It can be so comforting to jump into a fresh set of sheets with your eyelids half-closed, directly into snooze mode. The only thing I always dreaded was the shoulder pain after sleeping. Does it sound all too familiar to:
- frequently experience shoulder pain after sleeping
- wake up feeling stiff and sore
- lie awake sometimes because of your shoulder pain
- feel like your shoulders are hunched forward
- feel a lot of tension in your shoulders and neck when opening your shoulders
Then follow along, as I am sharing 5 simple shoulder pain relief tricks in this post.
Take time to understand your shoulder pain
First things first, an essential factor in getting rid of that nagging pain, is taking the time to explore 1) where the pain comes from, and 2) which approach benefits your body most. Make sure to allocate plenty of time to experiment, also on days when you don’t experience shoulder pain after sleeping. The reason for that? After a good night of sleep, your mind is more clear, and you will have more energy to research and try out the necessary pain relief tools.
1. Invest in an orthopedic pillow
The day I exchanged my pillow for a headrest that’s as solid as a brick, my pain slowly started to go away. As my shoulders are quite broad compared to the rest of my physique, they tend to stick out more when lying on my side (I am a side sleeper). This also means that there’s relatively more space to cover between my neck and shoulders. The elevation on the neck-side of my Tempur Neck Pillow helps to bridge that gap.
The firmness of the pillow might seem a bit intimidating at first, but you can get used to it. For me, a night without my neck pillow means a night with tons of turning and adjusting and not that much sleep.
Take time to find a pillow that suits your physique
Neck pillows usually come in different levels of firmness, and although I prefer the firmest one, your preference might be different. Most of the time, you can test out the pillows, and I’d recommend that you do, to experience what feels best for you. If you still feel shoulder pain after sleeping, broaden your search. Besides Tempur’s well-known pillows, there are plenty of budget-friendly orthopedic pillows to choose from, in a wide range of materials.
2. Take that pillow with you everywhere you go
When you’ve got the basics covered, the next step is to make sure you’re also prepared for any exceptions, such as traveling. So, take that pillow with you everywhere you go. It took me a few years to invest in a travel-size version of my orthopedic pillow, but now that I have one, I never go anywhere without it.
Even though some hotels might offer extra firm pillows on request, the pillows won’t always be as firm as you might need. Taking your own pillow with you also means a better night’s sleep. I’d say the extra night’s sleep and avoidance of shoulder pain is worth the investment 🙂
3. Use yoga props to ease shoulder pain
Once you’re all settled for every day, night, and all exceptions, don’t let it be a surprise that you will still wake up sore sometimes. For me, that happens particularly when I am stressed, angry, or just low-spirited. Going through any of these emotions, my body stores these feelings right away in the form of bodily tension.
Think about it: what emotions or events make you feel tense? By becoming aware of those patterns, you know when to work with your body. Using yoga props to open up and relax will stimulate your body and mind to unwind and release the tension.
My favorite props to relieve shoulder pain
Some props I use to relieve shoulder pain after sleeping are 1) a yoga block, 2) a bolster, 3) a yoga mat, and 4) a blanket (preferably a yoga one). A relaxation exercise that you can do with only a yoga block is as follows:
- Try lying on your back with the yoga block tucked between your shoulder blades. Keep your legs closed or open your knees to the sides, whatever feels most comfortable.
- I prefer to keep the long side of the yoga block aligned with my back, going along the spine.
- Once all settled, roll your shoulders open (to either outer side) and down (away from your head).
- Hold the position for a few minutes, or for as long as feels good.
- Now and then, double-check if your shoulders are still really down. Pull them more down and away if you can.
- You can repeat this exercise as often as you like.
- Make sure to keep your pelvis straight, as you might tend to tilt it (anteriorly) in this pose. For spinal alignment, which you essentially want to achieve, the pelvis must stay in line with your spine.
Furthermore, you can combine all props to find helpful poses to relax your body and ease the pain. If you need more guidance on what to do exactly, you can find some inspiration in my post 4 relaxing yoga poses for shoulder pain relief.
4. Stretch away your shoulder pain
Movement is essential in battling pain. So instead of trying anything but moving because your body hurts, do the exact opposite: keep reaching, strengthening, and lengthening throughout the day.
Fortunately, a lot of shoulder exercises can be done anywhere, anytime. They act as counterposes to our western habit of sitting or standing with the arms crossed in front of the body. Therefore, it’s truly beneficial to do a few shoulder exercises every day, also when you’re not in pain. An example of a relaxing shoulder exercise is the elbow hug.
Elbow hug: open your shoulders
- To start, stand on both feet with the weight evenly divided.
- Keep your pelvis and spine straight.
- Draw your chin in and keep your neck long.
- Grab the elbow of the other arm behind your back.
- If you can’t, grab the other arm’s wrist or grab a bit further up the forearm.
- Hold this pose for as long as you can. You can even make short walks walking around like this – I do so every day. If you want to try this too, go without a shoulder bag.
- Looking for an extra stretch? Try to open the shoulders further by rolling the shoulder blades towards each other or fold your hand palms together behind your back. Ensure your head and neck stay balanced on top of your spine, as they might tend to move forward.
- Repeat this exercise continually whenever you find the stamina and time to do so.
Of course, this is just one of a ton of helpful exercises to help ease shoulder pain after sleeping. I’ve summed up some more movements in my post 3 exercises for open shoulders: develop good posture and prevent pain.
5. Dance! Move freely and spontaneously
To really loosen things up, it might also work wonders to do a little dance. Because dancing means plenty of movement variation: an awesome and creative way to liberate your limbs. By swinging, twisting, twirling, and turning, you shake and activate your body in a way that you normally never would.
This loosens up important areas in your body that can create stiffness and pain. Think hips, spine, shoulders, and neck. Dancing also allows you to explore new movement patterns: some moves might feel so good that you might want to do them more often.
Inspiration to get you on your feet
Feel a little awkward and in need of some inspiration? Check out the Instagram feed of Ashtanga Yoga teacher Deepika Mehta. You’ll see what I mean about loosening up those limbs 🙂 Deepika dances spontaneously and says that she “uses intuitive flow to release pain in the body”. Because, according to Deepika, and Indian yogic philosophy as a whole, movement is medicine. Either way, seeing her dancing is a joy to watch, and it might inspire you to move more intuitively, too.
Pssst… scroll further down to discover 2 shoulder pain after sleeping bonus tricks 😉
Bonus: two more tricks to relieve shoulder pain after sleeping
Although shoulder pain after sleeping is mostly associated with how we sleep, how we behave throughout the day should be taken into consideration too. And I don’t mean just the moments you’re proactively working on shoulder pain relief. I mean all those other moments, too. By implementing the following tricks into your daily routine, you’ll become more aware of your bodily behavior. In most cases, this will lead to less muscular tension and less shoulder pain.
Bonus tip 1: Mind your desk posture
Let’s be honest here: sitting upright is not that easy for most people (myself included). But, keeping your head balanced on top of your spine and your shoulders down and open throughout the workday, can prevent shoulder pain after sleeping. In my opinion, the effort to take on a better posture at your desk is definitely worth it.
As soon as I started to improve my poor posture, I started to experience less shoulder pain after sleeping. More on improving your posture if correct posture hurts here.
If you want to know more about how to get rid of forward head posture (also called nerd neck or text neck) check out this post.
Bonus tip 2: meditate & unwind
Meditation is a mindful practice on its own, and maybe you’re not that into it. Still, taking a few minutes to sit still can help you to relax and unwind.
How that works? Take deep breaths and mentally move through your body to feel where you’re holding tension. On an inhale, mentally move to that area of your body, and on an exhale, relax that body part and let the tension go.
By doing this exercise for a few minutes in the morning and at night, you will deliberately relax your muscles after sleeping and before you go to bed.
Checklist: how to handle shoulder pain after sleeping
- Invest in a neck pillow that’s firm enough and supports your posture.
- If you have found the pillow that works for you, take it with you wherever you go, or buy a travel-sized neck pillow for on the road.
- Use yoga props and specific postures to release shoulder pain after sleeping. A yoga block, bolster, a yoga blanket, and a yoga mat is a great starting point.
- Lengthen and stretch continually throughout the day while sitting, standing, or even while walking.
- Dance frequently to loosen up your limbs. Move in unpredictable ways to explore new movement patterns and find out what feels good.
- Mind your desk posture: keeping your head balanced on top of your spine and your shoulders down and open throughout the workday, can prevent shoulder pain after sleeping.
- Meditate: although meditation is a mindful practice on its own, even if you’re not that into it, taking a few minutes to sit still can help to relax and unwind. Focus on your breath to help relax your muscles after sleeping and before you go to bed.
- Shoulder pain after sleeping in under ten words: buy a neck pillow, stretch, dance, move, and unwind.
Did you enjoy reading this post?
I sure hope you did 🙂 If you have any questions, recommendations, or experiences you want to share, I’d be more than happy to read your thoughts! You can leave your comment in the field below. Do you know someone who could benefit from these tricks for shoulder pain after sleeping? Feel free to share this post (via the URL bar or any of the social share buttons) and get the positive energy flowing!
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Regarding any form of bodily movement or exercise, please note the following. If you are in severe pain or have a known condition, please consult with your treating doctor. Don’t continue to practice if you experience pain while doing so. Only practice for as long as it feels comfortable and practice mindfully. Be aware of how your body reacts.