Starting your day with severe shoulder pain after waking up isn’t the best way, right? We agree. Ah, the joys of a good night’s sleep. You go to bed fully intending to get a solid 7 hours and wake up refreshed, but instead, you wake up with random shoulder pain severe enough to ring serious alarm bells. What just happened? And what can you do about it? Shoulder pain is...... Read More
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Starting your day with severe shoulder pain after waking up isn’t the best way, right?
Ah, the joys of a good night’s sleep.
You go to bed fully intending to get a solid 7 hours and wake up refreshed, but instead, you wake up with random shoulder pain severe enough to ring serious alarm bells.
What just happened?
And what can you do about it?
Shoulder pain is very common because the human shoulder is notoriously injury-prone, but that isn’t reassuring when you went to bed just fine the night before and awoke to a mysterious and painful shoulder problem.
Fortunately for most people, there are several relatively clear reasons why this might have occurred, and shoulder pain is treatable – so you can get back on track and take steps to prevent debilitating shoulder pain from striking in the future.
Types of Shoulder Pain
Waking up with severe shoulder pain is no fun at all; the good news for many is that it may subside during waking hours, giving you some breathing room to treat the underlying problem.
It’s helpful to first identify the different types of shoulder pain so you can see which most closely resembles what you may be experiencing upon awakening.
Rotator Cuff Tendinitis – This is perhaps the most common type of shoulder pain that causes severe shoulder pain after waking up. Rotator cuff tendinitis or tendinosis occurs when the rotator cuff tendons break down over time.
Frozen Shoulder – Unfortunately, before the freezing (inability to move the joint due to extreme stiffness) comes the pain – sometimes excruciating pain.
Spinal Stiffness – The thoracic spine was meant to be held erect, not to bend in fixed position as we constantly hunch forward over our phones and computers. All the poor posture (and the normal effects of aging) causes a lack of mobility in our spine and rib cage, making us more prone to shoulder injuries that act up in the morning.
Altered mechanics. Conditions like scapular dyskinesis and old sprains or soft tissue injuries can cause overuse and stretching pain from muscles that were never meant to do this much heavy lifting.
Radiating pain. Sometimes, neck and back pain can radiate to the shoulder, leading patients to believe they have a shoulder problem when they really don’t.
How can you know what type of shoulder pain you are dealing with?
A good start is to come to Integra Health, where you can consult with a multidisciplinary staff of specialists including our expert downtown Toronto Physiotherapists and Chiropractors and get the appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan. After a complete shoulder examination, you’ll know the type(s) of shoulder pain you are personally dealing with and have a concrete plan to end the pain.
Shoulder Pain Causes
If you’re waking up with severe shoulder pain, you obviously want to know how to make it stop. Oddly, simple things that didn’t used to bother your shoulder can suddenly cause severe shoulder pain after waking up. Some of the most common culprits include:
Repetitive movements (such as cashiers or shelf-stockers perform at a grocery store)
Medical conditions like arthritis and bursitis
Sleeping on your arm, or on the same side every night (which pressures and pinches tendons deep in the shoulder, causing them to become inflamed or chafed)
Poor shoulder mechanics (such as having weakness or limited range of motion in the back and ribs, and overcompensating with the shoulder)
Much of this relates to the rotator cuff, a ball-and-socket joint that is stabilized with a cuff of muscles and tendons. As with any muscle group, it can sustain injuries in the form of sudden trauma, like an accident, dislocation or fall, or from chronic overuse.
Rotator cuff injuries can take the form of inflammation, full or partial tears.
Golfers, rowers, baseball players and weightlifters, for example, are especially vulnerable to shoulder injuries because of the motions they must complete for their sport.
Shoulder Pain in the Morning Only
Morning is a time when you should be feeling at your body best, not budgeting extra time to pull your shirt on or wash your hair because your stiff, sore shoulders haven’t ‘warmed up’ yet.
When you wake up with shoulder pain that gradually dissipates throughout the day, only to flare up again next morning, you may need to look no further than your bed for the reason – and the solution.
Start with simple changes and monitor shoulder pain each morning as you work your way through this list of shoulder pain relief techniques.
Switch your sleep position. Try sleeping on your back or on the other side – not your stomach.
Remove some pillows. We often sleep propped up to improve breathing and digestion, but having too many pillows can lead to over-pronation of the head, which stretches the muscles and ligaments in the neck and can cause morning shoulder pain.
Add some pillows. If you aren’t using one at all, or just a single flat pillow, try sleeping elevated to take some pressure off your shoulders.
Don’t sleep with your arm under the pillow or your elbow over your head; this squeezes the tendons and can lead to weakness in the arm.
Switch to a cervical support pillow or tear drop shaped specially designed to support the neck during side-sleeping.
Buy a new mattress if you have had yours for many years. Mattresses tend to sag in the middle over time, which puts undue pressure on all the muscles.
Shoulder Pain Relief
What can you do besides switching sleep positions if you are awakening with severe shoulder pain?
It’s important to be mindful of your movements.
Always warm up before you work out or play sports, and don’t make a sudden lunge to get something off a high shelf or an awkward reach back for your wallet; move deliberately and mindfully instead. Set up your workstation to be ergonomic.
Treatment-wise, most physiotherapists recommend rest and ice or heat to start with, but beyond that, an experienced practitioner – whether in sports medicine, arthritis, osteopathy, physiotherapy, chiropractic or acupuncture, depending on your condition and what treatment routes you choose to take – will be able to recommend a course of action.
Shoulder pain relief treatments may include shoulder pain exercises and postural exercises you can do at home, as well as clinical treatments like spinal adjustments, traction, occupational therapy and physiotherapy, to ensure you get the shoulder pain relief you are looking for.