Why You Have Shoulder Pain In The Morning and How To Treat It

Why You Have Shoulder Pain In The Morning and How To Treat It

Maybe you can relate. You go to bed feeling fine and right when you wake up in the morning your shoulder is killing you. Doing simple things like brushing your teeth or your hair feels almost impossible.

You’re thinking to yourself what happened to my shoulder?

When your shoulder is injured, it is common to wake up with some pain and stiffness. This is because we don’t move our shoulder while sleeping which can cause it to stiffen in the morning. Additionally, our heart rate and respiratory rate decrease when we sleep which means there is less blood flow and oxygen delivery to the irritated tissue in the shoulder. This is what leads to the sore feeling in the morning. Once we get moving, the pain generally starts to subside.

There are many causes of shoulder pain, each of which can cause you to experience discomfort. In this article we will explore these causes and explain the best way to treat them.

Frozen Shoulder

This is a painful condition that can cause your shoulder to become inflamed. It is characterized by stiffness in your shoulder and difficulty completing functional movements. It is common in women aged 40-60, and in those with a history of diabetes and/or thyroid issues. Frozen shoulder can take very long to recover from, so it is important that is identified early. The best way to diagnose frozen shoulder is to complete an assessment with a physiotherapist. They can distinguish a frozen shoulder from other shoulder conditions and guide you through proper management of the injury.

Frozen Shoulder courtesy of Salius Physiotherapy & Osteopathy (Read the caption)


Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones start to wear down. It can occur in any joint but most often affects the knee, hip, hand, spine and shoulder joints. Shoulder osteoarthritis is most common in older individuals and those who have sustained a previous traumatic injury, such as a shoulder fracture.

Shoulder osteoarthritis symptoms can include:

  • Pain when you move into end-ranges of shoulder mobility
  • Pain after keeping your shoulder in a stationary position for prolonged times
  • Limited range of motion and stiffness, especially in the morning.
  • Moving the shoulder causes grinding or clicking sounds.

Morning pain and stiffness is a very common symptom in those with shoulder osteoarthritis. Treatment can include pain relievers or a customized physiotherapy program. This program will focus on improving your shoulder mobility and reducing stiffness.

Rotator Cuff Tendinitis/Tendinosis

Your Rotator Cuff  is made up of a collection of 4 muscles that surround your shoulder joint. It’s what attaches the end of your shoulder blade to your upper arm. It functions to stabilize the shoulder joint during overhead and rotation movements.

Rotator Cuff Tendinitis happens when the cuff tendons become inflamed, and irritated. This can be caused by rapid increases in shoulder activities, completing repetitive movements, and using poor shoulder mechanics during sports. Rotator Cuff Tendinosis is characterized by long-term changes to the rotator cuff tendons. This occurs as we get older, and it can contribute to eventual shoulder pain. The best way to approach rotator cuff tendinitis or tendinosis is to strengthen the cuff to allow it to tolerate load more efficiently. This will help to reduce pain during shoulder movements.

Check out this post from BeActive Physiotherapy about rotator cuff injury (Read the caption):

Shoulder Impingement

In our shoulder we have a small space which contains one of the rotator cuff muscle tendons, our biceps tendon and a bursa, which is a fluid-filed sac that functions to reduce friction. This space is called the subacromial space. When we raise our shoulders overhead or rotate them inwards, the subacromial space decreases in size. Shoulder impingement occurs when the subacromial space becomes too small and causes an irritation to the tendons or the bursa. 

Shoulder impingement symptoms can include:

  • Pain in the top or outer part of your shoulder.
  • Pain when you lift your arm over head.
  • Pain that becomes worse at night.
  • Weakness in your shoulder or arm.

Treatment of shoulder impingement includes:

  • Temporary rest to reduce irritation
  • Pain or anti inflammatory meds
  • Physiotherapy shoulder exercises to improve rotator cuff strength and shoulder mechanics. These help to keep the subacromial space open when we lift overhead.

3 Secret tips for better shoulder stretch and mobility courtesy of Elign Health Centre

The bottom line

Pain when you wake up in the morning can have different causes such rotator cuff injuries, osteoarthritis, and bursitis. 

You may need to adjust your sleeping position when you are rehabbing these injuries. Experimenting with different sleep positions to see which one allows for the least amount of morning pain can be helpful.

If you still experience pain even when you adjust your sleep position then I recommend you see a Physiotherapist. They can identify the cause of your pain and create a customized treatment plan to address it. To schedule a free consultation just use the search box on this page.


This appointment is your opportunity to tell us what hurts and discover whether physiotherapy or chiropractic care is a good fit for you! During this session, you will talk with a physiotherapist or chiropractor on a phone call (or online) and create the right care plan specifically for your pain. There is no obligation on this session is to find out whether physiotherapy or chiropractic care can help you getting back to doing the things you love in life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Generally it is advisable to use ice right at the beginning of an injury as it can reduce swelling. Once acute pain is down, heat can reduce tension and tightness and provide pain relief.

Key indicators of swelling are pain, swelling, redness and heat around the shoulder.

Anti-inflammatory cream can provide quick pain relief however it’s only temporary. It only addresses the symptoms and not the initial cause of the pain.

Medical Disclaimer:

The information presented in this blog post is for educational purposes and should not be interpreted as medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, treatment or a diagnosis, consult with a medical professional such as one suggested on this website. The Clinic Accelerator Inc. and the author of this page are not liable for the associated risks of using or acting upon the information contained in this article.

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