Is Your Sleeping Position Damaging Your Rotator Cuff?

If you're waking up every morning with stiffness and aching in your shoulder, you could be facing a problem with your rotator cuff. This is a group of muscles and tendons that help attach your upper arm bone to your shoulder blade (via Next Step Orthopedics). The rotator cuff earns its name from the cuff-like structure it forms to hold your shoulder in place, as well as the fact that this structure allows the rotation of your arm.

Injuries to the rotator cuff tend to occur due to wear and tear of the tissues over time, according to the Mayo Clinic. This wear and tear can be caused by a number of factors, including age, sports, like baseball or weight lifting, and occupations that require overhead arm motions, such as house painting or carpentry.

However, without even realizing it, your nighttime routine could be setting you up for injury (via Sports-health). Everyone has a favorite sleeping position, but it's possible that your preferred way of drifting off to dreamland may be causing damage to your rotator cuff.

Sleeping on your side can be a danger

If you sleep on your side every night, especially the same side night in and night out, you are putting your rotator cuff at risk (via Hommen Orthopedics). The tendons of the rotator cuff may become compressed between the humerus and scapular bones in the shoulder, leading to a condition known as impingement. Over time, impingement can lead to other conditions, such as bursitis, which is inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs that cushion the bones and tendons, or even a rotator cuff tear.

Sleeping on your side causes all the weight of your body to press down on your shoulder joint, notesĀ Next Step Orthopedics. Keep in mind, the pressure on your shoulder increases as your body relaxes, ultimately causing small tears and inflammation. In fact, according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, more than half of people with unilateral shoulder pain felt that pain exacerbated in the side on which they were sleeping.

Flip the script on your sleeping stance

If your sleep position is causing you discomfort, the simplest solution is to change up the way you sleep, notesĀ The Orthopedics Institute of New Jersey. The ideal position to avoid rotator cuff damage is on your back, as it can better align your spine, prevent sinus buildup, and help prevent tension headaches. If you're averse to sleeping on your back, you can purchase a mattress that helps you to lie flat, find a pillow that offers good support for your neck, and add extra pillows that can support your lower back.

For those who can't sleep on their back, at the very least, you can try switching sides (via Next Step Orthopedics). If you are an affirmed side sleeper, at least change things up and sleep with the affected side pointed towards the ceiling. You can then put a pillow in the armpit of the side that hurts to help relieve some of the pressure on your rotator cuff.

In between sleeping, you can find ways to manage your shoulder pain through heat and ice packs and shoulder exercises (via OrthoBethesda). Over-the-counter medications are also a good option when it comes to managing shoulder pain. If your pain reaches a level where you can't sleep or your daily life is impacted, you should call your doctor and seek medical assistance.