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Shoulder Pain and the Ideal Mattress

  • May, 2021
  • 5 min
  • By: Eric Cruz

​Shoulder pain comes in many forms and has a variety of causes. One kind is nerve-based pain, which often manifests as weakness with constant tingling aches from the shoulder down the arm’s length. Nerve pain often stems from a pinched nerve due to skeletal misalignments or shoulder blade impingements. Chronic arthritis is another common type of shoulder pain that can cause dull radiating aches in this area of the body.

Movement-based pain and stiffness (often called “frozen shoulder”) result from muscle tightness or other, more severe conditions. What can be even worse is the stabbing, burning, and throbbing types of pain associated with more severe conditions like fibromyalgia, bursitis, scapular dyskinesis, old sprains, rotator cuff tears, tendonitis, and hairline fractures of the shoulder bones or upper arm.

But there is also the radiating pain that can come from problems with the neck vertebrae (cervical spine) or the upper back (thoracic spine). There are many nerve connections in the upper half of the spine that end in the shoulders, arms, and hands. A misalignment in the spine’s upper area is a type of chiropractic subluxation, and the pain caused by this condition can travel throughout the body.

Many of these conditions are caused by or made worse from sleeping on a bad mattress. However, if you have suffered from any of these conditions, there is hope. The wrong kind of mattress can cause or intensify shoulder pain, but the right mattress for you can help alleviate suffering.
An ideal day starts after a solid seven to eight hours of sleep. You should feel refreshed, reasonably limber, and have enough energy to start the day. It should be easy to rise out of bed and take those first morning steps. Mattresses that don’t match your needs in terms of firmness or softness are lumpy or have sharp points that can hurt your shoulders. That is especially bad because your shoulders are two of the most injury-prone points on your body.

What Makes a Mattress Bad?

Many of the above problems can occur, especially when you sleep with too much pressure on your shoulder. This can lead to morning pain and stiffness or worse. “Sleeping wrong” on your shoulder also compress the shoulder joint and arm, limiting your circulation and causing numbness, tingling, and problems moving your limb. Over time, it can lead to rotator cuff issues. That is no way to start your day.
Fortunately, there are many non-medical solutions to deal with mild shoulder pain during your waking hours.
Changing many of your sleep habits can also be an effective solution. But again, if a problem persists, it is best to seek the help of a professional.
A proper mattress will support your upper back and neck in the way it needs to be supported. It will also put the least amount of pressure on your shoulders. It should allow you to sleep through most of the night (7-8 hours), waking only once or twice. If you do wake up, it should allow you to fall back asleep within 15 minutes. In other words, a good mattress should help you awake feeling refreshed, energized, free of pain and stiffness, and able to move easily.
A wealth of studies analyzed by the National Institute of Health indicate that firmer is not always better. According to these studies, back pain is significantly reduced in 90% of people who opt for a water-based or foam mattress. However, the mattress must also be firm enough that the body doesn’t sag at critical points, including the waist, middle ribcage, or neck, which would make back problems worsen. A mattress that causes sagging on any of these areas will pull on the shoulder joints and lead to the shoulder conditions mentioned above.

What Can You Do to Alleviate Your Shoulder Pain?

  • Stretch and Warm Up Before Workouts: This can loosen and relax the irritated muscles of the shoulders.
  • Work Out at Least 30 Minutes a Day: This will increase stamina, mobility, and circulatory health in all body parts, including your shoulders.
  • When Hurting, Alternate Between Moist Heat and Ice: Use these according to your needs. If there is excessive pain and inflammation, you should use a moderate cold compress for no more than 15 minutes at a time. If your muscles are tight, moist heat will help loosen them.
  • Use Over-the-Counter Painkillers: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen can help reduce inflammation and mild pain.
  • If the Shoulder Pain Persists, Seek Professional Help: A chiropractor, osteopath, acupuncturist, sports medicine specialist, or physiotherapist can help diagnose and treat more profound problems.
  • If you have pain in one shoulder, sleep on the opposite side. If both shoulders hurt, try sleeping on your back. Sleeping on your stomach is not advised since it can increase back pain.
  • Do not sleep with your arm under your pillow or above your head. Doing so places pressure on your shoulder joint and puts it in an awkward position that cuts off circulation.
  • Try sleeping in an elevated state on an adjustable mattress for a night or two to give your shoulders a break.
  • Try adding or removing pillows. Having your head too high or too low when you sleep puts pressure on your neck and shoulders.
  • Try using a contoured cervical support pillow. These are specially made to uphold your cervical spine (neck) when you sleep on your side.
  • A memory foam pillow can also help with cervical and thoracic spine issues as well as shoulder pain.
  • Purchase a new mattress.

Can a Good Mattress Really Help with Morning Shoulder Pain?

The Anatomy of a Good Mattress

An ideal mattress is a combination of supporting firmness and comforting softness. That is why, among the many materials out there, memory foam is considered a vital component. While no mattress can cure shoulder problems or completely alleviate shoulder pain, one that strikes a good balance between soft and firm while consistently supporting your frame is going to be the most helpful to you.
What you need is a mattress that is just right – for you. It can’t be too soft or too firm. Bodyweight, previous injury, pain tolerance, depth of usual sleep, and variations in muscle tone all play a part in what mattress is in your “goldilocks zone.” While experience is the only true measure of the right mattress for an individual, some types work best for the largest number of people.

Hybrid Mattresses and the “Goldilocks Zone”

Hybrid mattresses combine two or more cushioning types, usually memory foam on top and individually wrapped innerspring coils underneath. This “best of both worlds” mattress is generally ideal for people who suffer from chronic pain. The innerspring system is what provides both the bounciness and supportive firmness that is familiar to most sleepers. Memory foam provides the contouring and “give” that takes pressure off joints like the shoulder and hip.

There are other options for different body types and needs. An innerspring mattress with a memory foam or natural latex topper can also provide profound relief. Pillow mattress toppers are generally not recommended, as they tend to slip and increase the chances of sleeping in an awkward position. The point of careful mattress selection is to allow the spine to remain aligned, even as you naturally toss and turn in your sleep. However, there is one other factor that is vital to restorative, pain-free sleep.
The best, most expensive mattress on Earth cannot help you if your head, shoulders, and cervical spine are not aligned. The right pillow is the real game-changer when it comes to sleep. It must have the correct firmness-to-softness ratio, be the right height for your head and neck, and have the ideal contour for the curve that runs from your shoulder to the side of your head.

The Pillow: A Mattress’s Best Friend

Remember, the two primary pressure points are your hip and shoulder when you sleep on your side. A pillow that is too low or firm puts pressure on your neck, causing stiffness and headaches. One that is too high or too soft puts pressure on your shoulder, causing the problems described above. While some people swear by water-filled pillows, others prefer contoured memory foam. It’s all a matter of experience and preference.

Once you have found your ideal pillow, the way you sleep on it also becomes vital. Remember, the point is to keep your whole spine aligned while sleeping so that your body weight is evenly distributed. Once you have found that alignment, you will feel better rested, have less pain, wake up less during the night, and face the morning with enhanced energy. So, go and find your Goldilocks zone!

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