Shoulder pain is a common complaint. That isn’t surprising given that the shoulders are one of the most complex areas of the body. Putting uneven pressure on the joints can trigger inflammation, as well as pain in your muscles and your tendons, leaving you with a limited range of motion. Reducing the stress you put on your shoulders is essential to minimize or prevent pain. This is one factor as to why many side sleepers wake up with stiffness in their arm or shoulder. The concentration of your weight should not be limited to one side when you sleep.
Types of Shoulder Pain
Most of us go to bed in the hopes of having a good night’s sleep. When we wake up with shoulder pain or stiffness, we are bound to wonder if our sleeping posture caused the problem. But a lot of factors can contribute to shoulder pain.
- Spinal stiffness
Did you know poor posture can cause shoulder pain? Staying hunched over our smartphones and computers leaves our thoracic spine bent for hours. This can inhibit our spine and our rib cage mobility, putting us at risk of more shoulder injuries.
- Radiating pain
Some people have neck or back pain that travels to their shoulders. Spinal problems can cause this type of radiating pain.
- Altered mechanics
Old sprains, scapular dyskinesis or injuries in the soft tissue can lead to altered stretching and subsequent pain from the muscles that were not designed for specific movements.
- Repetitive movements
Cashiers, shelf-stockers, and those who do the same thing day in and day out are more likely to experience shoulder pain due to constant wear-and-tear on the same joints and muscles day after day.
Common Medical Conditions That Cause Shoulder Pain
- Bursitis: The bursa is a small, fluid-filled sac that cushions tendons, muscles, and bones near your joints throughout your body. Bursitis is diagnosed when these body parts become inflamed. Bursitis most often occurs in the hip, elbows, and shoulders. Subacromial bursitis is a type of shoulder bursitis. It is typically related to shoulder impingement syndrome. Subacromial bursitis occurs when the rotator tendons and muscles become irritated and inflamed as they pass under the subacromial space. (The area beneath the acromion. The acromion is the bony projection off the scapula. The collar bone meets the acromion in the acromioclavicular joint.) Bursitis can cause pain and weaken the entire shoulder area,
- Arthritis: Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints. It can occur throughout the body, affecting one or more joints. There are over 100 different types of arthritis requiring different treatment modalities.
- Rotator cuff injuries: A rotator cuff is a group of tendons and muscles that keep the head the humerus (upper arm) in its socket. Rotator cuff tendinitis is a common shoulder problem that can cause severe shoulder pain. Also referred to as rotator cuff tendinosis, this condition occurs when the tendons in the rotator cuff break down after constant wear and tear. A rotator cuff tear occurs when one or more of the rotator cuff tendons are torn away from the bone. The tears can be partial or complete. They can occur as a result of injury or repeated daily use. Rotator cuff tears affect nearly 2 million people per year. Rotator cuff injuries can weaken your shoulder.
- Adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder): It is another condition that causes disabling pain. Pain can be so severe that even simple movements are limited. If medical management and physical therapy are not sufficient, surgery is required.
- Shoulder Impingement Syndrome: This condition results when the rotator cuff tendons are sometimes trapped and compressed in the subacromial space when the shoulder is moved. The subacromial space is the passage beneath the acromion (bone).
Sleep Solutions for Shoulder Pain
Side sleepers are prone to having pain in their shoulder muscles because of excess pressure on the joints every time they sleep. If you want to get pain relief from your shoulder problems, these tips may be of help.
- Don’t sleep on your stomach
Stomach sleepers may think that this sleep position can alleviate the pain at night but this is incorrect. Sleeping on your stomach can make your shoulders move forward and become misaligned causing shoulder pain at night. Sleeping on your stomach may also cause neck pain that radiates to the shoulder. It is much better to sleep on your back since this position keeps your shoulders properly aligned. This position can also help if you have sleep apnea as well.
- Sleep on the other side
Side sleepers should sleep on the side that is pain-free. You can also add a small shoulder pillow to alleviate the pain in your sore shoulder by placing it in the underarm area.
- Support your head
Another solution to your shoulder pain is to ensure that your spine is properly aligned so that it is a neutral position. Place a few pillows under your head or add a rolled up towel under your neck area to get enough support.
- Stretch it out
Try doing some light stretches first thing in the morning. Night pain can mean that the blood flow in this area of your body is not sufficient. Stretching allows more blood to flow in your muscles and joints reducing any inflammation while enhancing your range of motion. Another thing that is great about doing stretches is that you will not need any special equipment. Make sure you not only stretch your arms and shoulders but your neck as well.
- Try yoga
Shoulder pain can be triggered by neck pain as well as stiffness which can make it difficult for you to move around. Yoga is a great way to stretch muscles and joint resulting in pain relief. There are yoga poses that can help alleviate neck stiffness and shoulder pain by stretching your spine. However, make sure that you are doing them correctly so that you don’t cause further injury.
- Ice pack
If you experience shoulder pain at night, applying an ice pack on the affected shoulder may help ease the pain. Place the ice pack on the painful muscles and leave it there for 15 minutes, then rub the area gently. Do this in 20-minute intervals.
It’s hard to sleep well at night when your pillows are uncomfortable. This is why you need to purchase pillows that provide a comfortable surface to sleep on but also to protect you from shoulder and neck pain. You can also place a small pillow under the strained shoulder, making sure your spine maintains neutral alignment. Take note of the density of your pillows as this will help ease the pressure on the affected shoulders.
- Don’t use your phone in bed
Experts have already recommended that we avoid using our phones while we are in bed as this can cause undue stress to our neck. The strained neck muscles can exacerbate any neck pain and cause it to radiate to the shoulders. When you tilt your head forward to check your smartphone, you are putting a lot of strain on your muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your neck. Staying in this position can cause pain in the long run. When you do use your smartphone, try to use it on speaker whenever appropriate so that you do not cause undue strain.
- Sleep in a reclining positioning
For those who are dealing with a shoulder impingement, arthritis or bursitis, sleeping on a reclining chair may help alleviate the issue as it lifts your upper body to a 45 degree, putting less stress on your neck and shoulder blade area. Better yet, an adjustable bed frame will allow you to prop up your body without dealing with falling pillows to help you get rejuvenated sleep at night.
- Physical therapy
Physical therapy is often one of the first steps to resolving shoulder pain. The physical therapist will teach you specific shoulder and arm exercises.
Those who are suffering from shoulder pain at night may take advantage of over-the-counter medications to help reduce the pain that they are feeling. You can start with NSAIDs. Check with your doctor first if you have underlying medical conditions such as ulcers, hypertension, kidney disease, heart disease, as well as asthma to ensure that there will be no untoward side effects. Sometimes, when shoulder pain is not alleviated, doctors may choose to give the patient injections. These include steroid injections to reduce swelling or pain medicine at specific trigger points.
Sometimes, shoulder pain can only be alleviated with surgery. Rotator cuff surgery is considered arthroscopic, meaning that the surgery is done by creating small holes using a fibre optic camera. During this surgery, the inflammation in the bursa on your rotator cuff will be removed. Adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder) is another condition that causes disabling pain. Movement can be so severe that even simple movements are limited. If medical management and physical therapy are not effective, surgery is required.
You can also try a hot compress on the affected shoulder may help provide some relief to your strained shoulders. Apply the hot compress for up to 20 minutes at a time. Then, do some gentle stretches to help increase blood flow to the affected areas.
- Don’t sleep on your stomach
Sleep on a good mattress.
It’s essential for side sleepers to maintain proper spinal alignment to ensure you get a good night’s sleep that results in restoring your body. If you have body aches or specific medical conditions that cause painful joints and muscles, a memory foam mattress that contours around the joints may be helpful.
Talk to your physician.
When shoulder pain does not resolve, it’s time to visit the doctor. Your doctor will perform a physical examination and ask detailed questions regarding any injuries, activities, and your sleep routine and sleep posture. Your doctor may order tests to determine whether the pain is actually due to a shoulder problem or the pain is radiating due to a neck or spine issue. This way they can assess if the problem can be best remedied. Sometimes, chronic shoulder pain results. In these cases, you can work with your health care provider to create a treatment plan that best provides the most pain relief.
Neck and shoulder pain not only causes discomfort but can severely limit movement and an individual’s quality of life. Neck pain and shoulder discomfort or stiffness should not be ignored. If the treatments mentioned above don’t work for you, it is important that you visit your doctor. This way, you will be able to determine the source of the pain leading to the best treatment so that you can complete your tasks during the day and sleep at night.
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