Waking up with a stiff and aching shoulder can make mornings less than delightful. If you’re a side sleeper, this recurring shoulder discomfort might be a direct result of your preferred snoozing position. Understanding ‘side sleeper shoulder pain’ and its underlying causes is the first step towards finding relief and enjoying restful nights again.
Signs Your Shoulder Pain Comes From Side Sleeping
Sleeping on your side can sometimes put undue pressure on your shoulder joint and surrounding muscles.
The common signs of side sleeper shoulder pain include stiffness and soreness that tends to worsen after long hours of lying on the affected shoulder.
Besides those feelings, if you know that you are sleeping most of the hours in only one position, it’s possible that you are hurting one of your shoulders, not giving it proper time to rest.
Here is some research about side sleeping shoulder pain:
Connection Between Sleep Posture and Glenohumeral Pain
A recent cross-sectional study explored the connection between sleep posture and glenohumeral pain, which is a pain in the shoulder joint. The findings were unexpected; there was a reduced association between a specific sleep posture and shoulder pain.
However, the study suggests this might be because individuals prone to such shoulder pain have already adjusted their sleeping positions to avoid discomfort.
The study highlights that further, more extensive research is needed to fully understand the relationship between sleep posture and shoulder pain.
Link between the side of unilateral shoulder pain and preferred sleep position
This study investigated if there’s a link between the side of unilateral shoulder pain and one’s preferred sleeping position, including which side of a double bed one occupies.
Involving 83 participants from 10 chiropractic clinics, it found a significant association between the side of shoulder pain and the side individuals slept on.
Moreover, individuals tended to sleep on the side opposite to their partners and were more likely to sleep on the side of the painful shoulder. While causality wasn’t established, the study suggests investigating if changing sleeping positions could alleviate shoulder pain.
Shoulder Pain and Sleep Position
This study aimed to examine the link between sleep position and shoulder pain by collecting sample data to statistically compare the lateralities (sides) of shoulder pain and sleep position to identify any similarities.
Employing meta-analysis principles for sample selection, the findings suggested a potential connection between sleep posture and shoulder pain, though the specifics were cut off in the provided text. This study underscores the importance of further exploring sleep habits as a possible non-invasive avenue to address shoulder pain.
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What Are The Other Possible Causes?
While side sleeping can be a culprit, other conditions could also be causing the pain in your shoulder. Some of them, include:
- Rotator Cuff Injury: It’s possible to exacerbate or cause a rotator cuff injury while sleeping, especially if the shoulder is placed in an awkward position.
- Muscle Injury: Overstraining the muscles around the shoulder joint can lead to persistent pain.
- Osteoarthritis: This degenerative joint condition can cause discomfort and stiffness.
- Shoulder Bursitis: Inflammation of the cushioning bursa sacs can cause pain.
- Shoulder Impingement Syndrome: This occurs when shoulder muscles rub against the top part of the shoulder blade.
- Tendinitis: Inflammation of the tendons can cause acute pain.
- Frozen Shoulder: This condition restricts movement and causes chronic pain.
What Helps Shoulder Pain After Waking Up?
Waking up with shoulder pain can significantly dampen the start of your day. However, there are various measures you can take to alleviate the discomfort and improve mobility. Here are some tailored suggestions:
Cold and Heat Therapy
Alternating between cold and heat therapy can be highly beneficial.
- Cold Therapy: Applying ice or a cold pack can help reduce inflammation and numb the area, which can lessen the pain. It’s generally advisable to apply cold therapy for 15-20 minutes, especially in the first 48 hours following the onset of pain.
- Heat Therapy: Applying heat can help relax and loosen tissues and stimulate blood flow to the area. Use a warm towel or heating pad for 15-20 minutes to help ease the pain.
Stretching and Strengthening Exercises
Engaging in a routine of stretching and strengthening exercises can be instrumental in alleviating shoulder pain.
Aerobic exercise can enhance blood flow, which can aid in the healing process, and improve your mood, which can help you cope with the pain. A simple brisk walk for 30 minutes a day can be quite effective.
Over-The-Counter Pain Relievers
Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can provide temporary relief from shoulder pain. However, these should be taken as directed on the packaging or by your healthcare provider.
If shoulder pain continues to be a persistent issue, consulting a physical therapist could be a wise decision. They can tailor an exercise regimen to your specific needs, helping to strengthen the shoulder muscles and improve the range of motion.
Making ergonomic adjustments like using a supportive pillow and maintaining a good posture even while sleeping can also contribute to reducing shoulder pain over time.
Signs You Should See a Doctor
If you experience any of the following, scheduling an appointment is advisable:
- Popping, snapping, or clicking on the shoulder
- Persistent pain, especially pain that interferes with your sleep
- Previous injury in the shoulder area
- Difficulty in performing daily activities
- Swelling or bruises on the shoulder
In addition to medical consultation, adopting certain habits can alleviate side sleeper shoulder pain:
- Healthy Sleep Hygiene: Ensure your mattress and pillows provide adequate support.
- Exercising Often: Regular exercises can strengthen the muscles around the shoulder blades and alleviate pain.
- Use Pillows for Support: Placing a pillow between your knees or hugging one can help align your spine and reduce shoulder pressure.
- Adopting Another Sleep Position: Training yourself to sleep on your back can significantly reduce the pressure on your shoulders.
- Physical Therapy: Engaging in physical therapy can help address muscle imbalances and promote better sleeping postures.
What Helps Shoulder Pain After Waking Up?
To help you improve your shoulder pain after waking up, you can apply ice or heat to improve it.
You can also try to stretch safely and gently, and exercising the shoulder can help alleviate stiffness and pain.
What Is The Best Position for Side Sleepers With Shoulder Pain?
Finding a comfortable sleeping position when dealing with shoulder pain can be a challenge, especially for side sleepers. However, a few adjustments to your sleeping posture can make a significant difference in managing discomfort and promoting better sleep. Here are some alternative positions and tips to consider:
Sleep on the Other Side
If your shoulder pain is unilateral (affecting only one shoulder), consider sleeping on the non-affected side. This simple switch can alleviate pressure on the painful shoulder, promoting better comfort. Make sure to use a supportive pillow to maintain a neutral neck and spine alignment.
- Tip: Using a body pillow to hug or to rest your top leg on can help maintain a comfortable position throughout the night.
Sleep on Your Back
Sleeping on your back is often recommended as it evenly distributes your body weight, alleviating pressure on your shoulders and other joints.
- Tip: Place a small pillow or rolled-up towel under your knees to maintain a neutral spine position and reduce lower back strain.
- Additional Benefit: This position also helps in maintaining a neutral spine alignment, which can further contribute to overall comfort.
Sleep on Your Stomach
Although not highly recommended due to potential neck strain, sleeping on your stomach may provide temporary relief from shoulder pain as it takes the pressure off the shoulders.
- Tip: If you choose this position, use a flat pillow or no pillow to keep your neck in a more neutral position and reduce the risk of neck pain.
Additional Sleep Position Tips
- Use Supportive Bedding: Invest in a supportive mattress and pillows that provide adequate support and conform to your body’s contours.
- Maintain Neutral Alignment: Regardless of the sleep position, aim to keep a neutral alignment of your head, neck, and spine to prevent additional strain.
- Avoid Arm Overhead Position: Sleeping with your arm overhead can exacerbate shoulder impingement and increase pain. Keep your arms at your sides or on your torso.
Addressing side sleeper shoulder pain requires a comprehensive approach that involves medical consultation and adopting healthier sleep practices. Incorporating exercises and physical therapy into your routine can also foster stronger shoulder muscles and better sleep posture, steering you towards pain-free mornings and restful nights ahead.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.