Home / Blog November 02, 2023 Updated on January 04, 2024

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How To Relieve Rotator Cuff Pain At Night

In this blog, we talk about the causes of rotator cuff pain and suggest a few remedies. Most importantly, we share tips and tricks on how to relieve rotator cuff pain at night so that you can sleep soundly.

How To Relieve Rotator Cuff Pain At Night


Rotator cuff pain can result from tears, inflammation, impingement, or overuse.

Heat therapy, physical therapy, and good posture can help the healing process.

Sleeping on your back is recommended to help relieve rotator cuff pain, using pillows for additional support. 

Did you know?
Nearly 2 million people in the United States seek medical attention for rotator cuff tears each year.

Are you wondering how you can relieve rotator cuff pain at night? In this blog, we share a few possible causes, risk factors, and symptoms of rotator cuff pain. And offer up some tips on the best way to sleep with rotator cuff injuries.

What exactly is a rotator cuff? This is a group of muscles in your shoulder that ensures your arm moves smoothly and that your shoulders are stable. Like most muscles in our body, rotator cuffs can get tired or injured and that’s when you start feeling what is usually described as “rotator cuff pain”. In most cases, this is not a permanent condition.

Why Is Rotator Cuff Pain Worse at Night?

Rotator cuff pain can often feel worse at night for a few reasons:

1. Inactivity During Sleep: When you're sleeping, your shoulder is usually in one position for an extended period. This lack of movement can lead to stiffness and discomfort, especially if your rotator cuff is already irritated or injured.

2. Blood Flow: Blood flow to the injured area may decrease during sleep. Reduced blood flow can slow down the body's natural healing processes, which might make the pain more noticeable when you wake up

3. Sleeping Positions: Some sleeping positions can place additional pressure or strain on the rotator cuff, exacerbating the pain. For example, if you unknowingly sleep on the side with the injured shoulder, it can lead to discomfort.

4. Micro-movements: Even though you're asleep, you make small movements during the night. These tiny shifts can irritate an already sensitive rotator cuff, causing pain

5. Build-up of Inflammation: In some cases, inflammation tends to build up in the shoulder as the day progresses due to activities and movements. This inflammation can peak at night, making the pain more intense during the early morning hours

What Can Cause Rotator Cuff Pain?

There are a few reasons why people typically experience rotator cuff pain.

Sometimes muscles and tendons get small tears in them – not necessarily a significant traumatic tear but more like a little rip. This can be a result of an accident or in some cases, it’s simply attributed to aging.

Another common cause of rotator cuff pain is “tendonitis.” This usually feels like you have a sore spot on your skin.

It's also possible for things to get squished in your shoulder, which can hurt. We call this “impingement.” It's like you accidentally closed a book on your finger, except in this case… it’s your shoulder.

There’s a special cushion in your shoulder called the bursa, and it can happen that your bursa gets swollen – this is called “bursitis”.

If you’re using your shoulder in a lot of activities like sports, it can get tired and hurt. Just like when you run around a lot, and your legs get tired, your shoulders can get overexerted, too.

So then, how do I know if what you’re feeling is rotator cuff pain? In the next section, we describe seven common symptoms of a torn rotator cuff.

Symptoms of a Torn Rotator Cuff

The symptoms of a torn rotator can range from normal shoulder pain to reduced strength and limited mobility. Here are a few telltale signs:

1. Pain: You might feel pain in your shoulder, especially when you move your arm. It can range from a dull ache to a sharp pain.

2. Weakness: Your arm may feel weak, and you could struggle to lift or move things as you usually would

3. Limited Range of Motion: It might be hard to move your arm, particularly when reaching overhead or behind your back.

4. Crackling Sensation: Sometimes, you might hear or feel a crackling or popping sensation when you move your shoulder.

5. Difficulty Sleeping: Rotator cuff pain can interfere with your sleep, especially when lying on the affected side.

6. Radiating Pain: The pain may not just be in your shoulder. It can radiate down your arm, and you might even feel it in your neck.

7. Grinding or Catching Sensation: You might notice a grinding or catching feeling when you move your shoulder, a bit like something is getting stuck.

These symptoms can vary in intensity depending on the extent of the tear and how it happened. If you're experiencing any of these signs and suspect a torn rotator cuff, it's a good idea to consult a doctor to confirm the diagnosis. In this case, your doctor will recommend the best course of treatment, which could include rest, physical therapy, or even surgery in severe cases.

With this better understanding of what causes rotator cuff tears, let’s consider underlying factors that influence the likelihood of developing this type of pain.

Risk Factors Associated with Rotator Cuff Injury

There are certain habits and activities that increase your chances of developing shoulder issues like a rotator cuff injury. These could include:

1. Age: The rotator cuff can become weaker and more prone to injury with age.

2. Repetitive Movements: Doing the same shoulder movements over and over again, like lifting heavy things or playing certain sports, can put extra stress on the rotator cuff.

3. Poor Posture: Slouching or sitting in a way that places strain on your shoulders can increase the chances of injuring your rotator cuff.

4. Smoking: Smoking affects the blood flow to your tendons and muscles, making you more vulnerable to injury.

5. Genetics: Sometimes, family history plays a role. If your parents or relatives had shoulder issues, you could be more likely to have them too.

6. Occupation: If your job requires a lot of overhead arm movements, like painting or construction work, you face an increased risk of developing shoulder problems.

Let’s next take a look at a few rotator cuff pain relief treatments.

How To Get Rid Of Rotator Cuff Pain

So, how do you treat a rotator cuff tear? There are many tips and tricks that you can use when caring for a rotator cuff injury. Ranging from self-help remedies to specific exercises that doctors may recommend.

1. Rest: Take it easy and give your shoulder a break from activities that exacerbate the pain. Avoid lifting heavy objects or making repetitive overhead movements. Adequate rest allows the injured tissues to heal.

2. Over-the-counter Pain Meds: Non-prescription anti-inflammatory medications, like ibuprofen (Advil) or aspirin, can help reduce pain and inflammation. Follow the recommended dosage on the label and consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns or underlying medical conditions.

3. Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can design a personalized exercise program to strengthen the muscles around your shoulder and improve your range of motion. These exercises can help you recover and prevent future injuries.

4. Cortisone Shots: In some cases, a doctor may recommend corticosteroid injections directly into the shoulder joint to reduce pain and inflammation. These shots can provide temporary relief, but are not usually a long-term solution.

5. Lifestyle Changes: Modify your daily activities to avoid movements that intensify the pain. If your job involves repetitive overhead movements, discuss possible changes with your employer or consider ergonomic adjustments.

6. Good Posture: Maintain good posture to reduce strain on your shoulders. Sit and stand up straight, and be mindful of your shoulder position when lifting objects.

7. Ice and Heat: Use ice packs to reduce inflammation. If you’re wondering how to use ice and cold for pain relief, we have just the right tips for you. Apply the ice for about 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day. After a few days, you can switch to heat therapy using shoulder and heated neck wrap to relax tight muscles and promote blood flow to the area. Apply heat for 15-20 minutes at a time, but be cautious not to make it too hot to avoid burns.

Our Calmer is a gently weighted heated neck wrap filled with tension-melting TerraclayTM to relieve stress and soothe cramps, aches and pain. Because it is microwaveable, it offers gentle, warm weight that is packaged in a safe design that can help your rotator cuff pain.

The effectiveness of heat therapy  can vary from person to person, depending on the severity and underlying cause of the rotator cuff pain. When conservative treatments don't work, or if the injury is severe, your doctor might recommend surgery to repair the torn or damaged rotator cuff tendons.


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The Best Way To Sleep With Rotator Cuff Injury

So, how do you sleep with a torn rotator cuff? You could try some home remedies that we shared in the previous sections and then you can add the following tips as you prepare to sleep at night

1. Back Sleeping is The Way To Go: Sleeping on your back is often the gentlest position for your shoulder. Use a comfy pillow to support your head and keep your arm close to your body.

2. Sleep With A Comfy Pillow: Place one under your arm for extra support. Consider using a bolster pillow like the Cuddling, that is ergonomically designed to relieve pressure from your joints.

3. Steer Clear of Side Sleeping: While it might sound cozy, try not to sleep on the side with the injured shoulder.

4. Snooze on the Good Side: If you are side sleeping on the side that is not injured, make sure to put a pillow between your knees to keep your spine aligned.

5. Take It Slow: Getting out of bed with a rotator cuff injury can be a challenge. First, roll onto your back, and then use your good arm to push yourself up gently.

Sometimes, it helps to surround yourself with pillows for extra support. This can keep you from rolling onto your injured side during the night. If you still feel unsure about how to sleep with rotator cuff pain, in the next section, we discuss what sleeping positions you need to steer clear of until you heal.

Sleeping Positions To Avoid For Rotator Cuff Self-Healing

When looking for rotator cuff pain remedies, it is important to know what to avoid, especially in terms of sleeping. Here are some postures you will need to reserve for when you have healed from the rotator cuff injury:

1. Side Sleeping on the Injured Side: This one's a no-go for now. Sleeping on the side with the injured shoulder can put extra pressure and strain on it, making things worse. It's like asking your shoulder to do push-ups while it's already hurting.

2. Stomach Sleeping: When you sleep on your stomach, your head is turned to one side, and your arm is often tucked under the pillow. This can twist your shoulder and neck, which isn't great for a sore rotator cuff.

3. Arm Overhead: Avoid positions that require you to raise your arm overhead. It's like trying to reach for the stars while your shoulder is asking for a break.

4. Twisting or Turning: If your shoulder is injured, avoid any sleeping position that involves a lot of twisting or turning, as it can strain the rotator cuff muscles and tendons

The goal is to find a comfortable sleeping position that minimizes stress on your injured shoulder.

Consider consulting with a healthcare professional if you have persistent pain and you are finding it extremely difficult to get any sleep.

When To See A Doctor

It's important to pay attention to your body and seek medical attention if you suspect a rotator cuff injury. Here are some situations when you should consider seeing a doctor:

  1. Persistent pain
  2. Severe pain or sudden injury
  3. Weakness or loss of function
  4. Recurrent pain from a previous rotator cuff injury
  5. Difficulty sleeping because of the pain
  6. Pain that doesn't improve with conservative measures
  7. Signs of Infection like redness, warmth, swelling, or a fever
  8. Loss of feeling or circulation 

Remember, early diagnosis and treatment of a rotator cuff injury can often lead to a better outcome.


When it comes to dealing with rotator cuff pain, understanding the symptoms, risk factors, and the best ways to manage it can make a world of difference. From recognizing the signs of a torn rotator cuff to learning how to sleep comfortably at night, these insights can help you on your journey to recovery.

If the pain persists for over a week or if you notice signs of infection like redness, warmth, swelling, or a fever, seek medical attention.