This post was written by the site owner – Dan Cartwright – who has been testing mattresses and reviewing products online since 2015.
I am typing out this post with great difficulty because I have just had arthroscopic surgery on my arthritic left shoulder (as per the image above), and I’m currently awaiting surgery on my right shoulder for the same reason.
I have also spent many years with shoulder pain due to sporting injuries, so I’m well aware of just how painful it can be to try and get to sleep with shoulder pain.
But can a mattress itself cause shoulder pain independent of any underlying medical condition?
A mattress can cause shoulder pain if it’s too firm, doesn’t provide enough pressure relief, is sagging, or lacks support. Selecting a mattress with the correct firmness and material composition relative to your body weight, body type, and dominant sleeping position can reduce shoulder discomfort.
However, conditions like arthritis, muscle injuries, and joint problems can be aggravated by a mattress that’s otherwise suitable for you.
So if you have shoulder pain at night, then you should consult your doctor to find out the underlying cause so that it can be treated properly.
In the rest of this post, I have used my knowledge of mattresses to explain in more detail how a mattress can cause pain at night, and what you can do to resolve the issue.
3 Ways a Mattress Can Cause Shoulder Pain
The main ways that a mattress can cause shoulder pain directly is by being too firm, not being made of the correct materials in order to provide enough pressure relief, and due to sagging or a broken support core.
More details below:
1: The Mattress is Too Firm
Mattress firmness describes how hard or soft the mattress feels when you lie on it.
If your mattress is too firm, this can cause shoulder pain by creating too much surface tension, which increases friction points on the body and can compound compression forces inside your joints that leads to pain.
Mattress firmness and comfort is relative to your body weight, body type, and dominant sleeping position.
For example, if you’re a lightweight side sleeper under 150lbs, you will need a softer mattress than a heavyweight front sleeper over 230 lbs.
This is because sleeping on your side naturally creates more pressure on your shoulders than sleeping on your back.
And the lighter you are, the more you will tend to rest on top of the mattress materials – which can cause a build up of pressure in your joints.
See the upcoming section for more details on how to pick the correct firmness to avoid shoulder pain.
2: There Isn’t Enough Pressure Relief
Pressure relief describes the mattress’s ability to absorb friction points on your body.
And whilst the firmness is a significant factor that influences pressure relief (softer generally means more pressure relief and firmer tends to increase friction points), the material in the upper section of the mattress also player a major role.
For example, a mattress with memory foam in the top layer tends to provide some of the best pressure relief – although latex foam is also a viable option and is sometimes better if you want more bounce and cooling qualities.
Mattresses with a pillow top or a Euro top have extra padding that can enhance pressure relief on your shoulders and the rest of your body.
If you’re a side sleeper, then pressure relief is very important because the angle of your body puts you at risk of shoulder pain because your body weight naturally pushes downwards on to your shoulder joints and surrounding muscles.
3: The Mattress is Sagging or Lacks Support
A sagging mattress is a leading cause of back pain at night, and can also cause shoulder pain by putting you in bad posture and creating pressure points on your body.
A mattress with a worn out support core can cause your hips to drop out of alignment and put pressure on your spine, whilst a mattress with indents or loose springs poking through the surface can cause painful areas of pressure on your shoulders.
If your mattress has poor support and/or is creating pressure points on your body, then you should order a new mattress to prevent further health issues.
How to Find Out if a Mattress is Causing Shoulder Pain
Whilst the three reasons listed above are the main reasons WHY a mattress is causing you shoulder pain, it can often be difficult to tell if your mattress is at fault.
So here are 6 things to look out for that can indicate that it’s your mattress that’s the underlying reason for your shoulder pain.
1: The Pain is Worse at Night
If your shoulder pain starts when you lie down, then it could be that your mattress is the issue.
However, it may be that an underlying medical condition is the real cause of the discomfort, and the mattress is just the trigger.
That’s why you should visit your doctor to find out the real cause.
However, if the pain isn’t there when you lie on a different surface – such as the sofa, a futon, or another mattress – then it’s more likely that your mattress is the culprit.
2: The Pain Goes Away as the Day Goes On
If your shoulder pain is bad in the morning but starts to subside as the day goes on, then this could indicate that your mattress is the problem – or is a contributing factor at the very least.
3: You Wake Up During the Night
If you’re waking up with shoulder pain in the night, then this is a strong indicator that the mattress is causing shoulder problems for you.
Normally, this will be due to pressure points or lying in bad posture due to the mattress sagging.
But in other cases, if your mattress is too soft, then you may not be able to turn over and this might be waking you up due to pressure building up in your shoulders.
A firmer mattress, and/or a latex mattress or mattress topper can help to provide a more mobile sleeping surface.
4: It Feels Like You’re Sleeping On a Wooden Board
If your mattress feels very firm – like you’re sleeping on a wooden board or a hard surface – and you also have shoulder pain, then this lack of material compression is probably the cause of your discomfort.
5: The Mattress is New
If your mattress is less than a month old, and you developed shoulder pain as soon as you started sleeping on the mattress, then this likely means that your body hasn’t adjusted to the new materials yet.
I’ve tested loads of mattresses and whilst the materials usually adjust within the first week, it can take up to 30 nights of continuous use before the final feel of the mattress is apparent.
If your mattress is still uncomfortable after this period, then it’s likely that it’s the wrong firmness or the materials aren’t suitable for you.
In many cases, you can return the mattress under the terms of the sleep trial.
6: Your Mattress is More Than 5-7 Years Old
Most mattresses need replacing after 5-7 years of regular use.
Some mattresses can last longer, but if you have shoulder pain and your mattress is approaching this age or is older, then you might want to buy a new one to ensure you’re getting the best pressure relief and support.
7 Ways to Stop a Mattress From Causing Shoulder Pain
The solutions below include a mixture of pre and post purchase fixes.
The most effective way to stop your new mattress from causing shoulder pain is to select the correct firmness, choose memory foam for the comfort layer, go for a hybrid coil support core with a zoned configuration, and consider pairing your mattress with an adjustable frame before you buy the mattress.
If your existing mattress is causing your shoulder pain, then you can make it softer with a mattress topper to reduce the firmness – whilst sleeping on your back and making sure your pillow isn’t too thick or thin can also help to reduce shoulder discomfort.
More details are as follows:
1: Select the Correct Firmness
The most significant step that you can take to reduce the chance of your new mattress from causing shoulder pain and other discomfort is to choose the level of firmness that best suits your body weight, body shape, and dominant sleeping position before you purchase the mattress.
Selecting the correct level of firmness isn’t an exact science and is variable according to your personal preferences.
But as a general rule, side sleepers, lighter weighted sleepers under 150 lbs, and sleepers with a body fat percentage under 15% (with more prominent bones and joints) will need a softer mattress in order to provide more pressure relief and weight distribution capabilities.
Conversely, front sleepers and/or sleepers over 200 lbs will require a firmer mattress to provide more surface tension to guard against material sinkage that can put you in bad posture and cause pain.
The table below provides more detailed guidance for selecting the best firmness for your sleeping style:
|Side sleepers <130 lbs
|Side sleepers 130 – 150 lbs
|Side sleepers 150 – 180 lbs
|Front, back, side sleepers 150 – 200 lbs
|Front, back, side sleepers 150 – 230 lbs
|Front + back sleepers 200 – 230 lbs
|Front + back sleepers >250 lbs
2: Reduce Pressure Points With Memory Foam or Latex Foam
High quality memory foam is the most adaptive material that you can have in a mattress and is ideal for reducing pressure points because it contours to the exact shape of your body so that pressure is removed from angular areas like your shoulders, hips, and knees.
Memory foam is the best material for pressure relief, but latex foam is also a viable option if you want a more bouncy feel.
This extra degree of pushback provided can be a better option if you are a combination sleeper or a restless sleeper that needs to be able to switch positions easily during the night.
I would also recommend latex foam over memory foam if you are a hot sleeper like me and need a breathable mattress that can help you stay cool and dry at night.
Polyfoam is also a reasonable choice, but typically doesn’t provide as much pressure relief as memory foam and isn’t as breathable as latex foam.
I’ve tested a lot of mattresses, and the best memory foam mattress for maximum pressure relief based on my testing is the Puffy Lux Hybrid.
But if you’d prefer a latex foam mattress, then my top recommendation is the Nolah Natural.
3: Make the Mattress Softer With a Topper
If your mattress is too firm, and it’s causing your shoulders to hurt, then you can buy a soft topper to put over your mattress to reduce the pressure on your shoulders.
This can be a relatively cheap way to fix your mattress if it’s too firm without having to buy a new mattress.
This strategy can also cover up minor indents in the mattress surface that may be causing friction points.
But it’s not a good solution for fixing a sagging mattress – since a broken support core generally requires a new mattress.
Memory foam toppers offer the most pressure relief, but latex foam is also a fair option.
4: Pick a Pillow With the Correct Loft Height
If your shoulder pain is accompanied by neck pain, then it could be your pillow that’s throwing your posture off and causing discomfort.
A pillow that’s 4-6 inches thick should provide enough support for most sleepers.
Side sleepers generally need a thicker pillow to fill the gap between their head and the mattress.
But if you’re a front sleeper, then you’ll need a thinner pillow to avoid neck strain.
Memory foam pillows are a good choice if you’d like maximum pressure relief and adaptability for your head and neck.
5: Sleep On Your Back
If you tend to sleep on your front or your side, switching to the back sleeping position can be a simple way to reduce the pressure on your shoulders and potentially alleviate any pain.
This can be especially effective if you are sleeping on your side on a mattress that’s too firm because sleeping on your back generally allows you to tolerate firmer surfaces.
Front sleeping is considered to be the worst sleeping position because it puts so much strain on your neck and shoulder joints.
6: Go for Zoned Hybrid Support
A hybrid mattress that has either memory foam, latex foam, or high quality polyfoam in the top comfort layer combined with a pocket coil support core is the most well-rounded type of mattress that I’ve tested because they provide excellent pressure relief and support.
This is because the pocket coils adapt precisely to your body shape to provide deeper comfort – when compared to a traditional spring mattress that has connected coils that bend as a unit.
However, you can take this a step further by opting for a hybrid mattress with zoned support.
Zoned support means there’s more ‘give’ around the shoulder and knee regions to help aid with pressure relief and potentially reduce shoulder pain.
The region around your hips – and sometimes the head and foot sections on some models – is comparatively firmer to provide more support and keep you in good posture.
You can also buy zoned mattress toppers to place over your existing mattress to help combat shoulder pain.
Otherwise, buying a mattress with zoned support is the best way to get ahead of shoulder pain.
7: Pair Your Mattress With an Adjustable Frame
An adjustable frame allows you to alter the angle of your sleeping surface so that you have more control over your comfort levels.
And whilst adjustable beds are known more for their ability to reduce back pain and alleviate conditions like COPD, acid reflux, and snoring – you may also be able to obtain relief from shoulder pain.
I advise that you pair your new mattress with an adjustable frame made by the same company to ensure they are compatible.
Dan is the founder and head content creator at Bedroom Style Reviews.
He has been working as a professional online product reviewer since 2015 and was inspired to start this website when he ended up sleeping on a memory foam mattress that was too soft and gave him backache.
Through in-depth research and analysis, Dan’s goal with this website is to help others avoid such pitfalls by creating the best online resource for helping you find your ideal mattress, bedding, and bedroom furniture.
Dan is a qualified NVQ Level 2 Fitness Instructor with 6 years’ experience helping clients improve their health through diet, exercise, and proper sleep hygiene.
He also holds several college and university-level qualifications in health sciences, psychology, mathematics, art, and digital media creation – which helps him to publish well researched and informative product reviews as well as articles on sleep, health, wellbeing, and home decor.
Dan also has direct personal experience with insomnia, anxiety, misophonia (hypersensitivity to sounds), and pain from both acute and long-standing sporting injuries – he enjoys writing insightful articles around these subjects to help fellow sufferers of such conditions.
Learn more about Dan here.