Shoulder pain at night can prevent even a few good hours of sleep, so here are some things you can do to fight and maybe prevent shoulder pain that strikes at night while you’re asleep.

“There are a few very important steps to take if rotator cuff tendinitis is waking you at night,” says Dr. Joseph J. Ruane, Medical Director, McConnell Spine, Sport & Joint Center, and Head Team Physician, Columbus Blue Jackets.

The first is to make sure you’ve been diagnosed and that it is indeed a rotator cuff problem.

“Rotator cuff tendinitis is especially tricky in that the most common presenting symptom is a deep ache in the middle of your upper arm; often in the bicep region or at the end of the deltoid muscle.

This is called referred pain.  While the pain is actually in the middle of your arm, the problem is coming from deep in your shoulder.”

The rotator cuff consists of four muscles and their tendons. I’m a certified personal trainer and these tendons can easily end up irritated from improper lifting technique or insufficient warm-up preceding heavy lifting.

Dr. Ruane continues: “The second step to successful sleep is getting the right treatment once the problem has been identified.

Rotator cuff tendinitis responds well to many common treatment modalities.

Physical therapy, tried and true, remains the best intervention for rotator cuff tendinitis.

There are 26 muscles that are responsible for proper shoulder function.

If just one or two of those are not working properly, shoulder motion becomes unsynchronized and rotator cuff tendinitis can develop.

It is like a car engine – when just one cylinder is not firing on time, the entire engine runs poorly.

Physical therapists are the mechanics of the body and can get your ‘shoulder engine’ running properly again, and eliminate that gnawing pain in your arm.”

An hour before bedtime, says Dr. Ruane, take an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen (Advil) or Aleve.

Often, a person suffering shoulder pain at night will point out that the bad shoulder is the side he or she sleeps on.

To help resolve night-time shoulder pain, you must change your sleeping position habits. Yes, this can be done.

“If you like falling asleep on your right side, and the right shoulder is the one with tendinitis, force yourself to fall asleep on your back or on your left side for one week,” says Dr. Ruane.

“You’ll be surprised how easy it is to change the habit, especially once the pain does not disrupt you just an hour or two after falling asleep.

“And another thing – you know your favorite position of falling asleep on your stomach with your arm tucked up under your pillow?  It has got to go – pronto!

“That sleeping position alone can be the cause of rotator cuff tendinitis, and is a nasty position for a shoulder that already has it.”

Try these changes and see if they don’t help diminish shoulder pain at night.

Dr. Ruane’s practice is dedicated to comprehensive, nonsurgical musculoskeletal care. He is active in clinical research and is a nationally recognized speaker and educator.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  

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