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Voted The UK's Best Pillow For Neck Pain 2024

300,000+ Happy Customers

How To Sleep On Your Side (To Avoid Shoulder Pain)

With approximately 74% of us snoozing on our sides, side sleeping is undoubtedly the most popular way to rest. 

However, when not done properly, side sleeping can lead to shoulder pain that keeps you awake at night or limits your movement in the morning. That’s right. There’s a proper way to sleep on your side, and you can enjoy this sleep posture without the bothersome pain.

In this blog, we’ll explore how to sleep on your side without hurting your shoulder. We’ll also examine the link between side sleeping and shoulder pain and offer tips to alleviate shoulder aches. Let’s get started.

Can Sleeping On Your Side Cause Shoulder Pain?

Sleeping on your side can cause shoulder pain, as it puts extra stress on your shoulder. The weight of your torso can push down on your shoulder, causing aches, pain, and potentially injuries. You also want to keep your shoulders down while sleeping.

A small study in Denmark explored the link between shoulder pain and side sleeping. This found that 67% of the participants with shoulder pain slept on the same side as the pain (Kempf and Kongsted, 2012).

The shoulder is made of two main joints: the acromioclavicular and glenohumeral joints. It’s also where the shoulder blade and collarbone meet. This area also has integral muscles, tendons, ligaments and soft tissue (Washington University Orthopedics, 2017).

Injuries can occur to all parts of the shoulder, limiting mobility and leaving you in persistent pain. So, it's more important than ever to prevent this issue with a healthy sleep position.

‌Why Sleeping on Your Side Is Killing Your Shoulder

If you’re frequently sleeping on your side and placing your shoulder under stress, you may end up with an injury (in addition to general shoulder pain).

Shoulder pain from sleeping results in the following:

  • Shoulder bursitis — Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursae (fluid-filled sacs that cushion delicate tissues). Shoulder bursitis happens when the shoulder’s bursae become inflamed. The main symptoms include warmth, swelling, tenderness, pain, and fever (John Hopkins Medicine, n.d.).
  • Rotator cuff injuries A rotator cuff injury happens when the rotator cuff’s tendons are inflamed. This is also known as tendinitis. Sleeping on your side can worsen a rotator cuff injury and experience more pain and reduced mobility.
  • Shoulder impingement syndrome Shoulder impingement happens when the tissues around the rotator cuff grind against nearby bones and tissue and become trapped (Garving et al., 2017). Bone spurs, bursitis, or tendinitis can cause the rubbing. Most patients feel this pain at the top or outer area of the shoulder.
  • Frozen shoulder Frozen shoulder occurs when the connective tissue in the shoulder joint thickens. The cause for this is unknown, but it can lead to immobility and pain.
  • Shoulder osteoarthritis Osteoarthritis occurs when the shoulder’s cartilage breaks down. It usually appears with age but can also be caused by injury or trauma. Symptoms include pain, loss of movement, and clicking sounds.

How to Sleep on Your Side without Hurting Your Shoulder

Changing your sleep posture might be frustrating if you’re a lifelong side sleeper. However, you don’t have to start sleeping on your back. You just need to adopt a healthy side position that doesn’t stress your shoulders.

When sleeping on your side, you should aim to keep your spine in a neutral position and your head supported. You also want to avoid placing too much weight on your shoulders.

Pillows can help when finding a healthy sleep posture. Specialised materials (e.g. memory foam) and ergonomic shapes (e.g. cervical curve) help to distribute stress and provide a more comfortable night of rest (Jeon et al., 2014).

Follow the steps below for a healthy side sleeping posture:

  1. Lie on your side and place a pillow under your head.
  2. Ensure your neck and chin are in the centre of your shoulders.
  3. Align your hips and shoulders.
  4. Look forward — don’t twist or tilt your neck.
  5. Align your arms and hands. They can lie by your sides or in front of you.
  6. If you want more support, add a pillow between your legs. The Groove X pillow is designed to sit perfectly between your legs throughout the night.

Which Side Should You Sleep On?

You can sleep on either side, so choose the most comfortable one. If you have shoulder pain, it’s best to choose the non-injured shoulder side until the pain disappears.

Lifestyle Tips To Alleviate Shoulder Pain from Side Sleeping

Adopting a better sleeping position is a critical step. However, you can implement some other tips to reduce shoulder pain from sleeping.

  • Staying active during the day — Living an active lifestyle has been associated with less chronic pain (Fjeld et al., 2023).
  • Regular stretching — Regular stretching can also help reduce shoulder aches and pains. You should repeat these stretches two to three times a day (NHS Inform, n.d.)
  • A supportive pillow — A specialised memory foam pillow can help to manage shoulder pain and promote a safe sleeping position. The Groove 2.0 Pillow offers adjustable support for neck and shoulder pain, guaranteeing overnight relief and deeper sleep.
  • Healthy diet — Eating a balanced diet can reduce shoulder pain and inflammation. Cutting out ultra-processed foods can help reduce overall low-grade inflammation (Tristan Aseni et al., 2023).
  • Consider your mattress — Like pillows, mattresses can help or hinder your sleep. Memory foam mattresses are recommended for shoulder pain, as these mould to the body’s shape and reduce pressure.

When to Seek Professional Help

If your shoulder pain doesn't subside after two weeks after trying out a new sleeping position and lifestyle adjustments, you should book an appointment with your doctor.

You should also contact your doctor if the pain is sudden or severe, disruptive to your day-to-day life, accompanied by loss of motion, or associated with an injury.

Seek immediate medical attention if the pain is accompanied by signs of infection (swelling and warmth) or is so severe you can't complete basic tasks.

Final Words

Mastering the art of side sleeping without shoulder pain is a game-changer for your sleep quality and overall well-being. This blog aims to equip you with a deeper understanding of the condition and effective home management strategies.

Start the journey to a painless night’s rest today. Explore how the Groove 2.0 pillow can reduce shoulder pain and elevate your sleep quality now.

Read more Groove blogs and guides here.


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