Hands up who sleeps on their side???
And hands up how many times have you woken up in shoulder pain, neck stiffness or pins and needles down your arm???
There are a few things you would need to know before considering lying on your side. However, before pointing those out to you I would like to quickly say a few very important words about your neck and shoulders.
DID YOU KNOW your neck is connected to your shoulders and vice versa?
If you look how close it is to one another then you will realise the link. The muscles behind your neck start from your neck, more specifically the back of your head, and finish at your shoulders. Some of them don’t even finish at the shoulder but they go pass it and then finish their length at your elbows!
Another connection between your neck and shoulders are the actual nerves that come out of your neck spine, branching downwards towards the shoulder blade and the whole of your arm.
So how can a nerve cause problems to your arm?
Well, looking at the picture above you can tell that most of these neck nerves travel through the little “gap” between your collar bone and your shoulder itself. This gap is called the Thoracic Outlet and it contains not only nerves from your neck but also arteries and veins. And these nerves, arteries and veins can be “pinched” within this Thoracic Outlet gap. This can then cause shoulder pain or even pins and needles down your arm and your hand.
A very easy and common way to pinch these nerves is during your sleep. Basically by lying onto your side with your arm tucked under the pillow. Whilst you are fast asleep, your nerves in the Thoracic Outlet gap are being pinched most probably for 3-4 solid hours. Then you suddenly open your eyes in discomfort and start shaking your arm off in anger!
Imagine repeating this wrong process all the time, every day and every week. Your shoulder will certainly not be happy about it…
However, sleeping on your side can also create this problem too….
The front of the shoulder is being stretched all through the night. And that’s because your shoulder is in a bad rotation when your arm is tucked under the pillows. I know stretch is a positive word these days however, keeping something stretched for long periods will only result in one thing…damage!!!
And that’s because it’s not a natural position for the front of your shoulder to be kept stretched for this long. It’s okay to stretch a muscle for 30 seconds and then let it rest so as to take in the benefits of the stretch. However, if you kept a muscle stretched for longer, say 3 minutes, then the fibres inside your muscle start to become very loose and very elastic. And this WILL have a negative impact on your muscle right away…
Imagine those 3 minutes to become 10 and then a full hour or hours, for instance when you are in bed.
Can you see where I’m coming from?
Here is an example for you…
Hold an elastic band as stretched as possible (away from your face!) for over a minute. Now repeat by just holding it for 20 seconds at the same tension as before. Although the tension was the same, you will notice that the feeling is different. This is exactly what happens with your shoulder muscles when you are asleep and in no conscious control of that negative stretch…
Another problem arising from you lying onto your side is that the side of your neck opposite to the one you lie on (the top side of your neck) WILL be working solid to keep your neck straight…
And that’s why the neck pain you usually get in the morning is in the opposite side of the one you just slept on. Unless you slept funny on that side itself but usually the opposite side is the one trying so hard over the course of the night to keep your neck straight. Instead, you let your neck and head “fall” on one side, downwards towards the pillow.
If you look at the trees, sometimes they tilt on one side either because of the wind or over the years they have developed a favourite side towards the sun rise. If you were to check which side of the tree has had most tension inside, you will surprisingly find out that this would be the opposite side to the one they lean on. And that’s the same with what we just discussed about your neck side that gets the pain and the stiffness.
So, it’s the opposite side to the one you lie on that gets the stiffness, the stress, the strain and the pain!!!
But there are a few more problems still…
The tendons in your hips are being constantly pushed out of place when you sleep on your side.
It sounds creepy but it’s true folks. So the hip that you lie on will most probably be okay and that’s because most matresses these days provide a degree of comfort and some good cushioning. So despite lying right over that hip, you don’t really push too hard on it due to the sound matress.
What happens to the other hip though?…
The top sided hip (the opposite to the one you lie on) will be in pain over night, without you knowing much about it… And this is because that leg will always be dropping over the bottom leg. Meaning, the hip bone which you can easily feel on the side of your hip, will be “sticking out”. This will put extra stress on the tendons surrounding your hip bone together with swelling and inflammation.
“SO what do I need to do to prevent these problems?”
(Image taken form http://www.fwblack.com/en/blog/7164-The-Best-and-Worst-Sleeping-Positions)
This is your answer folks, in this picture. The bottom diagram shows how your top leg would be if you had a nice cushion in between your thighs. And now compare this to the diagram on the top. Watch this dotted line how much it levels upwards when the cushion goes between your thighs.
Also having some good thickness within your pillows will help your neck to stay more level instead of dropping on one side. Remember the tree example…
And this entire position will make your shoulder less painful. Despite still tucking your arm under the cushions, the thickness of the pillows will change the pressure on your shoulder…
And this will put less pressure between your collar bone and your shoulder. So the Thoracic Outlet will not be under as much pressure, meaning no nerves pinched!!!…
Hope this helped!
For more information on sleeping positions, posture and injury prevention please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or phone me on 07527836754 / 0161-494-3142.