Can You Dislocate Your Shoulder While Sleeping
Your body is an amazing machine that moves millions of pounds every year with ease and grace. Even so, it’s not perfect — there are times where pain or discomfort may occur. In fact, our bodies often give us clues as to how much they’re suffering by sending signals like headaches, backaches and muscle aches. But sometimes those pains don’t go away even after taking care of them, which means further medical attention might be needed.
One common area for people to experience this phenomenon is at their shoulders. Our posture affects us throughout the entire course of our lives, but especially while we sleep. For example, if we slouch over a desk too long without moving, eventually our backs will suffer from the increased weight pressing down on them. The same goes for sleeping postures. If you sleep on your side or stomach, you may cause undue stress on your joints because you’ve been lying in one position for extended periods. This can also happen if you sleep on your back, which puts a great deal of pressure on your neck.
The worst situation occurs when you lie on your back and roll onto your dislocated arm, putting more weight on your shoulder joint than usual. This additional weight can lead to a loss of movement in the affected shoulder, soreness, stiffness, inflammation and possibly even a tear to the rotator cuff (the tendons and ligaments that keep your elbow, shoulder and hip bones connected). One study found that nearly half of patients who had undergone surgery for shoulder dislocations experienced recurrence within two years. So what causes the shoulder to dislocate? And can it be fixed while you sleep?
Shoulder dislocation happens when the ball-shaped end of the bone slips out of its socket. The head of the humerus is attached to the scapula via the glenohumeral joint, which consists of three small cartilage pads called the glenoid cavity, the anterior labrum and the posterior labrum. A firm fibrous band known as the capsule connects the greater tuberosity of the humerus (where the bone meets) to the upper part of the shoulder blade called the clavicle. Together, these parts form the socket referred to as the glenohumeral joint.
When you fall asleep, the majority of cases involve dropping your arm across your chest. As the arm falls forward, the force of gravity pulls downward on the head of the humerus, which then pushes against the inside surface of the glenoid cavity causing the socket to become loose. With no opposing forces from the other sides, the socket becomes displaced. Once the ball of the bone has slipped out, the shoulder begins to subluxate (get pulled out of place), and the arm starts to rotate externally, or come out of alignment.
Sleep itself isn’t likely to dislodge the shoulder, as the shoulder doesn’t move around very much when we sleep. However, certain factors can make the problem worse. People who have diabetes are more vulnerable to shoulder dislocations due to nerve damage to the joint. Other people should avoid alcohol before going to bed, as it weakens the blood vessels that supply oxygen to the joint, reducing flexibility. Those who smoke cigarettes also run the risk of dislocation. Smoking constricts the arteries that feed the joint and reduces circulation to the area.
So what’s the best way to prevent this kind of injury while you sleep? First off, the most important thing is to get proper rest, exercise and eat right. Proper nutrition helps maintain healthy blood flow to the joint, keeps muscles strong and prevents dehydration. Exercising regularly strengthens the supporting muscles surrounding the joint, which reduce the amount of twisting force applied to the shoulder when someone rolls onto his or her dislocated arm. Finally, try to sleep on your side instead of on your back, as this decreases the chance of shoulder dislocation. You should also use pillows, cushions and wedges to support yourself in different ways.
If you do find yourself experiencing a shoulder dislocation while you sleep, know that immediate medical attention is required. Most orthopedic surgeons recommend surgical repair for severe cases, although some doctors prefer noninvasive methods like physical therapy, braces and splints. Whatever treatment method you choose, take note that recovery usually takes several months.
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