If you are reading this, it means that you have been waking up with joint or muscle pain. Incorrect sleep habits over time can cause consistent pain and even physical injuries to your body. These injuries are more common in the shoulders, neck and back due to certain sleep tendencies that a lot of us can fall into. Below are three of the most common areas of injury caused by poor sleeping positions – and how to fix them.

1. Shoulder Pain
This seems to be one of the most common areas that are affected by poor sleeping habits typically due to people placing their arm underneath their head as a pillow or placing their bottom arm underneath a pillow. This position leaves the arm imprisoned under all of your body weight and, can pinch your rotator cuff tendon between the shoulder and the acromion bone above it. The result is often a feeling of the shoulder “locking” or pain when you go to straighten your arm. This can exacerbate shoulder bursitis or injuries to the rotator cuff tendon such as tendinosis, partial tears and full thickness tendon tears.

Shoulder Bursitis
Bursitis is defined as the “inflammation of the bursa”. The bursa is a fluid-filled sac that cushions the joint so that your muscles and tendons are not painfully scraping over the joint during a movement. Lifting heavy objects, overuse, and direct trauma can inflame the bursa sac and aggravate the injury even further.

This injury can also be caused from sleeping on one side and it is important to understand not to create the same predicament on the other shoulder while you avoid sleeping on the already-injured shoulder.

Rotator Cuff Tendonitis
Tendonitis means “inflammation of the tendons” and occurs in the tendons and muscles outside of the shoulder joint. Tendonitis most commonly happens from overusing the muscles and tendons. Symptoms of shoulder and arm pain occur when you lift your arm up, down, or behind your back.  To avoid rotator cuff tendonitis it is best to sleeping on your back so that no excess weight is placed on the shoulders.

2. Neck Pain
Many neck injuries stem from poor sleeping habits or exacerbating an existing neck injury with an imposition sleep position.

Sleeping on your stomach can torque your neck as your neck turns to one side as you also hyperextend. This can create tension around the cervical spine and cause impingement on nerve roots or the spinal cord especially if there is underlying arthritis and bone spurs. Trying to find ways to avoid this position is something that should be addressed if you are dealing with consistent neck pain.

Stiff Necks or Neck Strains
If you’ve ever woken up with your head feeling like it weighs 1,000 pounds heavier than it does, or not being able to turn your head without a sharp shooting pain, then you more than likely strained your neck in your sleep.

One of the most common reasons for neck pain after sleeping is the tendency to pile up pillows in an effort to give yourself more support. However, when the cervical spine is elevated too high, the complete opposite is happening. This act can put a strain on the curvature in your spine and neck muscles causing stiffness and soreness.

Acute Torticollis
This condition is not always caused solely by a poor sleeping position, but also leaving a window open and having a breeze on your neck. As the cold air continues to hit your neck throughout the night, it is causing the cervical spine muscles to contract and spasm. This can stop your neck from moving for days at a time! Your neck becomes locked into one position and will not allow any movement whatsoever. This can be a scary occurrence which is why it is important to always to try to maintain proper sleep posture.

3. Back Pain
Back pains are among some of the most common of all sleeping complaints as your posture directly correlates with your spine. If you find yourself with a poor quality mattress, a pillow that does not suit your needs, or are just sleeping incorrectly; then you might want to invest some time into considering a way you can sleep better as you may be leaving yourself susceptible to back pain and discomfort.

Some common injuries that correlate with poor sleep are sciatica, bulging disc and herniated discs.

Bulging Disc
The discs of the spine act as cushions that sit in between your vertebrae and each one of these is made up of a gelatinous fluid substance surrounded by cartilage.   However, if you sleep on your stomach a mattress can push against the natural S curvature which can cause the discs to degenerate over time. This degeneration can result in a bulging of the disc with symptoms such as localized pain, muscle spasms and sciatica.

To treat this at home, first try ice/heat therapy and rest your back for a couple days. Also, sleep on your back with a rolled towel under your knees. If this does not provide relief after several days, it is best to consult a spine specialist.

Sciatica
For those already suffering from Sciatica, the pain is often worse at night and the reason for this is pretty simple. The spinal discs are filled with fluid and depending upon the position in which you are lying, gravity will push the fluid in these discs in that direction. If you are lying on the side where the disc bulge or herniation (the underlying cause of Sciatica) is most prominent, the increase in fluid can cause the herniation to become larger and put more pressure on the sciatic nerve. If you are suffering from Sciatica and are finding it difficult to sleep comfortably, it is best to consult with a spine specialist.


If you are suffering from muscle or joint pain, the physicians at Total Orthopedics and Sports Medicine focus on both the surgical and non-surgical treatment of bone and joint injuries and are one of the most innovative orthopedic practices in the area.  Dr. Charles Ruotolo, President of Total Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, has published several peer-reviewed studies on orthopedic care and orthopedic surgery.

Fortunately, many patients can be treated non-surgically with a combination of conservative modalities coordinated by the Total Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Team. If surgery is necessary, the practice uses a multidisciplinary approach to create a treatment plan that focuses on the patient’s lifestyle and activities and helps them get back to those activities quickly and effectively.  Total Orthopedics and Sports Medicine halocations throughout Long Island and Manhattan.