There are several reasons why shoulder pain can keep you awake at night. Rotator cuff injuries often cause a nagging ache that can prevent you from sleeping, while sometimes the way you lie in bed is to blame. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to relieve at least some of your pain so that you can get a good night’s sleep.
Pain From Sleeping Positions
Some sleeping positions can put strain on a shoulder and lead to pain even when you don’t have a serious injury. This is often the case for people who sleep on their sides. When you sleep on your side, your shoulder bears most of the weight on your torso. This is bad enough even if there is nothing wrong with your shoulder, but it gets even worse if you already have chronic shoulder pain due to an injury.
If you think your shoulder pain is coming from how you sleep, you can train yourself to sleep on your back instead. First of all, invest in a firm mattress. As much as people think they love a soft mattress that they can sink into, that’s not always conducive to sleeping on your back and taking pressure off of your shoulders. A firm mattress will provide better support so that you can stay on your back throughout the night.
Next, get a good pillow that provides support for your neck. Good neck support will keep your spine in alignment and allow you to sleep comfortably on your back throughout the night. Wedge pillows are great for this, but if you don’t have one, you can also roll up a towel and put it under your neck.
If you still find yourself rolling on your side and onto your aching shoulder, you can try putting a pillow under your knees or your lower back. Like the support you give your neck, this will keep your spine properly aligned and help you feel more comfortable.
Another way to train your body to stay on its back when you sleep is to keep your arms and legs spread out around you when you’re lying down. This distributes your weight evenly and prevents you from wanting to roll over in your sleep.
Other Causes of Nighttime Shoulder Pain
Just about any kind of shoulder pain can keep you awake at night, but some are more common than others. Rotator cuff injuries are very common, and they are notorious for interrupting sleep. The rotator cuff connects the upper arm to the shoulder blade, and it can be torn by a significant shoulder injury or through repetitive overhead activity over a period of time. The pain associated with rotator cuff injuries is often described as a dull ache and may come with weakness in your arm.
Shoulder bursitis is another common shoulder problem that can lead to trouble sleeping. Bursitis occurs when one of the bursa – the fluid-filled sacs that cushion the tissues around your joints – becomes inflamed. This can happen due to an injury that affects the shoulder and has symptoms such as swelling, redness, stiffness, and pain when you move your shoulder. Most cases of bursitis will go away with plenty of rest and physical therapy, but some cases may require you to surgery to drain the inflamed bursa.
Another issue that can lead to shoulder pain when you sleep is a frozen shoulder. This occurs when the tissues in your shoulder joint thicken and impair movement. The cause of a frozen shoulder is usually unknown, but the condition can be painful as well as debilitating. The pain associated with a frozen shoulder tends to worsen in the evenings, which can definitely impact sleep.
Tips for Avoiding Shoulder Pain While Sleeping
While we’ve already talked about sleeping on your back if the cause of your shoulder pain is your sleeping position, there are other things that you can do to ensure that your shoulder doesn’t keep you up at night. First of all, do your best to not lay on your injured shoulder. Use the tips about sleeping on your back for starters, but you can use some strategically placed pillows to keep yourself from rolling over onto your bad shoulder as well.
Next, stay active. Get plenty of regular exercise to improve your range of motion if you frequently suffer from a frozen shoulder and promote healing after you’ve suffered an injury. You do need to be careful about overdoing your exercises though; you won’t be doing yourself any favors if you injure yourself further while trying to avoid shoulder pain.
If you have a job that requires a lot of repetitive motions, be sure to take regular breaks. Even if you have the kind of job that requires you to sit at a desk for eight hours a day, you should be taking breaks. Get up to stretch and walk around every 30 minutes or so. If you need to lift anything heavy as part of your job, either find someone to help you or use a wheelbarrow or some other equipment to make your job easier. Never try to lift something heavy on your own if you can help it.
Finally, try to establish some better sleeping habits. Make sure that you get plenty of sleep every night, and turn off your TV, phone, and computer when you go to bed. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, or nicotine close to your bedtime.
When to See a Doctor
Whether it’s due to a recent shoulder injury or for no apparent reason, you shouldn’t have to live with the kind of shoulder pain that keeps you awake at night. If you are experiencing chronic shoulder pain for any reason, speak to your doctor as soon as possible. There is almost certainly a treatment available that will help bring you relief and give you a good night’s sleep.