Hardayal Singh, MD
Is Sleeping on Your Side Bad for Your Shoulder?
Believe it or not, your sleeping position might play a significant role in your shoulder health. Our shoulder is a distinctively complex joint and sleeping on your side puts prolonged pressure and causes shoulder problems in the long run. Your shoulders aren't designed to carry the brunt of your body weight, which is why some people experience shoulder pain from sleeping on their side.
Your shoulder is surrounded by all kinds of muscles and tendons that can get strained if you are sleeping in a bad position, which makes things worse if you are already suffering from a shoulder condition such as arthritis.
Here are some of the problems you might face if you are sleeping on your side or shoulder:
Pain First Thing in the Morning
When you choose to sleep on your side, obviously to get into a comfortable position and drift off to sleep, but only to wake up with a sharp pain in your shoulder first thing in the morning. This can ruin your morning or maybe the entire day starting to interfere with your activities of daily living like showering, difficulty putting on shirts and jackets, etc.
Stiffness and Soreness
Constant pressure on your shoulder can cause stiffness and soreness to both your shoulder and arm. Sleeping on your side ends up putting continuous pressure on your shoulder as it bears most of your torso’s weight throughout the night. If you are someone who has shoulder bursitis or arthritis, then you are more prone to shoulder stiffness and soreness the next day.
Waking up at night is quite common in patients with shoulder pain, particularly with rotator cuff problems, as they are likely to have debilitating pain at night from their condition and improper sleeping posture is like adding insult to the injury.
Aggravating Underlying Condition
Orthopedic physicians do not recommend side sleeping for those who have underlying shoulder conditions such as arthritis, bursitis, tendonitis, and impingement as it is likely to aggravate the condition and make it worse.
Placing additional stress over the shoulder irritates your rotator cuff or shoulder bursa, resulting in increased inflammation and decreased range of motion. This makes your shoulder weaker and eventually reduces your shoulder’s lifting and carrying capacity.
Sleeping positions to solve your shoulder pain
Lie on your back or front
For some people, sleeping on their back may be mission impossible, however, it is probably the best-known and recommended sleeping position for people with shoulder pain. This position takes away all the possible stress on your shoulder, neck, spine, and back, allowing them to relax.
Sleeping on your stomach is, of course, an alternative and this can actually reduce the stress on your shoulders, but not a lot of people prefer this position as it has its own limitations such as placing pressure on your respiratory tract. It is advisable to consult with an orthopedic specialist about your sleeping position as the outcome changes from person to person.
Special mattress and orthopedic pillows
If your mattress is old and becomes hard, then swap it for a softer one
Get a mattress that is medium firm if you are an elderly citizen
Get a soft or medium-soft mattress, if you are a young or young-adult person, who does not have any orthopedic issues or injuries
Place a pillow under your knees so that your torso and hip are relaxed completely
Use just one (firm) pillow for your head instead of stacking 2 or 3 pillows
There are many therapeutic orthopedic foam mattresses and pillows for you to choose from according to your preference.
No one wants to wake up in pain, but many do not realize that sleeping position can also be a cause of body aches or joint aches in the morning, particularly shoulder. This can be avoided by making some changes to your sleeping position or changing your mattress or pillows with a physician’s guidance.
Consult an orthopedic physician or a shoulder specialist to better manage your shoulder health and have a good night's sleep.
Carolina Regional Orthopaedics
Carolina Regional Orthopaedics provides the most effective, modern, and innovative techniques in both Orthopedic Surgery and Pain Management using proven methodologies in both the surgical and non-surgical treatment of all conditions affecting the spine, upper extremities, and lower extremities. We specialize in hand and wrist surgery, joint replacements, sports medicine, trauma care, pediatric orthopedics, pain management, wound care, regenerative medicine, physical therapy, imaging services, and EMG testing.