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How to Sleep with a Frozen Shoulder

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Last updated August 1, 2023

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What is frozen shoulder?

Frozen shoulder is when your shoulder gets very stiff and painful. It’s caused by a thickening of the area around the shoulder joint, called the shoulder capsule, and the development of bands of thick tissue (adhesions). Frozen shoulder has three different stages: The freezing stage (lasting 2–9 months) is the most painful stage; the frozen stage (lasting 4–6 months) is when you have extreme stiffness; and the thawing stage is when you start to improve.

Why shoulder pain makes it hard to sleep

If you feel like your pain is worse at night, you aren’t wrong. Because you’ve spent all day moving your shoulder, your shoulder is probably stiff and sore.

Also, your blood flow naturally slows when you’re falling asleep, which can lead to higher levels of inflammation–something that can make your frozen shoulder more painful. Lastly, pressure on your shoulder from different sleeping positions can make it more uncomfortable.

What is the best position for sleeping with a frozen shoulder?

If possible, try to sleep on your side, with your unaffected shoulder down. Put an extra pillow between your arms since it will keep your shoulders aligned and make you more comfortable. Keep the pillow as close to your body as possible, almost like you’re tucking it into your top armpit, with your arms hugging it.

If you can, put another pillow between your knees to keep your spine and hips aligned, which will help your body stay as neutral as possible and reduce pain.

If you’re more of a back sleeper, try to keep your arms down by your sides with palms facing your mattress. This position will relieve pressure from your shoulder.

Whether you choose side or back, make sure you have a firm enough pillow under your head so that your neck is in line with your spine. This takes pressure off your shoulders.

Frozen shoulder pain relief at night

To reduce shoulder pain at night, try to rest your shoulder as much as you can during the day. This can help reduce pain and stiffness when sleeping. But if your shoulder does hurt, an anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can help. Taking a pain reliever shortly before you’re ready to go to sleep gives the medicine time to work.

You can also try using a safe heating pad in bed. (Look for one with an automatic shut-off timer because there is a risk of burns if you fall asleep with a heating pad on.) The heat can help relax your shoulder muscles and other soft tissue in that area.

How to relieve stiffness in the morning

You might notice your shoulder is especially stiff in the morning, since you haven’t been moving it throughout the night. First thing to do is hop in a warm shower for 10 to 15 minutes—the moist heat will help loosen it up. Then do a pendulum swing exercise: Bend slightly forward at the waist, letting the affected arm hang down. Then move it around in a small circle.

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