occupational physical therapy

occupational physical therapy

Shoulder pain from side sleeping: what to do

by professional physical therapy

Even though sleeping on your side is the most popular sleeping position – if you wake up with arm numbness or have pain in your shoulder, it could be a sign that you injured your shoulder while sleeping. Sleeping on your shoulder throughout the night can strain your shoulder which may result in stiffness, soreness or pain over time.

Before we share tips to help prevent shoulder pain at night, you need to understand what may be causing the pain and then learn what you can do to get relief from shoulder pain. Are.

Common causes of back pain

If you’re a side-sleeper, you may spend a good part of the night lying directly over a vein in your arm. There are three major nerves in our arm and if any one of these nerves gets irritated, you will feel pain or discomfort in your hand or arm. The most common nerve injury caused by side sleeping is irritation of the median nerve, known as carpal tunnel syndrome. The median nerve and tendons of the fingers pass through the carpal tunnel, or narrow passageway located in the wrist. If this nerve becomes pinched, you will feel tingling and numbness in the palm and/or fingers of your hand.

If it’s shoulder pain you’re feeling, it could be because you have an underlying medical condition, such as frozen shoulder. Other common shoulder conditions that can cause pain at night include:

  • rotator cuff injury: Overuse of the rotator cuff (the group of four muscles and their tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint) can contribute to issues such as tendonitis, strains, and partial or complete tears of tendons.
  • shoulder bursitisSwelling: inflammation caused by friction of a bursa (a small sac filled with fluid) against the joint, causing joint pain, stiffness, and a limited range of motion.
  • shoulder osteoarthritisOsteoarthritis: The most common form of arthritis and occurs when the cartilage (the material that cushions the ends of your bones) wears down over time, causing stiffness and pain.
  • shoulder injuryA condition caused by inflammation of the tendons of the rotator cuff that causes pain, stiffness, and decreased range of motion in the shoulder.

Ways to prevent shoulder pain at night

One of the most effective ways to prevent shoulder pain while sleeping is to sleep in a different position. Although it may seem impossible, you can train yourself to sleep in a different position over time. Here are some tips to prevent shoulder pain so you can get a pain-free night’s sleep.

  • sleep on your back Or a position that doesn’t put any pressure on the shoulder: Sleeping in a reclined position (using a pillow or elevating the head of the bed) can help prevent you from rolling onto your side.
  • use a pillow to support your shoulderTry propping yourself up with pillows to create a physical barrier to prevent you from turning over. A good pillow that fits the natural curve of your neck and fills the gap between your head and shoulders can also help.
  • sleep on the other side: If possible, consider sleeping on the side of the unaffected shoulder.
  • change your mattress: If your mattress is too hard or too soft, sleeping can cause shoulder pain. If you like a firm mattress, then a topper might be the best option for you.
  • be active during the day: Staying active boosts your health and can help shoulder injuries heal faster.
  • maintain healthy sleep habitsSleep: This means avoiding your phone or TV before bedtime and keeping your room dark and at a cool temperature to eliminate sleep interruptions.

Stretch to relieve shoulder pain

You might also consider doing shoulder stretches before and after you sleep to help lengthen your muscles and prevent them from cramping. Donis Gill, Certified Athletic Trainer, Professional PT, shares 4 simple stretches to help ease shoulder discomfort. Do each stretch for 30 seconds, 3 times. Repeat as needed, only when you feel a good stretch without pain.

  1. gate stretch: Stand on the door frame with both hands on the door frame, elbows at shoulder height. Take a small step forward with one leg and gently lean forward until you feel a stretch in your chest and shoulders.
  2. Posterior capsule stretch: Keeping the hand on the opposite side of the shoulder, bring the elbow across your body and slightly out and then pull to feel the stretch in the back of the shoulder.
  3. Child’s pose: Begin on your hands and knees. Sit back on your heels, extend your arms in front of you. While holding the stretch, rest your forehead on the floor.
  4. Shoulder Rolls: Stand straight with your feet shoulder width apart. Roll your shoulders forward in a circular motion, making large circles. Repeat for 10-15 circles and then roll back.

Can physical therapy help with shoulder or arm pain from side sleeping?

While simple exercises at home can help reduce shoulder pain, it is recommended that you seek treatment to determine the underlying cause of your shoulder pain from sleeping on your side — and a licensed physical therapist. The doctor can help.

If you sleep on your side and have pain in your hands, you should seek help from an occupational therapist who specializes in treating hand conditions (also called a certified occupational therapist/hand therapist). An OT/hand therapist can instruct you on specific exercises and possible splinting to help reduce or eliminate your symptoms.

When it comes to shoulder injury or pain, the goal of physical therapy is to gradually increase a person’s strength and range of mobility. A certified physical therapist or certified occupational therapist/hand therapist can help identify the underlying cause and advise you on which exercises are safe and which activities should be avoided.

When to see a doctor or occupational/physical therapist

According to medical experts, you should contact a doctor or occupational/physical therapist if you are experiencing any of the following.

  • pain that does not get better and lasts longer than a few weeks
  • grinding, snapping, clicking, or popping sounds in the shoulder
  • previous shoulder injury or dislocation
  • inability to perform daily tasks
  • difficulty sleeping
  • swelling or a visible growth or mass on the shoulder

At Professional Physical Therapy, we can help you determine the cause of your shoulder pain and work with you to develop a physical therapy plan specifically tailored to your needs. If you are suffering from shoulder pain and are ready to get a good night’s sleep, contact us today for more information or to schedule an appointment.

Ortho Bethesda Restoring Function: Why Sleeping on Your Side Is Killing Your Shoulder
OINJ Orthopedic Experts: Shoulder pain from sleeping? Possible reasons why and what you can do

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Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff is a team ofc physiotherapist: expert writer, editor, proof reader and content researcher who mind storm their brain to bring helpful educational and informational articles for readers of

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