Neck and shoulder pain, often caused by poor posture, trauma, and joint conditions affect your comfort when lying in bed and your ability to sleep soundly. By adjusting your sleeping position and using the proper pillow, you can minimize neck and shoulder pain and sleep peacefully.
Sleeping on your stomach is the worst position when struggling with neck and shoulder pain because it strains your neck, shoulders, and back. Instead, we recommend sleeping on your side or back, as they promote healthy spinal alignment and don’t put pressure on your neck and shoulders.
1. Sleeping on your back relieves pressure
Sleeping on your back evenly distributes your weight and maintains the natural curve of your spine, so your neck and shoulders are not compressed. Placing a pillow or rolled towel under the knees promotes neutral spinal alignment and also prevents low back pain.
Try to sleep on your back with your arms under your head because it minimizes pressure on the shoulder muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Another way to reduce rotator cuff pain is by placing a small pillow or rolled hand towel between your shoulder blades when sleeping.
2. Sleeping on your side aligns the spine
Sleeping on your side relieves neck and shoulder pain because it aligns the spine and hips and is gentle on the head and neck.
If you have shoulder pain, always lie on the side opposite the sore shoulder. Not only is it painful to lie on the affected shoulder, but it also hinders blood flow and interrupts the healing process. People suffering from shoulder pain should also try hugging a pillow or tucking one under the impacted arm to open up the shoulders and reduce pain.
According to Dr Nayantara Santhi, “We all have our preferred sleeping positions. The position in which we sleep can reduce or worsen shoulder and neck pain. Sleeping on your side with your knees slightly bent or on your back are the healthiest sleeping positions. This can reduce shoulder and neck pain and help you sleep better. ”
Choosing the best pillows for neck and shoulder pain
In addition to choosing a mattress for shoulder pain, you should look to purchase a comfortable pillow to relieve neck and shoulder pain because pillows keep your head aligned with your spine and prevent your neck muscles from tightening. Buckwheat, latex, down, and memory foam pillows are best for nerve pain relief because they conform to the head and neck and provide excellent pressure relief.
Special pillows for neck and shoulder pain
Beyond the standard rectangular pillows, there are countless pillow designs specifically for neck and shoulder pain relief.
Travel neck pillow
Travel neck pillows are horseshoe-shaped and provide neck support when travelling and unable to lie down. Pillows prevent the head from bending towards the chest or shoulders when sitting upright, causing stiffness or pain in the neck.
Also called a rounded pillow, cervical pillows support the head and neck, minimize neck and shoulder pain, and promote healthy spinal alignment. Some cervical pillows have arches around the neck and are flatter under the head to maintain the natural curve of your neck. Other cervical pillows are contoured around the neck to hold it in place and keep the neck and shoulders aligned with the spine.
Wedge pillows support your upper body and help you sleep on an incline, reducing problems like acid reflux, obstructive sleep apnea, and neck and shoulder pain. Wedge pillows are exclusively for sleeping on your back (your spine is misaligned when you sleep on your side or stomach on a wedge pillow) and they reduce pressure points on your neck and shoulders.
When you sleep on your side, body pillows promote healthy spinal alignment, provide you with an object to hug, and relieve shoulder pain. Body pillows are also known as pregnancy pillows, as they support the stomach of pregnant women and relieve symptoms commonly associated with pregnancy, such as acid reflux and lower back pain. The pillows are thick enough to keep your head aligned with your spine, plus you can place them between the knees for additional support.
Most body pillows are rectangular, but another viable option is a U-shaped body pillow – a large pillow with two long arms that you lie between. U-shaped pillows are larger and more expensive than rectangular body pillows, but they hold you in place and provide support.
The loft of a pillow influences the way it fills the space between the head and the mattress while keeping the spine neutral. The pillow should not be so thick that the chin is forced toward the chest or shoulder, but not so thin that the head falls back. Back sleepers should use medium height pillows (4 to 5 inches) and side sleepers should choose high height pillows (5 to 7 inches) for optimal support.
Is sleeping without a pillow better for my neck?
Sleeping without a pillow puts more pressure on the neck and makes neck pain worse. Pain-free tummy sleepers may be left without a pillow on a medium or firm mattress, but if you already have neck pain, sleeping on your tummy makes it even worse.
Should my shoulders be on a pillow when I sleep?
Pillows support your head and neck, not your shoulders. Placing the shoulders on a pillow lifts the entire upper body, leaving the head and neck unsupported and curved back.
Where should I put my arms when I sleep on my side?
If you sleep on your side with your arm under you, it decreases blood circulation and leads to a dead arm. Instead, sleep with your arms extended in front of you or hug a pillow so your arms are not compressed.
How do I treat neck and shoulder pain?
Most neck and shoulder pain go away within a few days or weeks with the help of home remedies. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, hot and cold compresses, pain relief ointments, and self-massage to combat pain. Having good posture, avoiding heavy lifting, and gentle stretching are other ways to relieve pain.
When should I see a doctor for neck and shoulder pain?
Contact your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Very limited range of motion
- Numbness or loss of strength in arms and hands.
- Shooting pains or muscle spasms in the shoulder or arm.
- Unbearable pain
- Worsening pain despite treatment
- Pain lasting more than 6 weeks.
Dr Santhi notes: “Sleep and pain have a two-way relationship. Lack of sleep can intensify pain and, conversely, pain can make sleep worse. It is well established that lack of sleep affects our ability to function effectively during the day. ”
Shoulder and neck pain are problems generally manageable with proper care, including sleeping in a healthier position. Sleeping on your side and your back are the two most relaxing sleeping positions, while you should avoid sleeping on your stomach because it causes stiffness and tension. Extra pillows and padding further promote pain relief by protecting your neck and shoulders, but you don’t need to sleep comfortably.