5 Ways to Prevent Neck and Shoulder Pain for a Better Night’s Sleep

Neck and shoulder pain are one of the most common complaints patients report throughout their lifetime. The prevalence of neck pain has been noted to be as high as 60%. Shoulder pain is not far behind with a lifetime prevalence noted to be around 55%. Both neck and shoulder pain can be caused by a variety of things including trauma such as a fall or car accident, athletics, posture, sleep position, nerve irritation, arthritis, and stress to name just a few. Here are 5 ways to prevent neck and shoulder pain for a better night’s sleep.

Managing pain in the shoulder and neck can be challenging as we use our arms every day and require our neck to support our head. However, there are several ways we can impact neck and shoulder pain whether it’s exercises, nerve mobilization, manual therapy, or even sleep! That’s right, sleep can be a huge player in contributing to neck and shoulder pain. 

Importance of Sleep 

Sleep is one of the best ways to help promote recovery when the body is in pain. Sleep helps to decrease cortisol levels (the body’s stress hormone) and promotes increased growth hormone to help with tissue repair. Current research suggests that poor sleep quality contributes to pain more than pain contributes to poor sleep quality. What impacts your sleep quality and your pain? Sleep posture, pillow use, mattress type, and sleep hygiene can all contribute to your pain. The challenge is finding what works best for you to help prevent lingering or worsening symptoms.

Sleep Tips

  1. Sleep Positions

    1. There are many possible sleep positions to choose from, so pick what is most comfortable for you! Some of the most researched sleep positions include the following: 
      1. Stomach  –  Stomach sleeping has been suggested to contribute to neck pain due to prolonged positioning out of “normal” neck alignment. It also can contribute to shoulder pain if one’s arm is positioned in an overhead position with the arm externally rotated. This can contribute to more pain if one is already hypermobile.
      2. Side – Side sleeping is a better option than stomach sleeping for neck pain as it can promote a more neutral neck alignment, but it can contribute to shoulder pain especially if a patient has arthritis or is recovering post-operatively. This is due to the direct pressure and loading that occurs through the joint.
      3. Back –  Back pain is often the best position for individuals with combined neck and shoulder pain as it allows for better neck alignment and more flexibility for pillow placement to support the shoulders without putting direct pressure through the joint.      


               2.Choosing the Right Mattress and Pillow

    1. Mattress
      1. The best mattress is whatever is most comfortable for you to help you stay asleep. However, some research suggests that firmer mattresses may improve sleep quality and comfort more than softer mattresses. If you’re in the market for a new mattress, consider buying firmer and you can always add a soft mattress topper if needed.
    2. Pillows
      1. Use a pillow that best supports your neck in a neutral alignment. Try to avoid using more than one pillow under your head at night to limit the amount of time your neck is bent forwards as this can contribute to additional neck soreness. For your shoulder pain, consider propping your arms up on a pillow to help prevent you from rolling onto your painful side and to help keep your shoulder from extending at night.


        3. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

    1. Sleep Schedules – Try to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. This helps promote quality rapid eye movement (REM) sleep which will make you feel more well rested each day!
    2.  Limit Screens Before Bed – Try to avoid screen time 1 hour before bed. The light from our technology has been shown to delay our ability to fall asleep when we finally put that screen down.
    3. Set the Mood – Create an environment that is free from loud noises, bright lights, and other distractions that could wake you up at night. This will allow you to have more restful sleep.
    4. Avoid Liquids – Try to not drink anything within 2-3 hours before going to bed to prevent having to wake up to use the restroom every night. 

Other Tips for Reducing Neck and Shoulder Pain

Maintain Good Posture Throughout the Day

    1. Stay Upright – Do your best to keep your head and neck upright, especially when working on computers. Try to avoid letting your head and chin come forward into a forward head position. This position effectively shortens your suboccipital muscles (the small muscles at the base of your skull) and can contribute to headaches, neck pain, and neck mobility deficits. 
    2. Shoulders Back – Try to avoid letting your shoulders fall forwards as this can lead to tight pectoral muscles and shoulder impingement.  Avoid your shoulders touching your ears. This position requires a lot of muscular effort from your upper trapezius which can contribute to neck and shoulder pain as well as headaches. 

     Seek Help from PT for Chronic Pain

Still struggling with pesky neck and shoulder pain? Come visit one of your local Freedom physical therapists to help you learn how to take control of your pain and get your freedom back! Use theses 5 ways to prevent neck and shoulder pain for a better night’s sleep.

Want more input on good sleep posture and the science behind good sleep including how it can impact your neck and shoulder pain? Check out another one of my blog posts titled “Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep.” 





Physical Therapist
Rachel Beilfuss is a Wisconsinite born and raised. She earned two degrees: a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Physiology and a Doctorate in Physical Therapy at Marquette University. After earning her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, Rachel completed an orthopedic residency program through the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, where she underwent advanced training and mentorship to further hone her manual skills and clinical knowledge in orthopedics to become a more effective provider for her patients.