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Why do my shoulders hurt when I wake up?

Why Do My Shoulders Hurt When I Wake Up
4 minutes, 52 seconds

As much as 67% of people will experience shoulder pain at least once in their life. Shoulder pain can be a debilitating condition that limits your ability to perform daily activities, and it can be particularly frustrating when it occurs first thing in the morning when you wake up. 

There are many possible reasons why your shoulder may hurt upon waking up, one of them being as simple as an awkward sleeping position. However, feeling shoulder pain first thing in the morning can also indicate an injury or underlying condition. If you have shoulder pain when you wake up, you may also feel the following symptoms: 

  • Stiffness or limited range of motion.
  • Weakness or a lack of strength.
  • Tingling or numbness.
  • Swelling or redness.
  • Bruising or discoloration.
  • Tenderness.
  • Popping or clicking sounds when moving your shoulder.
  • Pain that worsens with certain activities or movements, such as reaching overhead or lifting objects.

You should seek immediate medical assistance if your shoulders continue to hurt throughout the day, especially while your shoulder remains at rest. In addition, you should seek medical attention if your pain is accompanied by fever, fatigue, long-lasting muscle weakness, or pain that radiates down your neck and back. 

Whether you're dealing with a minor injury or a more serious condition, it's important to understand the reasons why your shoulder hurts when you wake up. Medical professionals like physical therapists can help you identify the steps you can take to ease your shoulder pain and prevent your risk of serious and further injury.

5 reasons why your shoulders hurt when you wake up

After waking up, your shoulder may feel stiff or difficult to move for a variety of reasons. Thankfully, many of the possible causes behind your shoulder pain can be addressed with noninvasive treatments. You may feel that your shoulder hurts after waking up because of the following reasons:

  1. Poor sleeping posture — If you sleep on your stomach or on one shoulder throughout the night, you may be inadvertently placing all of your weight on the ligaments and tendons in your shoulder. Doing so can stretch and irritate them, leading them to inflame and send pain responses. 
  2. Stress — If you’re feeling particularly stressed before bed, you may be more likely to wake up with shoulder pain. Anxiety can cause your back, neck and shoulder muscles to tense up as a flight-or-fight response. As a result, nighttime stress can lead to shoulder tension that translates into shoulder pain in the morning.
  3. Overuse injury — If you engage in repetitive motions or activities that require constant use of your shoulders, such as playing a musical instrument, lifting heavy objects at work or using a vibrating tool, your shoulder tissue can become overstretched, leading to shoulder pain the next day. A previous injury to your shoulder, such as a rotator cuff tear or muscle strain, can cause pain that persists even when you're not using your shoulder.
  4. Pinched nerve — If you feel tingling or numbness in your shoulder after waking up, and the tingling feeling persists into the day, you may be experiencing symptoms of a pinched nerve. A pinched or compressed nerve occurs when a major nerve is squeezed by nearby irritated tissue, thereby inflaming the nerve. You can feel the effects of a pinched nerve in your shoulder as the tingling sensation travels down your neck, upper back and arm.
  5. Arthritis — As you age, the tendons, ligaments, and muscles in your shoulders can weaken and degenerate, leading to pain and stiffness. In particular, osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that can affect the shoulder and cause pain and stiffness, particularly in the morning.

What can you do about your shoulders hurting when you wake up?

If your shoulders hurt when you wake up, you may be in pain for hours afterward. There are several things you can do to ease the pain in a short amount of time:

  • Change your sleeping position — Sleeping on your stomach can cause your shoulders to twist and ache. Instead, you should try sleeping on your back, as doing so can help protect your shoulders and spine at night. In addition, you can try using a memory foam pillow that supports your neck and shoulders and keeps your spine in a neutral position while you sleep. 
  • Stretch — If you go to bed without stretching, you may be more likely to feel symptoms of built-up tension in your shoulders in the morning. It can be beneficial to gently stretch your shoulders and upper back before going to bed and when you wake up to loosen any tight muscles and improve flexibility. You can repeat these stretches in the morning to ensure that the muscles in your shoulders are as supple as possible.
  • Apply heat or cold — If you notice that your shoulder is red or swollen in the morning, ice can help reduce blood flow to the affected area and bring down inflammation. Meanwhile, if your shoulder pain is mainly caused by stiffness, a heating pad can help encourage blood flow to your shoulder and increase your mobility.
  • Go to physical therapy — Physical therapy can be effective in treating a wide range of shoulder conditions, including rotator cuff injuries, tendinitis, bursitis and frozen shoulder. A physical therapist can help you determine the cause of your shoulder pain related to waking up. They can then develop an exercise program to strengthen your shoulders, improve your posture and reduce pain.

If your shoulders continue to hurt despite trying these remedies, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Your doctor can examine your shoulder and general rotator cuff region via imaging tests like X-rays and MRIs. 

Alliance PTP is ready to help you find top-notch PT for your shoulder pain

Are you frustrated with shoulder pain that flares up when you wake up? Physical therapy can help you address the root of your morning shoulder pain. At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we’re proudly bringing together physical therapy practices across the country to help people get the high-quality PT they need. 

Want to see a physical therapist in person? We can put you in touch with an Alliance PTP partner that’s close to you and that can help you address your shoulder pain, especially if it’s worse when you wake up. 

Not keen on in-person PT sessions or not close to an Alliance PTP partner? No worries. We also offer effective and affordable virtual physical therapy through our Agile Virtual Physical Therapy platform. 

Come find help for your injury or chronic condition today!


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