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Does the Way You Sleep Affect Your Shoulder?

When people think of a shoulder injury, especially a rotator cuff tear or tendinitis, they think of athletes or people with heavy manual labor jobs. While shoulder injuries can happen from sudden trauma or high impact activities, sometimes shoulder injuries are caused by gradual wear and tear or even the positioning of your shoulder. This is the case with your sleep position.

sleep habits and your shoulderWhat is the rotator cuff?

This is a term that is thrown around a lot in regards to the shoulder. That’s because the rotator cuff play a vital role in pretty much all of your daily activities. Your rotator cuff is made up of muscles and tendons that keep the ball (head) of your upper-arm bone (humerus) in your shoulder socket. This cuff of tendons and muscles controls the complex motions and helps maintain the stability of the shoulder. The bigger muscles in your shoulder provide strength and stability, while the rotator cuff is more about mechanics and motion. Because of this, the rotator cuff is typically the most vulnerable since it’s susceptible to overuse. 

Can my sleeping habits affect my shoulder health?

Even while you’re sleeping, your shoulder is vulnerable to injury. The biggest issue with shoulder health is for people who sleep on their side. And more specifically, people who sleep on the same side every night. The consistent pressure on the rotator cuff can cause the tendons to become inflamed, and/or fray. When this happens, it’s called rotator cuff tendinitis, or impingement, depending on how it affects the tendons. 

How do I know if I have rotator cuff tendinitis?

Rotator cuff tendinitis begins with mild pain and/or stiffness. It can then progress to be more serious, and you can have lack of motion and more severe pain. If you experience pain more towards the back of your shoulder near your shoulder blades, chances are that’s just general muscle tension or a pinched nerve and not a rotator cuff disorder. Rotator cuff pain is typically felt in the front of the shoulder. 

What can I do to prevent rotator cuff tendinitis?

This may be hard for many people, but the most simple solution is to switch sleeping positions. If you’ve been a side sleeper all of your life, this may prove to be difficult. You can start by beginning the night on the side you don’t typically sleep on, which may encourage you to switch sides more frequently in the night, or get your body comfortable with alternative sides. Ideally, you will sleep on your back, but chances are you will move back to your side in the middle of the night. To assist, you can prop your pillow up more, or get a new pillow that supports different positions. For instance, a cervical pillow (which usually has a slope in the center to rest your head), may help keep you on your back while you sleep. This pillow also has neck support benefits. Or, you can just get a firmer pillow that supports your shoulder for better side sleeping.

If you experience pain, you can try icing your shoulder during the day and taking anti-inflammatory medicine. If the pain persists for a couple months, that’s when you should come see a shoulder specialist like Dr. Samuel Koo. Pain for that long is indicative of a shoulder issue. For tendinitis, treatment is typically non-surgical and may involve a combination of injection therapy, physical therapy and pain medication. 

Make an appointment today if you’ve been experiencing prolonged shoulder pain from your sleep habits.

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COVID-19 Update

4/21/20 Update: Effective immediately, Dr. Koo is seeing patients through telehealth visits and in-person visits at our clinic. Call today to schedule your appointment!

Dr. Samuel Koo is closely following the most up-to-date announcements and information on the known cases of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Because this information is always changing, we will be monitoring all updated from the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control.

To better serve you, Dr. Koo is now proud to offer virtual visits. With telehealth, you can meet with Dr. Koo from the comfort and safety of your own home. Please call our office today to learn more about this service or to schedule an appointment.

As of last Friday the governor of Washington state issued a declaration that all non-urgent or emergent surgical cases be postponed until the week of May 18th. For more information, please reach out to our office at (425) 823-4000.

Here are a few additional resources as well:

World Health Organization
Centers for Disease Control