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How to Sleep with Frozen Shoulder

Dr. Pamela Mehta, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon, San Jose

How to sleep with a frozen shoulder

Imagine this: you’re in bed, but your shoulder won’t relax. It’s stiff, painful, and seems to be doing everything it can to prevent you from sleeping.

That’s the “frozen shoulder,” or in scientific terms, adhesive capsulitis.

The nightly battle with is difficult! A tough opponent, especially when you’re just wanting a good night’s sleep. The good news is that, even with a pesky shoulder, sweet dreams aren’t too far away.

Wondering how to sneak in some good sleep with frozen shoulder pain?

Here are the main points:

  • Sleep in a way that’s easy on your shoulder.
  • Use pillows to give your shoulder a little extra love.
  • Do some simple stretches before bed.
  • Try a cold pack or something warm on your shoulder.
  • If you need it, use a gentle pain reliever.

In this article, we’ll chat more about these tips so you can get some peaceful shut-eye, even when your shoulder joint isn’t behaving.

Let’s unlock those secrets to calm nights, one tip at a time!

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Dr. Mehta is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who can help you recover from your joint condition. If you:

  • Are Suffering From Pain and Mobility Issues
  • Need Orthopedic Assessment and Advice
  • Want Treatment From a Top Orthopedic Doctor

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Why is a Frozen Shoulder Painful at Night?

So, why do the symptoms worsen at night?

Think of your shoulder like a door hinge. When it’s ‘frozen’, it doesn’t swing open or closed properly. So, when you lie down, it’s like someone’s squeezing that hinge, putting pressure on the joint. Not fun.

Furthermore, at night, inflammation from a frozen shoulder often intensifies. This means more pain for you.

The hardest task is to find the perfect spot to sleep! With a seemingly endless selection of uncomfortable sleeping positions, finding a comfortable spot can be frustrating.

Simply put, while you’re trying to sleep, your shoulder acts like it’s partying all night. Understanding this can help you find ways to ease the pain and sleep better.

Common Frozen Shoulder Symptoms

Shoulder Discomfort

For a frozen shoulder, you’re going to feel either a sudden pain or slowly worsening constant discomfort. And guess what? Our icy friend loves nighttime cameos.


A classic frozen shoulder move. Want to grab something from a high shelf or scratch an itch on your back?

Good luck!

The stiffness will have you inventing some creative workarounds.

Reduced Range of Motion

Remember greeting your neighbor from afar or grabbing a snack from the backseat on a drive?

If you have a frozen shoulder, these might be fond and distant memories.

Other Symptoms

This icy intruder doesn’t just cause shoulder drama.

Simple tasks like getting dressed, carrying bags, and driving can become tough challenges. Not to mention the sleepless nights leading to zombie-like days.

What Makes Symptoms Worse?

For those wrestling with a frozen shoulder, movement becomes a double-edged sword.

Too much or sudden movement worsens pain, but staying still isn’t good either. It’s about striking the perfect balance, ensuring mobility without straining the joint.

Moreover, repeated tasks or carrying bags can strain and worsen shoulder inflammation. Being mindful and adjusting routines can help avoid additional pain and discomfort.

A frozen shoulder doesn’t respond well to cold, causing the muscles to tense further. In contrast, warmth acts as a soothing balm. Warm showers and heat packs can relax and relieve shoulder tension.

With patience, the right tools, and expert guidance, you can overcome this!

How Should I Sleep With Frozen Shoulder?

Mastering Sleeping Positions

When trying to sleep with frozen shoulder, bedtime can seem like a game of Twister.

But, with a little positioning magic, you can find your sweet spot. Here are some sleep positions to help you dream pain-free:

1. Side-Sleeping

A.K.A Lean, But Not On Me

Turn to your unaffected side and think of it as your savior. Prop a pillow under the affected shoulder’s arm, and for a bonus, tuck a pillow between your knees.

This not only adds comfort but also keeps your spine straighter than a ruler.

Man trying to side sleep with frozen shoulder

2. Back-Sleeping

AKA Starfish with a Twist

Lay flat on your back and imagine you’re making a snow angel. By placing a pillow under your knees, you’re giving your lower back a little lift-off.

But wait, there’s more! Place an extra pillow under your affected arm to give it comfort and support.

Man Sleeping on his back in a comfortable position for frozen shoulder

3. Front-Sleeping

AKA The Delicate Diver (Proceed with Caution)

While this might be a favorite for some, it’s a tricky one when you want to sleep with frozen shoulder. The pressure? Not always a friend to Mr. Frozen.

Try your best to avoid sleeping on your front.

If you really can’t, try to avoid your shoulder moving forward. Place a thin pillow under the affected shoulder, or use a pillow to tilt your body, bringing your unaffected shoulder off the bed slightly.

The magic touch?  Make sure your shoulder, neck, and spine are aligned and comfortable.

don't use your front to sleep with shoulder pain

Support Your Sleep with These Cozy Tricks!

Got a stubborn shoulder? Let’s turn your bed into a comfy oasis!

Here’s how to add layers of support to make your nights way cozier:

Head & Neck Hug

Think of your pillow as the embrace your head and neck deserve. Get one that’s just firm enough to keep your neck aligned without feeling like you’re lying on a rock.

Shoulder’s Cushion Castle

Craft a pillow fortress for to make your arm and shoulder comfortable.

Tuck a pillow underneath it to give it a soft landing.

The Body Pillow Buddy

Think of this as the big spoon you always wanted. A body pillow is like the VIP of bedtime for anyone with a frozen shoulder.

It’s like getting a full-body hug, and who doesn’t want that?

Play around with positions, and you might just find your perfect snuggle match.

Nightly Soothing Rituals

Pre-sleep rituals are just fancy self-care. You’ve to pick your relief: a cozy heat pad or a soothing ice pack.

Nighttime Relief to Help Sleep With Frozen Shoulder

Do you have a shoulder that’s playing spoilsport at bedtime?

Here’s your nighttime toolkit to combat that shoulder chill:

  1. Daytime TLC: Avoid tasks that poke the dragon, and let your shoulder rest during the day. Trust me, it’ll thank you come bedtime.
  1. Medicate (Responsibly!): Some anti-inflammatory champions like ibuprofen might help. But always play it safe and consult with your doc before making it a habit.
  1. Sleep Yoga: Finding the right pose for sleep can be like yoga for bedtime. Try snuggling with some extra pillows or switch sides. Who knows, you might discover a new favorite sleeping pose!
  1. Stretch it Out: A pre-sleep stretch, guided by an expert, could soothe your shoulder.

Heating Pads: Your New Best Friend

Choose a heating pad that lets you control the heat. Once you’ve found the one, the next step is to time it correctly. A 15-20 minute warm-up session before getting to bed could ease those muscles.

Remember not to crank it up too high and avoid dozing off with it turned on. We’re looking for a warm hug, not a roast!

Use these tools to get that nighttime relief, and say goodbye to those difficult nights!

man sleeping comfortably

Steer Clear of Frozen Shoulder Triggers

Dealing with a frozen shoulder requires caution to avoid increasing pain and stiffness. It can sometimes feel like you’re treading on thin ice.

Here are some things you might want to sidestep:

1. Overusing the Problematic Shoulder

Keep the affected shoulder from doing heavy lifting, quite literally! Avoid tasks that have you moving it repetitively or excessively.

2. Avoid Sleeping on the Shoulder

Sleeping on the afflicted shoulder is like stepping on a crack in the ice! Extra pressure on a tender area can delay healing and increase pain.

Instead, aim for a sleeping position that’s kind to your shoulder. The back or the unaffected shoulder can be good places to rest. A pillow tucked between your arms can offer that extra support.

3. Carrying the Weight of the World

Hold off on carrying heavy objects or diving into strenuous activities. Not only are these harder with a shoulder pain, but they will kick off a vicious cycle. Let someone else do the heavy lifting (literally).

4. Seeking Professional Guidance

Dealing with your shoulder pain alone is difficult and lonely. Reach out to a healthcare professional.

An orthopedic surgeon can help guide you toward recovery from your shoulder pain and steer you away from pitfalls along the way!

Soothing your Frozen Shoulder: Daily Tips

First things first, starting with gentle stretches daily can be like that warm cup of cocoa – cozy for your shoulder.

Think of “pendulum swings” and “wall walks” as your morning and evening ritual, helping to ease that stiffness and keep the blood flowing.

However, it’s always wise to chat with a physical therapist to tailor the moves to what suits you best.

Heat’s the next best friend for that frozen shoulder – a heating pad or a warm shower. But remember, no prolonged sauna sessions here, 15-20 minutes should do.

And if your doctor gives a thumbs up, anti-inflammatory meds might be the cherry on top to manage that stubborn pain.

Here’s another tip: try not to overwork that shoulder in your daily hustle. Carrying the world (or just heavy bags) on your shoulder? Use the other arm for a bit.

Lastly, always keep your doctor in the loop before making any significant changes.

Personalized Treatment

Painkillers like NSAIDs give temporary relief from shoulder pain. These are sometimes prescribed as topical gels – check with your doctor what might work the best for you.

Try specific shoulder exercises under the guidance of your shoulder doctor or physical therapist. Corticosteroid injections might are an option  – not a magic fix, but they can help.

The idea? Use a range of treatments, but always under a watchful eye – preferably an orthopedic surgeon like Dr. Mehta.

Physical Therapy

If your shoulder had a preferred therapist, it would be a physical therapist. This isn’t just about easing the pain; it’s like rehab for the soul (or in this case, the shoulder).

These experts help melt away that icy stiffness with a variety of stretches and exercises. Ever heard of pendulum swings or wall crawls? They’re not the latest dance crazes, but they might just be the groove your shoulder needs.

And it doesn’t stop there; strengthening exercises make sure your shoulder gets its groove back, pain-free!

YouTube video

Final Thoughts

Navigating the realm of sleep with frozen shoulder can be challenging, but there’s hope for a peaceful slumber.

Your choice of sleeping position is crucial, whether favoring the unaffected side or embracing your shoulder with a gentle pillow. A warm compress before bedtime can serenade your tense muscles, easing your path to sleep.

If you’re struggling with any other shoulder conditions, you can also check out our guide to sleeping with shoulder pain.

However, the dance doesn’t end at night; it continues during the day. Be cautious in your activities to avoid worsening the pain.

Consult your trusted orthopedic surgeon to curate a treatment mix, blending pain relief, targeted exercises, and possibly corticosteroid injections.

Soon, you’ll waltz into nights of uninterrupted slumber, with your frozen shoulder no longer the star of a midnight fiesta.

What Shoulder Services Do We Offer?

Shoulder Pain Assessment

Shoulder Pain is frustrating and can impact both your sleep and your mental health. Dr. Mehta is a shoulder doctor and can diagnose your pain, offering various surgical and non-surgical treatments.

Shoulder Surgery

If your shoulder condition is severe, or nothing you have tried has helped, Dr. Mehta can advise you on the options for surgery. She is a shoulder specialist and can offer expert opinion and care.

Treatment of Shoulder Conditions


Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder makes your shoulder stiff and can make movement painful.

Bicep Tendinitis

Bicep tendonitis causes pain in your upper arm and can lead to a bicep tendon tear.

Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder impingement makes it difficult to raise your arms above your head.

Shoulder Bursitis

Shoulder bursitis gives you a tender shoulder and makes it difficult to sleep.

Rotator Cuff Tear

Rotator cuff tears can occur during sports and make overhead movements difficult.

Dislocated Shoulder

Shoulder dislocation causes a disformed and painful shoulder and can be recurrent.

Shoulder Separation

Shoulder separation is a sprain in the AC joint near your shoulder.

And Many More!

Dr. Mehta offers diagnosis and treatment of all shoulder conditions and can offer her specialist opinion as an expert shoulder doctor.

Expert Advice For Shoulder Problems