Side sleeping can be a good position for some people as it can reduce sleep apnea as well as acid reflux and heartburn. However, for some people, side sleeping can be a detrimental position since it could lead to shoulder pain. Take a look at why side sleeping can cause shoulder issues and how to address the problem.
How Could Side Sleeping Cause Shoulder Pain?
The weight of the thorax, or region of the body that contains the ribs and thoracic vertebrae, can place additional pressure on the shoulder capsule when a person is side sleeping. Side sleeping can cause shoulder pain from rotator cuff impingement.
The rotator cuff is made up of tendons and muscles which wrap around the head of the humerus, or the upper arm. When a person is side sleeping, the tendons in the rotator cuff can actually become compressed against the scapular bone and humerus, which can lead to bursitis and tendonitis.
Bursitis is a condition where the bursae, fluid-filled sacs that cushion bones, become inflamed. And tendonitis is a condition where tendons become inflamed and develop scar tissue due to microscopic tears.
If a person already has a pre-existing condition, like osteoarthritis, then side sleeping could exacerbate that issue by causing cartilage inside the shoulder joint to break down further, which could lead to reduced range of motion, stiffness, and/or popping.
How Can You Treat the Issue?
First, you'll want to reach out to your doctor to make sure that your sleep position is the culprit of your overall shoulder pain. There are many repetitive strain injuries (RSIs), like swimmer's shoulder, that can lead to shoulder pain.
The obvious treatment for shoulder pain caused by side sleeping is to change your sleep position, but this is easier said than done since everyone is a creature of habit. You may need to use numerous pillows for support to keep yourself on your back and to prevent rolling from one shoulder to the other. If you are having a hard time changing your sleep position, consider at least upgrading your bedding so that you have better ergonomic support. One study found that changing mattresses could improve discomfort and sleep quality in patients with shoulder and back pain.
Stretching and physical therapy exercises are incredibly helpful for shoulder pain that's caused by side sleeping. Light exercises can help you maintain your range of motion and prevent the buildup of scar tissue. Exercises such as pendulum swings, standing rows, and internal/external rotations can strengthen the rotator cuff. But again, you should talk with your doctor about these exercises before proceeding. He or she may want you to use over-the-counter NSAIDs and ice/heat therapy first to reduce inflammation.
Reach out to a health and medical provider today for more details about shoulder pain treatment.