—Your family history is another factor since rotator cuff injuries occur more in certain families.

How Physical Therapy Helps Shoulder Pain

Physical therapy is highly effective in treating rotator cuff pain. For example,

  • It strengthens shoulder muscles and restores shoulder mechanics. As a result, physical therapy improves how the shoulder joint works, besides helping to make up for damaged tendons.
  • Therapists focus on the shoulder blade (scapula), making the shoulder more stable.
  • They show patients how to retrain affected muscles so that everything is kept in place while using the shoulder. This brings back a range of motion.
  • Thus, physical therapy is effective in reducing pain and restoring motion as well as reconditioning the shoulder, so you’re able to resume your everyday activities and use your shoulder again.

Considerations and Warnings

  • It’s just as important that you strengthen your back shoulder muscles and those surrounding the shoulder blade as it is to exercise your front shoulder muscles.
  • To confirm a rotator cuff injury, visit a doctor or physical therapist for a professional diagnosis.
  • Your physical therapist can devise a specific plan for treating your shoulder pain, in addition to giving you an exercise routine.


You don’t have to continue to suffer from poor sleep because of shoulder pain. If you can’t sleep, we can help. To find out more about how we can help you feel better and start enjoying your life, again, contact us by calling 570-208-2787 or emailing