Pillows For Shoulder Pain When Sleeping On Your Side

Last Updated on March 30, 2023

Do you prefer sleeping on your side or your stomach, with your arm under your head? If so, an injured or painful shoulder can really disrupt your sleeping habits.

It can be fairly hard to fall asleep when you have a constant stinging or sharp pain in your shoulder joint.

Sleep positions can be a very personal thing. Some people can fall asleep anywhere, in any position. For others, their sleeping position is a lifelong commitment.

If your sleeping position includes an arm under your pillow, a recent (or recurring) shoulder injury can cause enough pain to disrupt your normal sleep routine.

Hopefully, we can provide you with some relief!


a man suffering from shoulder pain


Through research, testing, and some trial and error, we have found two options that we believe should work for the majority of the people whom we described above.

We’ve narrowed these two options into the following two categories:

  • Those with light shoulder pain, for instance, or just looking for more support.
  • Those with medium to heavy shoulder pain.

For the purposes of this article, let’s define light shoulder pain as pain that is enough to provide discomfort, but not enough to prevent you from falling asleep.

And medium to heavy pain as pain which is enough to prevent you from falling asleep.

Let’s take a look at these two groups and see if one or the other pillow works for you.


Light shoulder pain

Assuming that sleeping with an arm under your pillow causes some level of discomfort, but is not severe enough to prevent you from falling asleep, our recommendation is the Better Sleep Arm Tunnel Pillow.


a woman sleeping with an arm tunnel pillow


The Better Sleep Arm Tunnel pillow is available in 4 different varieties:

  • Goose down
  • Down Alternative
  • 3.5″ memory foam
  • 5.5″ memory foam


You’ll like this pillow if…

If you can generally fall asleep using your current pillow, but with a bit of discomfort. Whether that pain is felt consistently, or just when you wake up.

This pillow is designed to absorb some of the weight from your shoulder joint.


a woman's arm bent in an arm tunnel pillow

When your arm is under your pillow, your head naturally rests on your shoulder joint, causing it to bend inwards.

Provided that you have minimal – if any – structural damage to your shoulder, this pillow will alleviate some of the pressure from your shoulder, keeping an even and straight angle.

This will allow you to maintain your natural sleeping position.


How do you use it?

It’s really pretty straightforward. Slide your arm through the “arm tunnel”, and then position your arm however you’d like.

You can keep your arm straight or bent such as in the pictures above. Or even skip the tunnel, and have your arm tucked under the front flap of the pillow, like this:


a woman's arm tucked under an arm tunnel pillow

If you maintain a consistent sleeping position throughout the night, using the arm tunnel should be fairly easy.

If you toss and turn, tucking your arm under the flap of the pillow might be more convenient.


What are my options?

The Better Sleep Arm Tunnel pillow comes in the following 4 varieties:

  • Goose down
  • Down Alternative
  • 3.5″ memory foam
  • 5.5″ memory foam

If you prefer goose down, or down alternative, then we’d recommend choosing respectively.  If you prefer a memory foam pillow (or if you prefer a firmer pillow), then you have two options – 3.5″ or 5.5″.

Which option, then, is better?

We recommend the 3.5″ height for people of petite to average body sizes. If you have large shoulders or an overall large body frame, the 5.5″ pillow would probably be a better fit for you.


Medium to heavy shoulder pain

To reaffirm, we’re referring to the kind of pain that keeps you up at night. Whether it be for a few hours, or possibly all night.

You might have structural damage in your shoulder, or it might just be something like arthritis. Either way, your sleeping position is getting in the way of you actually getting some sleep.

For significant shoulder pain, we recommend the MedCline LP Shoulder Relief Wedge and Body Pillow System.

a MedCline shoulder relief pillow

The MedCline pillow system is a “one size fits all” pillow and measures 45″ long x 28″ wide x 6″ tall.

This system is a bit more involved than a traditional pillow and does take a few days to adjust. But once you get used to the wedge portion, it definitely does work.


You’ll like this pillow if…

If lingering pain from shoulder injuries, arthritis, joint discomfort, etc. cause enough pain to keep you from enjoying a restful night of sleep.

If you’re a side sleeper, for example, and laying on your side. With or without your arm extended, this wedge system will definitely provide you with some much-needed relief.


What does the system include?

This pillow has two components:

  • A wedge pillow
  • A body pillow


The wedge portion

The wedge props your body up, allowing your arm to nestle in. It alleviates any pressure that might get placed on the shoulder joint.

the wedge portion of a MedCline shoulder relief pillow

When your arm is inside of the wedge, it allows your shoulder to sink in, with no pressure being placed on the joint.

The wedge itself is made of memory foam, whereas the smaller pillow inside of the wedge contains shredded memory foam.


The body pillow

Once you’re nestled into the wedge, the body pillow acts as both a pillow for your head, as well as a stabilizer to keep you comfortably positioned on the wedge pillow.

the body pillow of a MedCline shoulder relief system


How do you use it?

Using the MedCline system is a bit more involved than the first pillow we discussed above, but it’s not exactly rocket science either.

The first thing you’ll want to do is get it set up.

  1. Position the wedge on the side of the bed where you normally sleep.
  2. Place the smaller pillow inside of the opening.
  3. Place the body pillow onto the wedge.

As far as actually using it…

a man placing his arm into a MedCline shoulder relief pillow


Start by placing your arm inside of the opening in the wedge. You might have to experiment a bit to find the most comfortable angle for you.

Then, use the body pillow in place of your regular pillow.

The body pillow is symmetrical, so it doesn’t really matter which side your choose. If you like having a cushion between your knees, then sleep with the longer side facing you.

Otherwise, you can sleep with the shorter end facing you.


a man's arm tucked under a MedCline shoulder relief pillow


Final thoughts

Hopefully, one of the two options we discussed above will provide you with some relief. Either way, here are a few more tips in case you’d like to continue using traditional types of pillows.


When in doubt choose the firm option

A firm pillow will provide more support, and decrease the angle of the bend in your shoulder joint. That, of course, should alleviate some of the pain.


Use a lofty pillow

You might have noticed that the two pillows we highlighted above were both high loft pillows. Loft refers to the height of the pillow.

A lofty pillow (assuming that you sleep on your side) will keep your spine aligned, and reduce the pressure on your shoulder.


Use a second pillow 

A second pillow positioned by your chest – like a pregnancy pillow – will also reduce some of the weight that gets placed on your shoulder.

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