Do you place your arm underneath your head as a pillow when you sleep? Or maybe you prefer to sleep on one side, all the time? This could wear down the cartilage of your joint and lock your shoulder muscles into place, causing sharp pain when you try to straighten your arm in the morning. It may also cause inflammation of the tendons, muscles and joints, leading to serious injury.
If a patient tears a muscle in his rotator cuff, I almost always trace the roots of that same injury back to an improper sleeping position that made his shoulder more vulnerable. By correcting his sleeping position and discussing proper pillow support, I can insure that he will heal properly and prevent stress to his shoulder in the future.
The following shoulder injuries are generally caused over time, by repeating the same motion such as lifting or reaching overhead, pitching or throwing, sleeping on the shoulder for several hours, or sleeping with your arm under your pillow. If they aren’t treated, they can escalate to a tear. A muscle tear will most likely occur when you suddenly demand a movement (while playing sports, etc.) that the muscle is too weakened to deliver.
Bursitis means “inflammation of the bursa.” A bursa is a fluid filled sac that cushions the joint so that your tendons and muscles don’t scrape painfully over the joint every time you move.
The shoulder bursae can get inflamed and fill up with too much fluid from overuse or direct trauma, like lifting a too heavy object. Symptoms are dull shoulder pain, or pinching pain when you raise your elbow away from your body.
Treatment starts with the usual: rest, ice, ibuprofen and of course, not sleeping on that shoulder. Be aware that if you shift to sleeping exclusively on your uninjured shoulder for the entire night, you could injure that as well! Sometimes treatment will be more aggressive, depending on your pain level, like using a needle to extract some of the excess fluid in the bursa, or getting cortisone shots at the joint.
Tendinitis or Shoulder Impingement (Rotator Cuff)
Tendinitis (or tendonitis) means “inflammation of the tendons” and occurs in the tendons and muscles outside the shoulder joint. This injury most commonly happens from overusing the muscles and tendons. Symptoms include shoulder or arm pain when you lift your arm up or down or reach behind your back, and/or a clicking sound when raising your arm. The shoulder and arm could also feel stiff or weak.
Prevent tendinitis by sleeping on your back, resting the shoulder, icing it and taking ibuprofen regularly. A chiropractor or physical therapist will help you with ultrasound to speed up healing and by introducing gentle strengthening exercises once the tendons and muscles have healed. If you’re in severe pain, you may need a cortisone shot to the area.
These injuries are uncomfortable and inconvenient, as they can take a while to heal. It’s important that you allow your shoulder to fully recover, using your pain level as a gauge to see where you’re at. If you don’t treat bursitis and tendinitis completely, you could end up tearing the muscle, which never fully heals without surgery.
Baby your shoulders by sleeping on your back, or switching sides often while you sleep. Of course, be sure you have the proper pillow, so you don’t place your arm under your head to get more support.
Next, Part Three Common Sleep Injuries: Elbow Injuries