There are two common reasons that often are the cause of shoulder pain. As long as your shoulder isn’t hurting because you’ve banged it against a doorway or just had a vaccine, they’re both influenced by the way you sleep.
Lack of support for your head
If you lie on your side and your pillow isn’t supporting you correctly (aka it’s not lifting your head off the bed) then the weight of your head will drive through your shoulder as pressure throughout the night.
A typical head weighs about 5kg. For comparison, that’s about the weight of a bowling ball.
What you’re essentially doing in this scenario, is crushing your shoulder into the bed. As you can imagine a bowling ball (or five bags of sugar) would.
So, the pillow isn’t supporting your head and the weight of your head is driving into your shoulder as pressure.
Just look at the below picture – you can see a clear difference in shoulder positioning.
If you don’t think your head is to blame for the shoulder pain, then it could be the second reason.
Is your knee responsible for your shoulder pain?
Most people who lie on their side bring one knee over the other as they settle down and get comfortable in bed. While that may feel comfortable, it’s causing your top shoulder (the one closer to the ceiling) to be ‘in front’ of your bottom shoulder.
Not only does this cause tension in the shoulders, but you’re also twisting on the spine. You can save both in one go: just stick a pillow between your knees and ankles, to make them neatly stack together.
Just look at the difference here.
Being the ‘after’ might alleviate some of the pain.
There’s another way to help your shoulder, and it’s a really simple one.
How your pillow can help shoulder pain
Quick fixes are hard to come by, so we’re chuffed to be able to offer you one.
You’re likely to be able to significantly reduce your shoulder pain by swapping your pillow to one that lifts your head off the bed in such a way that it takes the pressure off.
What kind of pillow would this be? It has to complete this checklist:
- Comes in different sizes (we are all different – what suits your partner or parent won’t suit you because your bodies are a different size)
- Addresses pressure relief AND
- Addresses postural management (in other words, you don’t sink into the pillow so your neck remains neutral)
Try finding your pillow size now.
Optimising your posture by correcting your sleep position will help reduce the pain.
It’s also really important that you alternate the sides that you sleep on. Otherwise, if you lie on the same one side, you’re then spending the majority of your time in bed extending muscles on one side only.
This leads to asymmetry over time.
If you don’t believe us, try this trick.
Checking if you’re asymmetric
How far can you turn your head left and right?
Sit in a chair with your arms by your side. Turn your head all the way right and then turn it all the way left. You’ll most likely be able to see a visible difference in how much you’re able to turn your head each way.
You’re most likely able to turn your head more towards the way which indicates the side you sleep on.