Side sleeper shoulder pain is a common complaint among side sleepers. When you don’t sleep in the correct position, the shoulder on the side you sleep on gets compressed all night. This nightly compression is what leads to shoulder pain! Keep reading to learn the best position to sleep in to avoid side sleeper shoulder pain.
Why is body positioning important?
Think about the different structures that contact the bed when you lie on your side:
- Outside of your shoulder
- Lateral rib cage
- Hip bone
- Outside of your leg
If you drew a line following along the outside of these body parts, would the line be straight? Of course not! It would be very curved!
When you lie on your side without proper pillow support, your muscles and joints end up compensating for your curves. These compensations lead to joint pain and stiffness. The goal when you sleep is to support your body’s natural curves to align your muscles and joints all night.
Why do I get shoulder pain at night?
The shoulder and hip that you sleep on are under the most pressure when you side sleep. This is because these bones protrude the farthest from your body, so when you lie down, they become the structures that give you the most support when you side sleep.
Because the amount of protrusion is different between the hips and the shoulders (one is usually more than the other), when you lie down, gravity forces your spine into a side bent angle. This not only puts strain on your spine, but also causes the shoulder you are lying on to absorb a high amount of force.
If the pressure on your shoulder and arm compresses your blood vessels and nerves, it can lead to numbness or tingling in your arm or hand. Side sleeping unsupported also puts unnecessary stress on your shoulder joint. This joint stress can lead to shoulder and/or neck pain.
The solution to side sleeper shoulder pain
To fix side sleeper shoulder pain, you’ve got to use pillows to support the natural curvatures of your body. When you use pillows to support your curves, your bones, muscles, and joints don’t have to do any unnecessary supporting.
Your shoulder was designed to move your arm, not to support your body all night.
When you sleep, you should use a small lumbar wedge to fill in the contour of your waist. Supporting your lower spine with a lumbar wedge offloads your shoulder by supporting the weight of your torso, rather than leaving that job to the shoulder.
The lumbar wedge creates a “slot” where the shoulder can relax on the mattress without becoming compressed from the weight of your torso. This is a must for side sleepers with broad shoulders. This little wedge will reduce strain on the shoulder joint, improve blood flow to the arm/hand, and reduce morning shoulder discomfort.
Additionally, supporting your neck properly is essential to avoiding side sleeper shoulder pain. Because your shoulders are wider than your neck, when you lie down with a neck pillow that’s not giving you the right amount of support, the shoulder you are lying on takes the punishment.
The best way to support your neck while you sleep is to use a contoured neck wedge pillow. A contoured neck wedge pillow should completely fill in the curve of your neck (from the base of your jaw to the top of your shoulder). This support ensures that your neck joints and muscles are relaxed while you sleep.
At minimal, to get rid of side sleeper shoulder pain, consider adding a side sleeper wedge and contoured neck wedge pillow to your nightly routine. To get the best side sleeping position, consider a Side Sleeper System. This system includes a contoured neck wedge pillow, side sleeper wedge, and a leg separator pillow. The leg separator pillow is long enough to rest the weight of your arm on while supporting the weight of your entire leg.
Side sleeper shoulder pain doesn’t have to be something that plagues you! Start sleeping correctly today and wake up in the morning without shoulder soreness!
-Bryan Blare, Doctor of Physical Therapy