How To Sleep With Rotator Cuff Pain
You’re lying in bed with a pillow under your head and you think it’s going to be really comfortable sleeping that way. Your left arm hangs down from the side of your body and your right arm rests comfortably across your chest. You close your eyes and take a deep breath as you fall asleep…but when you wake up later in the morning, you realize something isn’t quite right.
Your shoulder feels different and you can barely move your arm at all. It seems like every time you try to raise your arm, it just won’t go straight up. Instead, it wants to swing forward or backwards. As you lie there, it becomes painfully obvious that your sleep position has caused some serious problems with your rotator cuff. The good news is, there are ways to make sleeping easy again if you’ve been experiencing this problem. How? We’ll discuss how to avoid putting yourself at risk of injuring your rotator cuff while sleeping in our next section.
Rotator Cuff Problems While Sleeping
The most common sleeping positions which cause rotator cuff injuries include sleeping on one’s stomach (lying on one’s back), sleeping on one’s side (sleeping on one’s elbow) and sleeping in the fetal position (curled into a ball). In addition, if you use pillows or other objects between your neck and shoulders while sleeping, you may also injure your rotator cuff during the night.
It’s important to understand that the anatomy of the human shoulder allows us to sleep in various positions. However, because we don’t spend much time sleeping while standing upright, the majority of people need to modify their normal sleeping postures to reduce stress on the rotator cuff.
Sleeping on one’s stomach puts excessive strain on the supraspinatus muscle of the rotator cuff. This means that even if you can get used to sleeping flat on your back, you should still consider modifying your usual sleeping posture. For example, you could sleep propped up on pillows instead of lying completely horizontal.
Similarly, sleeping on one’s side causes extra wear and tear on the infraspinatus muscle of the rotator cuff. Although this pain doesn’t usually last long after waking, it is extremely uncomfortable and requires immediate medical attention.
If you find yourself curled into a tight ball while sleeping, you are placing an unnatural amount of pressure on the teres minor tendon of your rotator cuff. This type of sleeping position is especially dangerous if you have arthritis in your spine.
What Should I Do When My Arm Hurts From Sleeping?
As soon as you feel any discomfort in your shoulder area while sleeping, you should stop what you are doing immediately and consult a doctor. Rotator cuff tears require prompt treatment and surgery due to the possibility of permanent scar tissue forming around the joint.
In order to determine exactly what is wrong, your physician will have to perform tests such as x-rays, ultrasound and MRI scans. Once he or she determines where the injury is located, they can help you come up with a plan and recovery strategy. Depending on the severity of the injury, you may opt to undergo physical therapy treatments, injections or surgery.
While a lot of cases resolve themselves naturally within weeks to months, some patients do need surgical intervention. Surgery is necessary if a tendon is torn away from its attachment point, if bone spurs or bony growths interfere with proper healing, or if another underlying condition such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis occurs simultaneously.
However, since rotator cuff surgery is not always successful, many doctors recommend using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen to relieve the inflammation that comes along with tearing a tendon. In some cases, cortisone shots are also recommended. Cortisone reduces swelling and loosens adhesive tissues surrounding injured areas.
Since these medications only provide temporary relief, you should follow your physician’s instructions closely when taking NSAIDS or steroids. Using too much medication can increase your chance of bleeding, infection and/or allergic reactions. Also, keep in mind that if you already suffer from high blood pressure, kidney disease or heart conditions, you should consult your physician before taking NSAID medications.
Even though it might seem counterintuitive, rotating your arm slightly every so often while sleeping on your side may actually prevent injury to your rotator cuff. Keep in mind that the reason why you hurt your shoulder while sleeping in this particular position is because your arm stays in one place, causing excessive force to repeatedly flex and extend itself. By moving your hand upwards and downwards several times throughout the course of each hour, you allow the joint to rotate smoothly without putting undue stress on your cuff.
Finally, remember that if you experience severe pain while sleeping, you should see your doctor immediately. While you may initially want to attempt self-treatment, you should never ignore painful symptoms!
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