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8 Ways to Prevent Shoulder Pain From Sleeping

Prevent Shoulder Pain

It's common to wake up with a stiff, aching shoulder. Sleeping in the wrong position or on an unsupportive mattress can strain the shoulder joints and muscles. This causes pain that interferes with your sleep and lingers into your morning. Fortunately, making some simple adjustments to how and where you sleep can help prevent shoulder discomfort.

Use a Contoured Pillow

Standard rectangular pillows don't properly support the head, neck and shoulders. This allows your head to slump forward or backward, putting strain on the shoulder joint. Contoured pillows are specifically shaped to align your head, neck, and shoulders.

Look for ergonomically-designed memory foam pillows with contours to support the gap between your head and shoulders. The indentations cradle your head to keep it level through the night. Side sleepers may benefit from a higher contoured pillow that aligns the spine.

Sleep on Your Back

Sleeping on your side or stomach makes shoulder discomfort more likely. Side sleeping causes you to lie directly on one shoulder, pressing on the joint. Your top shoulder may also rotate forward.

Sleeping on your back evenly distributes body weight and keeps the shoulders flat. Use pillows under your legs or back if needed to avoid arching the spine. It helps to tape or sew a tennis ball onto the back of your pajama top to train yourself to stay on your back.

Use a Body Pillow

For side sleepers, place a body pillow between your knees and arms to maintain proper shoulder and spine alignment. The pillow prevents you from lying directly on your shoulder joint, which relieves pressure.

A body pillow supporting your top arm also prevents your shoulder from rolling forward, keeping it flat and neutral. The cushioning between your knees keeps your hips aligned to avoid twisting your spine and shoulders.

Stretch Before Bed

When shoulders get tight from daily activity or poor posture, it makes them more prone to pain from sleeping positions. Doing some shoulder stretches as part of your pre-bedtime routine keeps muscles flexible and relaxed for sleep.

Try shoulder rolls, arm circles and bilateral raises. Gently pull one arm across your chest, holding the elbow to stretch your shoulder muscles. Reach one arm up your back to grasp the other shoulder blade and release tension across the upper back.

Consider Shoulder Elevation

Raising your upper body slightly can take pressure off a sore shoulder during sleep. Place a wedge pillow or foam bed riser under your mattress between your shoulder blades and neck. This gently elevates the torso to avoid compressing the shoulder joint.

An adjustable bed that lets you raise the head a few inches works too. You don't want to be fully upright. Just slightly elevating your chest and shoulders eases their weight off a painful joint at night.

Use Cold Therapy

Applying an ice pack to a sore shoulder before bed can numb pain and reduce inflammation. Cover the ice pack with a towel and place over the tender joint for 10-15 minutes. The cold constricts blood vessels, decreasing swelling that may worsen pain when compressed during sleep.

Continue icing the shoulder periodically throughout the next day to relieve residual discomfort. Alternating heat and ice therapy provides further pain relief. Just avoid cold or icy pillows which can injure the shoulder.

Check Your Mattress

An old, sagging mattress that fails to support proper spinal alignment will cause shoulder and neck pain. Mattresses get less supportive over 5-7 years as materials compress. Lying on an uneven surface twists the spine and stresses the shoulders.

Inspect your mattress for sagging spots where your body weight presses down. It's time to replace your mattress if you notice it no longer keeps your spine straight from head to toe while lying down. Opt for a firm, medium-firm, or adjustable air mattress.

Manage Stress

When you have tension and anxiety, those feelings tend to manifest as physical shoulder tightness and pain. High stress causes the shoulder muscles to involuntarily contract to the point of spasms. This makes them more prone to discomfort during sleep.

Implement a relaxing pre-bed routine like reading, meditation, or yoga. Massaging the shoulder muscles before bed also releases built-up tension so they can fully relax for sleep. Adequate exercise and magnesium supplements further reduce stress.

Waking up with shoulder pain is no fun. Before bed, set yourself up for healthy, supported sleep positioning. Adjust your sleep environment and habits to prevent putting strain on your shoulders so you start each morning pain-free.

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