by Michael Colucci

Some of us feel like we’re carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. Really, we may just be dealing with the stress and anxiety of day-to-day life. However, upwards of 26 percent of adults regularly feel this way.

There is a long list of possible causes for shoulder pain, the most common being everyday use. Every time you move your arm, you use your shoulder joint. Over time, these joints wear down and, with age, can lead to severe shoulder pain. Injury and overuse also can lead to shoulder pain even in younger individuals.

When you hit the bed at the end of a long day, shoulder pain can feel more pronounced and prevent you from drifting off to sleep. If this becomes a pattern, you may want to investigate your shoulder pain further so you can prevent it from disturbing your sleep schedule.

First, it’s essential to understand what kind of shoulder pain you’re dealing with.

What Causes Shoulder Pain?

Shoulder-stressing Habits and Activities

You may not realize how often you use or stress your shoulder joints every day. Psychological and physical stress, improper sitting posture, and sleeping in the wrong position can all lead to shoulder pain.

Acute Injuries

Furthermore, any activity that requires intense, sudden, or repeated shoulder extension or rotation can cause shoulder stress or injury. Acute injuries can occur from outstretching your arm, twisting your arm abnormally, or taking a direct hit on the shoulder.

According to Dr. Grant Jones, a shoulder and elbow surgery specialist at Ohio State’s Jameson Crane Sports Medicine Institute, most shoulder injuries the center treats result from “regular activities.” Jones listed picking up a trash can, lifting luggage overhead, and reaching from your car’s front seat to the backseat as common injury causes.

Those with acute shoulder injuries may develop bruising and swelling around the damaged area. You may also experience numbness and tingling around the shoulder, arm, and hand if a nerve or blood vessel pinches due to the injury.

Acute injuries, however, are not limited to bumps and scrapes. These injuries also include dislocation, fractures, and pulled muscles.


Shoulder pain does not just derive from injuries. Natural wear and tear, stress, and overuse can easily lead to right and left shoulder pain and pain between shoulders. Overuse can lead to inflammation and, often, osteoarthritis.

Common Shoulder Pain Diagnoses

Once you’ve identified the potential cause of your shoulder pain or injury, you’ll want to see a medical professional who can diagnose the issue. Your doctor will determine if the shoulder pain or injury is an isolated issue or a symptom of an underlying condition. Common shoulder pain diagnoses include:

X-ray of shoulder


Your shoulder pain may be linked to arthritis. A blanket term, “arthritis” refers to joint pain in general and can develop into many different diseases.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of shoulder arthritis. It is commonly referred to as “wear and tear” arthritis and typically develops around middle-age. People with osteoarthritis often experience swelling, stiffness, and pain in the shoulders.

Tendon Inflammation or Tears

Overuse can also lead to tendonitis, which is the inflammation of a tendon. Specifically, bicipital tendinitis occurs when a tendon attaching the biceps to the bone becomes inflamed.

“Frozen shoulder” is another example of common shoulder pain in which the shoulder movements are limited. Frozen shoulder stems from injury and overuse.

Tearing of tendons can lead to acute injuries and, over time, develop into chronic shoulder pain. Aside from bicep tears, rotator cuff injuries are also common.


In your shoulder and other joints in your body, there are small fluid-filled sacs called bursae. These sacs are like small cushions that help reduce friction between muscle and bone.

Bursitis occurs when your bursae become inflamed and swollen from overuse. Bursitis tends to go hand-in-hand with rotator cuff tendinitis.


When it comes to shoulder pain, fractures are pretty straightforward. You’ll know if you’ve broken a bone. The three most common bones involved in a shoulder-related fracture are the humorous (upper arm bone), scapula (shoulder blade), and clavicle (collarbone).

In older individuals, a fall from standing height or out of bed can lead to broken bones in the shoulder. Younger individuals often experience fractures from high-impact damage such as a car accident or a contact sport injury.

Separations and Dislocations

A separation occurs when your collarbone and shoulder blade come apart at the joint. You can recognize this injury from a protruding bump on top of your shoulder.

A dislocation occurs when the arm pops entirely out of its socket. Dislocations can lead to pain, swelling, and bruising in the shoulder. These can happen when your arm is stretched out or pulled back too far.


Impingement occurs when the shoulder blade exerts pressure on the soft tissues underneath as you lift your arms away from the body. Bursitis and tendinitis can develop from untreated shoulder impingement.


Finding the Best Mattress for Shoulder Pain Relief

Any of the shoulder ailments and injuries listed above can make laying in bed uncomfortable and falling asleep nearly impossible due to the pain.

You’ll want to seek proper medical attention for your condition or injury, but you’ll also want to make environmental or lifestyle changes to alleviate the pain. Replacing your mattress with another model better suited for your shoulder condition is a great place to start, as continuing to sleep on an unfit mattress will only exacerbate the pain.

Fortunately, there are many mattress options available designed to help and quell shoulder pain. When shopping for a replacement mattress, you’ll want to keep the following factors in mind.

Sleep Position and Mattress Firmness

Perhaps the most important factor to consider first is how you sleep at night. Depending on your preferred sleep position, you’ll need varying mattress firmness to keep your spine aligned.

Side sleepers with shoulder pain will need a plush to medium-soft or medium-firm mattress to allow their shoulders to sink into the comfort layer. They’ll also want to sleep on the side opposite their pain.

On the other hand, back sleepers tend to prefer slightly firmer mattresses, usually around a 6 or 7 out of 10 on the mattress firmness scale.

Foam or Hybrid

All-foam mattresses are going to be softer and ideal for side sleepers. Those living with shoulder pain will be able to sink into the soft layers of foam. Hybrids utilize foam and pocket coil to offer more support and firmness, making them ideal for back sleepers with shoulder pain.

Pressure Relief

Many people with shoulder pain prefer contouring mattresses (usually foam or gel) because of the pressure relief they provide around the shoulders. If you have shoulder pain, you’ll likely want a thick comfort layer on the top of your mattress that allows for some “sink.”


Additional Ways to Reduce and Treat Shoulder Pain

Other than sleeping on the right mattress for your sleep position and shoulder pain, there are multiple ways you can alleviate pain in the evening and waking hours.

Good Posture

When you think of proper posture, you likely think of its benefits for your spine. However, the way you sit and stand can have a significant impact on your shoulders as well.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Basic posture changes to improve shoulder motion include rolling shoulders up and back, then letting them relax down, tucking chin down lightly, and sitting up from the hips.”

Proper Heavy Lifting

When lifting heavy objects, always be sure to lift with your legs and not your back. Using your legs will alleviate pressure and tensions on your arms and, thus, your shoulders.

Push-Ups and Exercise

Exercise, in general, is a great way to keep in healthy shape. Push-ups will help strengthen the muscles around your shoulders and can help prevent pain from developing. If you cannot do standard push-ups, wall push-ups can get the job done.

Cold Compress

You can also use cold compresses to reduce swelling in the shoulder from a pre-existing injury or condition. Ice packs, frozen gel packs, or even a bag of frozen vegetables will help.


A Weight Off Your Shoulders

Especially for older or very active individuals, shoulder pain may seem inevitable. However, you can intervene to alleviate pain caused by stress or prevent further damage caused by injury or underlying conditions.

With intention, you can adjust your environment—particularly your mattress—and lifestyle habits to protect your shoulders and joints. Treating your shoulder pain now will help you get ahead of any developing issues and help take the weight off your shoulders for the years ahead.