What’s The Best Sleeping Position For Shoulder Arthritis?

Certified Senior Advisor®
woman smiling after waking up with a good night's sleep

People suffering from shoulder arthritis should avoid sleeping on their back. Sleeping on your back or possibly your stomach is a much better position.

woman smiling after waking up with a good night's sleep
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Have you ever woke up only to be greeted with immense pain in your shoulder for seemingly no reason? If you are one of the many people who suffer from painful shoulder arthritis, it might be due to the way you are sleeping.

Believe it or not, your sleeping position might be causing you severe shoulder pain without even knowing it. Our posture plays a key role in determining how our body feels no matter if you are awake or sleeping.

Your shoulder is surrounded by all kinds of muscles and tendons that can get strained if you are sleeping in a bad position. This is only worsened if you suffer from shoulder arthritis, to begin with.

In this article, we will be going over why sleeping on your side is bad and show you the best sleeping position for shoulder arthritis.

First, What Is Shoulder Arthritis?

When you have shoulder arthritis, you have lost some of (or all) the smooth cartilage that is supposed to be covering the surface of the ball and the socket of your shoulder. Thus, it causes your bones to rub together with nothing stopping the constant friction. As you can probably tell, this is an extremely painful condition and it can lead to issues with being able to get good quality sleep.

graphic showing the various stages of shoulder arthritis
The Painful Progression of Shoulder Arthritis

Why Sleeping On Your Side Is Bad

To get the best night’s sleep, you should avoid increasing the pressure on your affected joint. So, sleeping on your side probably isn’t going to work.

1. Shoulder Strain

The main reason you want to avoid sleeping on your shoulder has to do with the strain you end up placing on it. Whether you like it or not, you will be placing the majority of your body weight on your shoulder throughout the night.

Even someone with a completely healthy shoulder is likely to suffer from the negative consequences of this sooner rather than later. After all, a study conducted on 83 patients revealed that 67 percent of patients with unilateral shoulder pain was associated with the side the patients typically slept on1.

2. Develop Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Unfortunately, consistently sleeping on your shoulder is one of the ways you can end up with shoulder impingement syndrome. This occurs when your bone is constantly pressing against your tendons. Studies have shown that both atrophy and rupture can impact tendon healing after getting rotator cuff repair2. Thus, if you already have rotator cuff issues or you have had surgery, you could be doing even more damage to your shoulder while sleeping on your side.

RELATED: Weighted Blankets for Side Sleepers

Tips To Sleep Better With Arthritic Shoulder Pain

1. Sleep On Your Back

Not only is sleeping on your back going to help you alleviate a lot of the pain associated with sleeping on your shoulder, but it is better for your health for a variety of reasons. While only 8 percent of people sleep on their backs, it is well-known to be the best3. It allows your entire body and spine to rest in a completely neutral position which can help your body avoid being placed in an uncommon and uncomfortable position that can contribute to pain or swelling.

RELATED: Best Mattresses for Senior & Elderly Back Sleepers

2. Sleep On Your Stomach

If unable to learn how to sleep on your back, you could potentially switch to sleeping on your stomach. While it’s not the most recommended sleeping position, it will help to alleviate the pressure of having your shoulder constantly pressed up against.

graphic showing how to support your back to reduce arthritic shoulder pain while sleeping
When sleeping on your back, always support your neck and knees.

3. Get A Memory Foam Mattress

One of the best things you can do for the shoulder pain that you are experiencing from sleeping is to invest in the right mattress. You want to get a mattress that will alleviate a lot of the pressure from your pressure points. That is exactly why memory foam mattresses are best for seniors with arthritis.

Memory foam mattresses are specially designed to effectively contour to the body perfectly. This allows them to not only offer firm support but to do so without constantly pressing on your pressure points. While you still want to find another way to sleep if you are looking to get rid of shoulder pain while sleeping, using a high-quality memory foam mattress can help you minimize strain on your shoulder while you are sleeping even if you are sleeping on your side.

If you aren’t ready to give up your current mattress, a memory foam mattress topper can also make a big difference.

4. Leverage Your Pillows

The way you actually use your pillows can play a critical role in determining whether or not you suffer from pain in your shoulder. Someone with shoulder pain that is either caused by sleeping or worsened by sleeping might be better off using a wedge pillow. That way, you will be able to get into a comfortable sleeping position even while on your back.

RELATED: Best Sleeping Position for Older Adults

5. Treat Your Shoulder

No matter what, you should be effectively treating your shoulder right before bed. As someone with shoulder arthritis, you want to heat your shoulder prior to going to sleep. This will allow you to minimize swelling in that region and it can prime your shoulder to be much more flexible throughout the night.


As you can tell, sleeping on your side is not ideal for those that suffer from shoulder arthritis. It can cause a lot of issues and result in a lot of pain due to the constant bone on bone friction it creates. By avoiding sleeping on your shoulder by sleeping on your back or by using other methods, you should be able to alleviate a lot of the pain associated with sleeping. By default, it can help you get better overall sleep.


  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22608285/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20656524/
  3. https://www.sleep.org/articles/best-sleep-position/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22608285/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20656524/
  6. https://www.sleep.org/articles/best-sleep-position/
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Scott Grant, CSA®, ATP

Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®
Assistive Technology Professional
Certified Rehab Technology Supplier (CRTS®)

I have been serving seniors and the elderly for over 20 years as a medical equipment and custom wheelchair specialist for a regional medical equipment company. I am also a lucky dad to four awesome daughters and grandfather to three pretty terrific grandkids. When not helping older adult improve the quality of their lives, I enjoy early morning runs and occasional kayak trips. I am also a self-admitted nerd who loves anything from the 1980's. Learn More

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