Sleeping on your side: hurt your shoulder?
June 4, 2008 7:44 AM   Subscribe

Does sleeping on your side hurt your shoulder?

By putting pressure on the joint and rotator cuff... My shoulder has some pain that won't go away (been a few months now), and I'm trying to figure out what is going on.
posted by cgs to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've only ever slept on my sides (like a few billion or so other people), so generally I would say no. That doesn't mean you didn't hurt your shoulder some time ago, and sleeping on your side is only aggravating it.
posted by poppo at 7:54 AM on June 4, 2008

It certainly can.
posted by gramcracker at 7:55 AM on June 4, 2008

That doesn't mean you didn't hurt your shoulder some time ago, and sleeping on your side is only aggravating it.

Sorry. Perhaps this is exactly what you meant.
posted by poppo at 7:55 AM on June 4, 2008

Last summer, I strained a muscle in my back by sleeping. Sleeping in a normal sleeping way. And I strained a muscle. It gave me problems for about a month. Barring any previous injuries to your shoulder, sometimes weird things just happen. In the meantime, you could try propping yourself up with pillows and see if that relieves some of the pressure so your shoulder can get some rest.
posted by phunniemee at 8:04 AM on June 4, 2008

My shoulder hurts when I sleep. But, it is my disc in my neck that is causing the pain. Could be your pillow or any number of things. Sometimes where the pain manifests itself is not where the issue is. YMMV
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:11 AM on June 4, 2008

I have much the same issue. I have a shoulder that I injured lifting weights years ago, and when I do something that re-aggrivates the injury, I always feel like sleeping on my side results in extending the recovery time. Unfortunately I've trained myself to only sleep on my side, and I constantly flip back and forth throughout the night, often waking up a bit because the shoulder is hurting.

Not to hijack the question, but has anyone been able to successfully retrain themselves to sleep on their back?
posted by fuit ilium at 8:16 AM on June 4, 2008

I used to only be able to sleep on a shoulder, and it caused some issues. If you look into shoulder stretches and exercises for your rotator cuff, that might help. I highly recommend Treat Your Own Rotator Cuff [amazon].
posted by zeek321 at 8:26 AM on June 4, 2008

Sleeping on my side while camping always makes my shoulders (and hips) sore, despite the sleeping pad between me and the ground. So I would say that sleeping on your side certainly can affect your shoulder.

has anyone been able to successfully retrain themselves to sleep on their back?

Yes, for the reason mentioned above. I found that having something under my lower legs/knees helps a lot, because it lets the small of my back sink down to the bed/ground. This is why they put bolsters under your knees when you're laying on your back during a massage. A folded-in-half body pillow works well (as does a backpacking pack, in the right circumstances). Also, at home I like three pillows for my head - two side-by-side with a gap a little wider than my head between them, and then a third over that gap in the middle. This creates a sort of cradle for my head, keeping it from falling uncomfortably to one side or the other, and also helping keep my ears warm (which I guess I was used to from always having one against the pillow when I slept on my side).

posted by vytae at 8:35 AM on June 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yes.... no injuries. I try to make sure I'm more on my stomach or more on my back.... freaked me out a bit at how much my shoulder would hurt after sleeping on my side all night.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:45 AM on June 4, 2008

I'm usually a side sleeper but lately, due to pregnancy, I kind of am required to be. On top of that, I have bad hand swelling/carpal tunnel and the only way I can sleep without causing hand pain and numbness while on my side is to have my arms stretched straight out, perpendicular to my body. In my normal side-sleeping, i would have the down-side arm curled up under the pillow and never had any shoulder pain. However, now that I have to sleep with arms outstretched, i do have shoulder pain in the down-side shoulder.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:10 AM on June 4, 2008

I don't think that side-sleeping injures your shoulder; no article or book I've read has said so (I'm a primary care physician). Everybody with shoulder problems says it hurts to do so, though.
posted by neuron at 9:29 AM on June 4, 2008

This used to be an issue for me when I had shoulder impingement issues-I did exercises for months specifically for the shoulder and am now pain free.

It isn't sleeping on your side that causes the pain-it is the shoulder problem that makes it hurt when you sleep on your side.
posted by konolia at 9:33 AM on June 4, 2008

No. But once I slept an entire night with my arm under the pillow and tucked up under my head (actually maybe I was on my side?) and then I pretty much couldn't use it for a week.
I put it in a sling, because the weight of my arm was uncomfortable and because it stopped me trying to use it, which was the painful part, and it kept on ending badly.
But yeah it didn't even start to improve at all for that first week (I'm pretty tough and quite in tune to my body) and it was pretty bad. The kinda pain where you see a flash, drop whatever it is, stop breathing and freeze. It's one of the worst things I've ever done to myself! All I was doing was sleeping.

Be very wary of sleeping.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 9:37 AM on June 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

people with shoulder problems have all kinds of problems with sleeping.
i agree with the consensus here--if you have shoulder problems, then sleeping on your side can be a problem.
posted by alkupe at 9:54 AM on June 4, 2008

I didn't used to have this problem at all until about a year ago when I fell and nearly dislocated my left shoulder. No I cannot sleep on my left side for more than a half hour without being uncomfortable. I'd imagine it'll be like this for the rest of my life...
posted by pwb503 at 11:08 AM on June 4, 2008

Putting your arm "up," in other words, curling your arm under your head (under my pillow was how I used to do it) is worse for your shoulder than leaving it "down," in front of your chest or whatever. This was a tip that I got from a sports medicine doctor about some impingement syndrome that I had both from sleeping like that and from rock climbing.

I stopped and now the pain is gone.
posted by zpousman at 1:08 PM on June 4, 2008

I'm a side-sleeper, and I've found that it helps to get a kind of bed that's more giving to your shape, rather than something super-firm.

Actually, sleeping on my back leaves me with a sore shoulder. When I sleep on my back it exacerbates my snoring, and my partner punches me in the shoulder to get me to turn over on my side.
posted by chuq at 1:52 PM on June 4, 2008

I sprained my AC joint in my shoulder pretty badly doing bench press. The number one thing that helped it to go from degenerative to perpetual was to stop lifting for a while. The number one thing that helped it go from perpetual to improving (this took a while to figure out) was stopping sleeping on that side. Sleep on your back, sleep on the other side, sleep on your front with the arm extended. Try to avoid sleeping on that shoulder as much as possible.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 7:07 PM on June 4, 2008

Yes! I had a yoga-inflicted shoulder injury for years that was aggravated by sleeping on my side, but I couldn't sleep any other way. Finally I got a latex mattress, and there's no question that it's helped my shoulder heal.
posted by walla at 8:58 PM on June 4, 2008

please let me know when you find a good answer to this and try any therapies, especially home ones that work as i am increasingly skeptical of the expensive pt i am receiving...
posted by dougiedd at 5:35 PM on July 5, 2008

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