Sleep is so important for recovery, mental health, and physical vitality. When sleep is interrupted by shoulder pain, it affects your ability to heal from injury, derails your ability to concentrate, lowers your productivity and is linked to weight gain and increased inflammation… all of which keep you in pain. So how do we figure out what's causing the pain and how do we stop this vicious cycle?
Shoulder pain that disrupts sleep can be broken into 2 categories - a sleep posture issue or a shoulder injury issue.
Shoulder Posture: Side sleepers tend to be the largest group affected by postural sleeping issues. On of the largest sleep studies conducted in the world founds that most people spent over half of the night sleeping on their side. Sleeping on your side places the bulk of the weight of your torso on the shoulder joint for prolonged periods of time, especially if you are a habitual one-sided side sleeper (you always sleep on just your right or just your left shoulder). This can lead to irritation of the shoulder joint and inflammation. To fix the problem - you need to switch up your sleeping posture. This is easier said than done, but the use of pillows to prop, support, and make your body comfortable can be a game-changer in eliminating your shoulder pain while you sleep.
You may have an underlying shoulder issue that is causing your pain. Common shoulder injuries are rotator cuff tears, shoulder impingement, tendonitis, bursitis, frozen shoulder, and osteoarthritis. It is important you receive a proper diagnosis to address your shoulder pain. The "good news" is that if by seeing a physical therapist, such as one of our Doctors of Physical Therapy at Next Level Physical Therapy & Athletic Performance, you can be pain-free in as little as a couple of sessions.
In the meantime, what can you do?
Decreasing inflammation with icing before bed or using anti-inflammatory medication and topical creams can help reduce your pain.
Muscle tightness that pulls and tugs on your shoulders can be remedied with self-massage and stretching. Try releasing tight neck, chest, mid-back, and shoulder muscles with your massage tool of choice. I love to use foam rolls and lacrosse balls. Stretch your shoulders, chest, and neck through a pain-free range of motion.
Use pillows to prop your shoulder in a pain-free position.
Side sleepers - switch to the opposite side and hug onto a very thick pillow with your painful arm. Build the height of the hugging pillow as needed to alleviate your pain. I will typically use two pillows for this.
Back Sleepers - place a thin pillow underneath your lower humerus (upper arm), elbow and forearm.
Stomach Sleepers - The typical stomach sleeper will position their arms in a W position and have their neck turned to one side all night. This is not conducive to pain-free shoulder postures. Try to get off of sleeping on your stomach. If you absolutely cannot sleep any other way, prop a pillow vertically under your torso so that you are in a semi-stomach/semi-side sleeping position. This pillow should be placed off-center under, with the majority of the pillow on your painful side. This will roll you a little more toward your non-painful side and also place the shoulder joint in a more open and relaxed position.
If you are losing valuable sleep due to shoulder pain, call 661-383-9828 to schedule an appointment with one of our Santa Clarita Physical Therapists. Stop shouldering the pain, get the rest your body needs to reach your Next Level!