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Shoulder and Neck Pain: Say Goodnight To Shoulder Pain For Good

Let’s talk about one of the most common causes of shoulder pain – sleeping! Not just sleeping, but the way we sleep (and even what we do before we sleep). Have you ever woken up in the morning with a stiff and slightly painful shoulder? Often it’s just an annoying ache that eases off shortly after you’ve got out of bed, but after days of waking up feeling like this, it can become a lot more painful. It can actually be something with your neck or vice versa!

It’s something that we don’t usually think about, but one of the most important things to consider is the effect that sleeping can have upon our neck and shoulders. Let me explain: An increase in shoulder or neck pain is a common problem that many people experience as a direct result of resting for 8 hours or more in an awkward position, either an old mattress or on the wrong types of pillows. Why? Because having your neck twisted or bent in a funny position for long periods of time isn’t good for the body. After a while your body becomes so used to being in a certain position when you go to sleep (the position you’ve been sleeping in for most of your life!) – night after night, so no wonder the shoulder becomes painful. But it’s not only down to the way we sleep…

A Common Nighttime Culprit

Another thing I see a lot of people do before they turn in for the night is they watch TV or read. But the thing is, while doing these things, the head is rarely supported properly. This causes a lot of strain on the muscles – leading to aches at your shoulders/base of your neck. A patient arrived in my clinic telling me that she hurt her neck because of driving all weekend.

After I took a closer look, one or two questions led me to a conclusion that made more sense… That the root cause of her shoulder pain was because of looking up at a TV screen on the wall before sleeping, and then sleeping with two pillows in a twisted position. So the solution to waking up refreshed and pain-free? Well first, if you like to read or watch your favorite TV show before drifting off, take a look at how you’re sitting. Do you prop yourself up with several pillows behind you with your neck either bent forwards, or straining to look up?

Here’s a Solution

If yes, place yourself into a neutral position tonight instead. One where your arms are supported and your neck is kept in-line with your back. What helps is to think of it like this: it’s as if you have a piece of string attached to the top of your head keeping you upright. After a while of this, the pressure on your shoulders should ease off. Another thing, think about the way you sleep. Do you sleep on your front? Your back? Or even your side?

My tip is to avoid sleeping on your stomach. This forces your head to be twisted into an unnatural position. Instead sleep on your back, this way your body is kept nicely in line and your spine is supported. You might think sleeping on your back is good, but it won’t change anything if your pillows aren’t helping. Sleeping with more than one pillow behind your head can place your neck into an awkward position. That position then pulls on your shoulders. When sleeping on your back, find a pillow that doesn’t tilt your head forwards or backwards.

Take-Home Message

The takeaway? It’s important to sleep in a position you find comfortable but one that also supports your shoulders and neck at the same time. Experimenting with different sleeping positions won’t do you any harm. Just make sure your neck and back aren’t twisted. I used to sleep with two pillows all the time, on my side with my legs twisted all over the place!

But since changing the way I rest I’m much better to get a good nights sleep if my neck rests on its own normal position, and I no longer wake up feeling like I’ve done acrobatics in my sleep! Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

The author, Jennifer Penrose, is a Physical Therapist and owner of Penrose Physical Therapy. If you have any questions about neck and shoulder pain or headaches, you can call on (360) 456 1444 or email


The new episode of “Stay Healthy South Sound” – Dr. Penrose’s monthly podcast – is now live! This month she interviewed Christine Kulhawik, Licensed Acupuncturist and Certified Functional Nutritionist. She owns Watershed Wellness in Tumwater, WA and you can find them here on Facebook or visit them online at Topics include benefits of acupuncture, who it’s for and how it works (including its connection to your immune health). Listen to it today at these links!


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Jennifer Penrose

Penrose Physical Therapy

"Leading Experts Helping People Become More Active and Mobile, Reduce Stress and Achieve Longevity… So They Can Enjoy Great Health For Years to Come!"

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