How many times have you woken up with severe shoulder pain from sleeping on side? Sleeping on the side is your favorite position, and you just can’t avoid your shoulder to hurt?
That’s a pretty common issue for many people, and because of that, doctors and experts have already come up with answers you are looking for. You are probably wondering why is your shoulder hurting from just the way you sleep, and how to fix it. There are a couple of things that can help you understand what are the causes and solutions for this problem.
Shoulder pain from sleeping on the side is very common among people who suffer from chronic pain. As shoulder is one of the most sensitive joints in the body, it is very prone to injuries. As if the pain isn’t enough, people with shoulder pain can have low energy, mood disorders and increased sensitivity to pain overall.
Shoulder pain can keep people awake at nights, and decrease sleep.
Decreased sleep can lead to increased pain, which creates an endless cycle of pain. There are numerous causes for shoulder pain from sleeping on side, like overextension on the workout, tears, bad posture, injuries caused by repetitive moves on the work and aging.
Having all these causes in mind, one cause is the most common one, and that is rotator cuff tendinitis. It happens when the shoulder tendons are irritated which then get inflamed and cause severe pain. It affects a lot of people and the pain increases at night, even though the shoulder doesn’t hurt that much at daytime.
This leaves a lot of people confused; they think they are getting better because the pain is low during the day, and the day after the wake-up, the pain is back in bigger volume. And this is because, during the daytime, the shoulder is in a vertical position, there is no pressure applied to it, contrary to sleeping when it’s pressed by your body weight.
When the shoulder is in a horizontal position and being pressured by the body, the tendons don’t have a lot of space between them which limits the blood flow and the oxygen who should reduce the stiffness and the pain. Reduced blood flow leads to inflammation and lying on the shoulder even worsens it due to the pressure applied.
Your sleeping position can be one of the major causes of shoulder pain, especially if you tend to be still while you sleep.
Your mattress can also be the cause, as well as the stress on the shoulder that was applied through the day.
To prevent the shoulder pain caused by the sleeping position, sleep on your back. But, be sure to have your knees slightly lifted, so your back doesn’t suffer. You can do this by placing a couple of pillows below your knees.
Sleeping on the side is the favorite position to many people because the spine is best aligned in this position. If you can’t sleep any other way than on your side, try a pillow for side sleepers. When you have an injured shoulder, lay on the opposite side of it, and rotate the healthy shoulder forward or backward.
This way you won’t put direct pressure on it, take a few more pillows to get into the comfortable position. The neck pain and stiff neck can also be the cause for the shoulder pain, and to avoid this and reduce the pain, use a towel under the neck, or specially designed pillow for extra neck support.
Repeating Improper Sleeping Position
The first and most common injury is caused by the sleeping position. A lot of people sleep on their hand and on the side all the time. This leads to damage to the joint and shoulder muscles. The muscles and tendons get inflamed, and you wake up with pain in the morning.
You can still sleep in that position by making some minor adjustments. Don’t put your hand on your shoulder, instead put the hand on the pillow and position the shoulder slightly forward. For more detailed instruction, check out this video:
Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursa. Bursa is the fluid in the shoulder joint that helps your muscles and joint to move. When the shoulder is overused, or in the same position for a long time, it can be filled with too much fluid, which leads to inflammation.
This type of inflammation can occur even from lifting heavy objects, weights at the gym for example. You will feel a dull pain when you try to raise your arm from the body. The treatment of bursitis starts with applying ice to the area, resting, limiting the movement of that shoulder, changing the sleeping position and taking ibuprofen.
Tendinitis is inflammation as well, but of the tendons. It occurs in the muscles and tendons. It happens mostly from overusing or overtraining the shoulder. The symptoms may be the clicking sound and pain when you try to raise your arm. The shoulder also loses its strength.
It’s treated the same way as bursitis, resting, icing, changing the sleep position and taking pain meds. If the pain is severe, you might need cortisone shots to reduce it. Other than that, you will need to do some simple exercises to increase the strength of muscles and tendons.
These kinds of injuries can take a lot of time to heal, and after the shoulder is healed, you shouldn’t put it to full work at once. Go easy on it, and work its way up to what it was able to do before. Don’t sleep on the shoulders, try to sleep on your back instead. Get a better pillow or even the mattress.
First Aid for Shoulder Pain
The first morning you wake up with the pain in your shoulder, get a pack of ice and apply it to the shoulder for 15 minutes gently rubbing it. Do this every hour or so, and don’t apply the ice directly to the skin, because it can damage it.
Limit the shoulder movement once you figured out it’s injured. Don’t perform any exercises and don’t put the injured shoulder to work for at least two days. Some people apply the heat to the area in the hope they will increase the blood flow. This is very wrong, and it does not increase the blood flow, it just worsens the problem by increasing the swelling of the area.
To temporarily reduce the pain, you can use Acetaminophen or Advil. They will also reduce the progression of swelling.
And to prevent the pain happening in the first place, try a pillow for shoulder pain.
Your sleeping position may be the main cause for the pain, so try to position yourself on the opposite shoulder and don’t lay on your back. Since turning around in the bed at night is very common to many people, try to wrap your arm to prevent shoulder movement.
Try adjusting your pillow, and maybe even pull it down a bit, so you give your shoulder a minor elevation, to reduce the weight being put on it if you roll over to that side during the night. If you think there is no way you can stay on the opposite side of the hurt shoulder, then try to limit your movement by placing few pillows to each of your sides.
If you maintain a sleeping schedule, you will improve your sleeping pattern. With a fixed and consistent sleep schedule, you will lengthen your sleep, and you will improve its quality as well. Make the ritual out of it, and it will give your body the habit of preparing for relaxation and regeneration. It will reduce the stress and the tension you might gather through the day.
If the shoulder pain from sleeping on the side is preventing you from having an uninterrupted sleep, try to take a shower, turn off all lights and electronics in the room. You can also try to meditate or even some sleeping pills as a last resort. But be careful, don’t use any of the sleeping aid methods too often. You should rather see a doctor.
The pain in the shoulder is mostly caused by the bad blood flow to the area. You can increase the blood flow by exercising a little bit each day. This way your body will be more relaxed when you go to bed, just use some light exercises that don’t include weights.
You should also try various types of stretching, to reduce the stress and the tension in your shoulder. Stretching allows more blood to flow in, reduces the inflammation and it increased the flexibility and the range of motion. The good thing about stretching exercises is that they can be done in your home prior to going to sleep with no equipment needed.
Try some of these stretches to reduce the pain in the shoulder and get a proper sleep:
Before you complete any stretching technique you might try, pay attention to your shoulder, and if it starts hurting, even more, stop the exercise at once.
Forget those “go through the pain” advice you might have heard from someone at the gym. Going through that pain can injure your shoulder even more, and from that point, only the doctor might be able to help you, and the recovery will be much longer.
Be sure to warm up before stretching, any simple warming up technique will do, you can do it just by moving your shoulders in a circular motion. All stretching should be done for 30 seconds up to one minute. Go very slow and control your breathing.
Chin neck stretch
Sometimes you roll around your bed due to the discomfort of your neck, so searching for the right position for it, you can end up on the side and on that shoulder that hurts. This stretch can also increase the blood flow to the upper body area.
Extend your neck forward with your chin at a 90 degrees angle. Stretch it all the way you can, then move it back to the starting, neutral position. Repeat this for 30 seconds.
Cross-legged arms stretch
Cross your legs and sit on the ground. Place your arms in front of you and place the elbow of one hand between the forearm and biceps of the other hand. Keep your hands together and pull them down. You will feel the stretch in your shoulder blades, and the blood is rushing to the shoulders. Do this for 30 seconds for each arm.
Use one of your arms to reach the spine between the shoulder blades with your elbow behind your head. Now use the other arm to reach the first one with your elbow behind your back. Try to lock the arms and pull them one to the other. Hold for 30 seconds.
If you can’t reach and lock them, you can use a rope or a towel to do with it instead. Grab the object with both of your hands and change the grip so you move the hands closer to one another, once you reached the point where you can’t go further, hold for 30 seconds.
Stand up to a wall with your face in front of it. Come to it very close and put your hands on it. Keep your hands on the wall while walking away from it, and don’t keep them too much above your head. Stay relaxed and don’t stiffen up your hands, if you try to push away, you will put your shoulders to the work, and that can increase the pain.Keep your arms relaxed, and your shoulders wide.
Stretch the shoulder blades
Stand up and spread your feet to the width of your shoulders. Put your hands up above your head and bring the palms together. Now bring one shoulder at the front and the other at the back by twisting your waist. Hold for 30 seconds for each shoulder.
Laying shoulder stretch
Lay on the ground on your stomach. Get in the position as you are about to perform a push-up. Raise your chest a bit, and place one hand underneath it. Now lower your chest and let your body weight stretch that shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds; then you can switch hands.
You can also stretch both of the shoulders, but if this one starts hurting, stop doing it. While lying face down cross your arms and place them below your neck. Lower your body and hold for 30 seconds.
Try Yoga to reduce the tension
Shoulder pain is pretty often related to neck pain and neck stiffness. Yoga can help with stretching the neck and the shoulders. There is some Yoga poses that are very helpful check thend neck stiffness. Yoga can help with stretching the neck and the shoulders. There is some Yoga poses that are very helpful check them out in this video:
If all of these simple solutions don’t make your shoulder pain at night to go away, then it might be something that a doctor should investigate. The injury might not be that simple, and the doctor will be able to diagnose the cause of the pain. You might get treatment for your chronic shoulder pain.
A lot of treatments don’t include surgery; even if they are a bit serious, you might get physical therapy, medications to reduce the inflammation, injections or surgery if the problem is serious.
These self-care methods can help if the pain is caused by tendinitis from side sleeping. But if they don’t work even after few weeks, then go to your doctor because shoulder pain can be caused by nerve problems, soft tissue injuries, bursitis or arthritis. The doctor will conduct some tests and evaluations to get to the bottom of the problem and give you the right therapy.
Next step is the examination. Your doctor will check the range of movement of your shoulder; he will look for swelling and check the muscle strength. After the physical examination, you might need to do a couple of tests.
Some of the tests may be MRI or ultrasound. These tests are done to scan the soft tissue, by completing them, your doctor can identify the tendon injuries or ligament damages. You might even be prompted to do the X-ray scan. X-ray can help your doctor to see if there is an injury to the bones.
An arthrogram is one more option, which is an X-ray, but prior to it, a dye is injected into the shoulder, so the muscles and tendons are better visible. And the last one is arthroscopy. It’s a surgical test in which the doctor uses a fiber-optic camera to check your shoulder for soft tissue injuries that are not visible in other tests.
Treatment can differ based on the type of injury. There are three basic ones: Medications, Rest or Surgery.
If the injury is light, your doctor will ask you to rest and limit your activities, maybe even get physical therapy. The goal of this treatment is to strengthen the muscles and increase the flexibility. Limiting your normal activities and avoiding exercises that involve a lot of shoulder activity will reduce and prevent the shoulder pain.
The second treatment is medications for reduction of pain and inflammation. They can be in the form of pills, or your doctor may even prescribe injections or steroids if the pain is severe. The last treatment is surgery. Surgery is the last resort in very serious cases, when you take into consideration all shoulder pain related issues, only 10% of the people require surgery.
Surgery might be needed for dislocations and serious rotator cuff tears. Most of the patients get better from simple treatments, but few of them can’t get better without surgery.
The only good thing about shoulder pain being such a common occurrence is that it can be treated fairly easy with a lot of different methods. In most of the cases, shoulder pain can be gone with just simple stretching and changing the sleeping habits.
Try some of the methods you just went through, and if you don’t notice the difference, see your doctor for further analysis.
Remember the correct sleeping positions, and how to avoid the injury of the shoulder in the future, once you have successfully recovered.