How To Sleep With Shoulder Pain
The shoulder is a complex joint that supports several important functions. The primary function of the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint is movement – specifically, elevation, flexion, abduction, adduction, internal rotation, and external rotation. These movements allow us to reach over objects or lift them off our heads, open doors, pick things up, etc. When we move through life without proper exercise, flexibility and strength training, these motions become more difficult and painful. If we live an active lifestyle, there are plenty of ways to injure ourselves, including lifting heavy weights too quickly, falling out of a swing, slipping while running, etc. Injuries to the shoulder may include rotator cuff tendonitis/tears, impingement, arthritis, bursitis, dislocation, fracture, osteoarthritis, inflammation, tendinitis, tendon rupture, stress fractures, and even cancer! Many people experience discomfort when sleeping at night because they sleep on their backs which puts unnecessary pressure on the cervical vertebrae (neck), causing headaches, muscle aches, and poor posture. Sleeping on one’s stomach is recommended as it relieves this pressure but if sleeping on one’s stomach causes shoulder pain then what else could be done? Here are some tips for how to sleep comfortably with shoulder pain.
Sleep On Your Side Instead Of Your Back Or Stomach
Most health experts recommend sleeping on your side instead of your back or stomach. There are many benefits of sleeping on your side such as better circulation, healthier skin, less time spent propping yourself up during sleep, and improved digestion. However, since the shoulder has no hip joint it is often neglected when considering whether to sleep on your back or side. Most people feel uncomfortable sleeping on their sides so they choose to sleep on their backs because they have been told by doctors that sleeping on their backs is best for their spine. Unfortunately, the truth about sleeping on one’s back is much different than this statement. While a healthy adult spine will adapt to most positions of sleep, sleeping on one’s back places excessive force on the neck and shoulders. The head rests directly against the spinal cord, putting undue strain on the muscles, ligaments, and joints of the upper extremities and potentially leading to tight shoulders, chronic neck pain, and backaches. Sleeping on the back also increases the risk of snoring due to obstruction of the airway.
Sleeping On One’s Knees Is Better Than Sleeping On Their Butt Or Chest
It is true that lying down flat on one’s back allows the shoulders to rest completely relaxed. What isn’t mentioned however is the type of support provided by the mattress. A firm bed is preferred over soft ones and this is where the problem arises. Soft mattresses do not support the individual well enough to keep the spine from collapsing forwardly as it would when lying flat on the back. Some manufacturers claim that “mattress comfort” is achieved by adding foam layers to the top of the bed. This is like building a house on sand; ultimately, the bones will sink into the soil.
To avoid this dilemma, try sleeping on your knees instead of your butt or chest. Lying on one’s knees provides adequate lumbar lordosis (the natural curvature of the lower back). Also, if you’re prone to tossing and turning during the night, sleeping on one’s knees helps prevent rolling onto one’s back. As long as you maintain good spinal alignment, sleeping on your knees is comfortable and won’t cause any problems.
Avoid Sinking Beds And Pillows That Don’t Support Your Head
If you’ve ever had a sinking bed mattress, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Whether it was memory foam or regular old springs, once your head touched the mattress it sank right down and felt awful. You’d wake up feeling sore all over. Unfortunately, this happens to millions of people every day. The solution is simple. Avoid those sinking beds and find a high quality mattress that conforms to your body shape and provides support. Use a thick pillow to prop your head up just like a baby who needs to nurse. For additional support, use pillows that help align the spine. Good choices include orthopedic pillows that offer excellent support and comfort.
Find Comfort Through Proper Posture & Exercise
By maintaining correct posture, the stresses placed upon your back and shoulders will decrease significantly. Poor posture occurs naturally as we age, but it can also be caused by physical trauma, repetitive motion, injury, and emotional issues. Regardless of the reason, it only takes a few minutes each day to improve posture. Start by sitting upright in a chair with both feet flat on the floor. Tilt your pelvis backwards slightly and put your chin slightly higher than your chest. Keep your hands in front of you, palms facing upward, elbows slightly bent. Now raise your arms until your shoulders are level with your ears. Hold this position for 5 seconds and return your arms back to your lap gently. Repeat 10 times or until you notice a difference. Next, stand erect with your feet shoulder width apart. Keeping your heels grounded firmly on the ground, bend at the waist slightly letting your torso hang freely. Raise your arms overhead until your shoulder blades begin to separate. Hold this pose for 3-5 seconds and slowly lower your arms back to your sides. Repeat 20 times. Finally, lie down on your back with your hands behind your head. Lift your head and toes toward the ceiling. Try to relax your shoulders and breathe deeply. Do each exercise for 30 seconds each and repeat 2-3 times per week.
Try Padding Underneath Your Mattress
Many people prefer to sleep on firmer versions of the same mattress used innerspring version. However, recent studies indicate that using a firmer version of the same mattress may actually increase the risk of developing degenerative disc disease. Researchers believe that the softer surface leads to increased pressure points between the mattress and the body. Furthermore, the softer version promotes poor blood flow and decreases oxygen levels making it worse for the heart. According to Dr. Daniel Weiswasser, author of “Why We Get Sick,” “People are generally unaware that the harder the mattress, the longer they will need to go before they get sick.” Therefore, he recommends that individuals purchase two sets of pads to place underneath their mattress. He states that “people who sleep on hard surfaces should add a thicker pad underneath their mattress. People who sleep on soft surfaces should add a thinner padding under their mattress.”
Take Extra Care When Exercising
In order to strengthen our muscles, we must work them. Unfortunately, when working out, many people focus primarily on strengthening the muscles surrounding the hips and thighs rather than the smaller yet equally important muscles supporting the upper extremities. Because the shoulder lacks any sort of hip or core stabilization mechanism, it cannot effectively compensate for its weakness. Therefore, when exercising, make sure that you perform exercises that require full range of motion. For example, don’t just focus on bench presses and squats but also consider other types of lifts such as deadlifts, overhead press, standing barbell curls, etc. Take extra care when performing pull-ups and push-ups. Make sure that you aren’t cheating when doing these exercises otherwise you’ll put added stress on your shoulders and result in injuries. Lastly, never ignore your rotator cuffs. Rotator cuff tears occur in approximately 1% of adults and 90% of cases are due to overexertion.
Now you have a variety of options on how to sleep with shoulder pain. By following these guidelines, you can enjoy better sleep and greater comfort. Remember that everyone is unique and responds differently to various treatments. After consulting your physician, he/she will determine the source of your pain and guide you accordingly.
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