What Causes Nighttime Shoulder Pain?

Summit upper extremity surgeon J.P. Delaney, M.D., shares possible causes for nighttime shoulder pain — and what to do about it.

At first blush, you might think that shoulder pain would be its worst during the day, when we’re up and around using our shoulders. At night, you might expect shoulder pain to diminish as you rest and relax. Unfortunately, the opposite seems to be true: shoulder pain commonly gets worse at night. And nighttime shoulder pain is what leads many people to seek treatment.

“It’s the number‐one reason people with shoulder pain come in to seek treatment,” Dr. Delaney said. “They can avoid maneuvers that cause pain during the day, but they can’t avoid pain when they sleep. When shoulder pain disrupts sleep, that’s when many people decide to come in for help.”

What causes nighttime shoulder pain? Although experts don’t know for sure, research suggests that, as we lie down, existing shoulder inflammation combines with increased pressure on the shoulder to cause increased pain.

“The pressure can cause underlying soft tissue stretching or tension when we sleep, causing increased pain,” Dr. Delaney said.

Treatments for nighttime shoulder pain

But there is good news: there are a lot of different treatment options that can relieve nighttime shoulder pain, heal your shoulder, and let you get back to your life. The first step, according to Dr. Delaney, is to figure out what the pain’s underlying cause is.

“Correct diagnosis is an essential first step, because shoulder pain can be caused by a variety of problems. It could be bursitis, impingement syndrome, rotator cuff tendinitis, frozen shoulder, shoulder arthritis, or any inflammatory shoulder condition,” Dr. Delaney said. “With rotator cuff tears, it’s very common: patients almost always report pain at night.”

Once your doctor has diagnosed the cause of your shoulder inflammation, you can begin treatment. Some effective options for shoulder conditions that cause nighttime shoulder pain include:

  •  Anti‐inflammatory medicines before sleep
  • Physical therapy to improve biomechanics and strength in the shoulder
  •  Steroid injections for severe pain

If those treatment options fail, and the pain is severe, it may be time to discuss surgical remedies with your shoulder specialist. There are several surgical treatments available, some of which are minimally invasive options.

Summit Orthopedics supports healthy communities

Community health flourishes when specialized orthopedic care is conveniently available close to home. Summit Orthopedics is proud of our fellowship-trained subspecialty teams offering the full spectrum of orthopedic expertise in bone, tendon, ligament, muscle, and joint conditions—in addition to our wellness, prevention, and rehabilitation services. We have the expertise to proactively improve fitness, evaluate discomfort, and deliver personalized treatment to quickly and safely return you to the lifestyle you love.

Start your journey to a healthier, more active self. Visit our Facebook page to learn about our wellness services and schedule a free wellness consultation online. Find your orthopedic expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a consultation.

Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MNVadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as several additional community clinics.

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