Can Sleeping On Your Side Cause Shoulder Pain
It’s 7 p.m., and as much as you want to hit snooze one more time before heading off for work tomorrow morning, sleep is calling. You roll over onto your right side (or left if you’re a southpaw) and look forward toward the pillow, which has been placed in front of your chest. But instead of finding comfort, you feel an intense stab of pain shoot through your upper arm and into the back of your neck. Before you know it, you’re sitting up straight in bed with tears streaming down your face. What happened? Why did the simple act of turning over cause such severe pain?
The culprit was probably your shoulder. And no, we aren’t talking about the kind that gets dislocated. We mean the type that aches when you wake up in the middle of the night, especially after exercising or playing sports. This painful condition — known medically as adhesive capsulitis — affects approximately 5 percent of people age 45 and older. While most cases resolve themselves within six months, some take years to go away completely. The good news is that there are many things you can do to treat this problem, including physical therapy, massage therapy and acupuncture treatments.
But what happens if you don’t have any shoulder problems but decide to rest your head on your arm while you sleep? Can doing so cause further injury? In short — yes. When you sleep on your side, your body naturally creates a sort of ball-and-socket joint between your shoulder blade and collarbone. Sleepers who rest their faces on pillows often find this position uncomfortable because it puts too much weight on these joints. This can lead to inflammation and stiffness, while putting excessive pressure on affected areas can cause even more damage.
If you’ve ever experienced similar symptoms, try adjusting your sleeping position so you’re not placing undue stress on your shoulders. If you’re prone to tossing and turning during the night, consider investing in a new mattress and frame set. A memory foam mattress conforms to your unique shape, providing support where it counts without adding unnecessary bulk. If you have a lot of space under your bed, opt for a futon instead. Futons allow you to get a full eight hours of shut-eye, but they also provide lots of extra storage space. For added convenience, buy a futon that folds flat against the wall.
Keep reading to learn how changing your sleeping position may help alleviate shoulder pain from sleeping on your side.
Changing Your Sleepless Position
Adjusting Your Pillow Choices
Pain Relief Options
Changing Your Sleepless Position
Chances are, if you suffer from shoulder pain, you’ve tried sleeping on your side. This is the easiest position to fall asleep in, and it’s also the preferred sleeping position for many adults. So why change it? Well, as mentioned earlier, sleeping on your side places added pressure on your rotator cuff muscles. These muscles keep your arm bone attached to your upper leg bone, and they serve a specific function by keeping your shoulder stable and balanced. Having your face propped up against a pillow causes the muscles to be pulled out of alignment — resulting in reduced blood flow, increased muscle tension and poor posture.
Sleepers who use pillows to prop their heads up usually lie on top of them rather than having them underneath them. To avoid this, simply flip your pillow around so the long edge rests across the top of your torso. Doing so will increase circulation to your shoulder area, lessen the strain on your rotator cuff and reduce the amount of force being exerted on your vertebrae.
In addition, lying flat on your back on the sofa with a rolled towel beneath you isn’t a healthy option either. While lying down allows you to conserve energy while you sleep, it also shifts the center of gravity downward, reducing the amount of support provided by your spine. Furthermore, lying on your stomach prevents proper breathing patterns while you sleep, which can result in fatigue.
For those who spend all day hunched over a computer, sleeping on your stomach might seem like a viable option, but here again you run into problems. As mentioned previously, sleeping on your side keeps your shoulder blades closer together — making it easier for you to breathe. However, sleeping on your stomach forces your shoulder blades apart, which increases pressure on your cervical spine and interferes with your ability to inhale properly. Also, improper positioning of your arms can restrict circulation and impede the natural stretching action of your muscles.
On the next page, read about two common choices among pillow users.
Adjusting Your Pillow Choices
While sleeping on your side is typically the best choice, it doesn’t always offer adequate relief for sufferers of shoulder pain. Many people prefer using pillows to lay on their backs, or they may use a combination of pillows in different positions. Regardless of whether you choose to purchase a fancy pillow or just pick something off the shelf, it should fit comfortably against your shoulders and neck.
Pillow selection depends largely on personal preference, but there are several other factors to consider. First, check the label for fill material; polyfoam and feathers contain materials that can irritate sensitive skin. Additionally, remember that pillows lose firmness over time. After washing, dry pillows to prevent mold growth. Finally, consider the size of your room. Extra large pillows are great for tall folks, but if you live in a small apartment, a smaller version will suffice.
With so many options available, choosing a pillow can prove difficult. Here are some tips to help you narrow down your search: Try to locate a pillow with a firm outer layer made of synthetic fibers. Natural fiber covers tend to soften or flatten over time, while synthetic fabrics retain their form and thickness. They also come in a variety of colors and textures, allowing you to match your pillow to your bedroom decor. Look for pillows that feature special features such as anti-allergy fabric, hypoallergenic filling and antimicrobial coverings.
You’ll notice that most pillows are designed to maximize comfort. Not only does the way you sleep affect your overall health, but the way you sleep can impact the way you think. Next, find out how altering your sleeping habits can improve your mental alertness.
Many people assume that a soft pillow provides greater comfort, but the opposite is true. Soft pillows compress easily, losing support and stability over time. Instead, select a pillow that maintains its firmness and promotes airflow. Cotton, silk and wool are recommended for your pillow.
Pain Relief Options
Finding a solution for shoulder pain isn’t easy, especially if you’re unable to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to relieve discomfort and ease the effects of adhesives capsulitis.
First, consult your doctor. He or she can recommend exercises that can strengthen and stretch your rotator cuff, as well as other treatment methods that could include heat, ice packs and ultrasound therapy. Another option is to visit a chiropractor, masseur or physiotherapist. Chiropractors specialize in aligning the spinal bones, strengthening weak muscles and relieving nerve compression. Massage therapists apply deep tissue massages to relax tight muscles and restore circulation. Physiotherapists perform manual stretches, mobility assessments and strength training for patients suffering from chronic conditions.
To maintain optimal health, experts suggest incorporating exercise into your lifestyle. Most people don’t realize it, but our bodies were designed to move. Exercise stimulates the joints and improves flexibility. It also strengthens muscles and helps lower cholesterol levels. Some examples of low-impact workouts include swimming, biking, walking, dancing, hiking and yoga. By incorporating regular exercise routines into your daily life, you won’t need to rely solely upon medication to manage your health.
Next, learn how altering your sleeping routine can improve your quality of sleep.
When you wake up in the middle of the night with shoulder pain, resist the urge to reach for your aspirin. Although aspirin can temporarily relieve pain, taking it before bedtime can actually hinder sleep. Aspirin decreases production of prostaglandins, compounds that promote relaxation and induce drowsiness. Taking aspirin close to bedtime can interfere with getting enough sleep to heal properly.
Sleeping Positions That Help Relieve Shoulder Pain
As discussed, sleeping on your side can put excess pressure on your shoulder, leading to stiffness and pain. One method to prevent this is to elevate your elbow above the level of your hip. Simply tuck your elbow behind your bent knee and place a rolled blanket or pillow below your hand.
Other solutions include elevating your entire arm above your hip to decrease pressure on your shoulder. Also, don’t sleep on your stomach. Sleeping on your back can compromise your breathing, and sleeping on your abdomen can create kinks in your spine that can lead to constipation. Lastly, don’t toss and turn throughout the night — sleep peacefully!
A number of studies show that maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and sticking to a regular bedtime is beneficial for everyone. Researchers found that individuals who slept fewer than seven hours per night had twice the risk of dying compared to those who got more sleep [Source: National Institutes of Health].
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