The person with a hurt shoulder often has difficulty finding a comfortable sleeping position which allows care of the shoulder, encouraging healing. The ideal sleeping arrangement is one in which your shoulder position will neither compromise your four shoulder joints with twisting or compression nor lead to more shoulder soreness in the morning.
The two sleeping positions to avoid are sleeping on your stomach and sleeping on the side of your shoulder problem. Sleeping on your stomach puts too much strain on your neck and shoulders. Lying on the side of your shoulder pain compresses & compromises the shoulder joint. Sleeping on your unaffected side or, better yet, on your back are the advantageous positions for shoulder pains.
The goals here are twofold: ensure good alignment and support the problem shoulder. First put your head in neutral; this means not bent more towards either ear and that your neck and chin are neither flexed nor extended. Many muscles and fascia attach your shoulder and neck, so if your head is not in alignment, you will pull on your injured shoulder, worsening your problem.
Then with the neck in neutral position, you want to support the shoulder itself. Lying on your unaffected side, place a pillow in your topside armpit so that your arm is held comfortably away from your body. Line up your upper arm with the side of your ribcage and keep your forearm parallel with the ceiling. Additional pillows can be used to keep your top arm from rolling forward.
Patients with shoulder problems do best sleeping on their back. Head in a neutral position, place a pillow so it runs diagonally from the top of your stomach to the bed, going under your armpit. Rest your problem arm on this pillow. The entire top arm should rest comfortably on the pillow, your hand on the pillow near your stomach. One may also bunch up the pillow or use a folded hand towel to further support the back of the shoulder. This reduces the gap between your shoulder and the bed when your shoulder is rounded forward too far, very common after injury. In either placement, a comfortable position for the elbow will range from slightly bent up to just less than 90 degrees.
A good night’s sleep allows you to heal. Slight tweaks are appropriate as we all have different body types and preferences. If you have had surgery, your surgeon may also have position recommendations. Remember your body must be comfortable to sleep. If your shoulder is supported correctly, you’re less likely to awaken during the night and upon arising, the shoulder will be less likely to ache. Should you seek further advice on healing your shoulder problem or how to sleep, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d be happy to lend a helping hand.
Michele S Jang, PT is a physical therapist who likes to look outside the box. She has been a physical therapist for over 22 years and has extensive training in manual therapy or the use of hands to help rehabilitate the body. Michele has been an instructor both in the United States and abroad. Her clinic offers Free Consults on Tuesday afternoons. Michele also has a team of therapists at Spirit Winds who offer an array of expertise on exercise, fall prevention, foot and shoe assessments, body mechanics and proper breathing technique to increase awareness and healing. Her team can be reached at 805 543-5100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.