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Can Reading Book in Bed Cause Shoulder Pain?

Reading is one of life’s great pleasures. Many people like to unwind before bed by reading a book or browsing on their phone or tablet. Although reading in bed can be enjoyable, it also comes with some potential downsides. One issue that may arise is shoulder pain or discomfort from staying in the same position for a prolonged period. In this article, we’ll explore the connection between reading in bed and shoulder issues.

The Problem with Reading in Bed

When we read in bed, we typically prop ourselves up with pillows against the headboard and hold our reading material in front of us without much arm support. This position requires our shoulders to be flexed forward and our arms outstretched for often 30 minutes or more. Holding this sustained posture can strain the muscles of the neck, shoulders, and upper back.

Over time, this strain may translate into aches, tightness, and pain. The muscles have to work extra hard to hold the shoulders forward and up for an extended period. With no break to relax the muscles, they can become overworked, fatigued, and inflamed.

Muscles Affected

Several muscle groups are engaged when we read in bed and may become problematic with overuse:

  • Trapezius: This is the large, triangular muscle running from the base of the neck across the top of the shoulders. Sustained contraction causes stiffness and pain at the neck and shoulder joint.
  • Levator scapulae: This muscle runs down the side and back of the neck. It lifts the shoulder blade and tilts the head backward. Overuse can lead to neck stiffness and spasms.
  • Sternocleidomastoid: This thick muscle runs down both sides of the neck. It allows you to turn and flex your head. Tightness in this muscle may result in neck soreness and decreased range of motion.
  • Deltoids: These are the muscles that form the rounded contour of the shoulders. Holding the arms up engages the deltoids in a sustained contraction that can make these muscles tired and irritated.
  • Rotator cuff: Muscles that stabilize the shoulder joint, including the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis. Impingement of these muscles can occur with prolonged shoulder flexion.
  • Rhomboids: Muscles between the shoulder blades that retract the scapula. Overuse while reading in bed can cause muscle spasms.

How Reading Position Causes Problems

Let’s examine how the typical reading position may lead to shoulder troubles:

  • Forward head posture: Slumping over a book pushes the head forward from the center of gravity. This strains the muscles of the neck and upper back.
  • Rounded shoulders: Without arm support, the shoulders roll forward. This malalignment stresses the shoulder joint and muscles.
  • Abducted arm position: Holding reading material upright requires sustained outward rotation of the arms. This can compress and irritate tissues of the shoulder joint.
  • Static muscle contraction: To maintain posture, the muscles must contract statically for a prolonged period. This can restrict blood flow and oxygen delivery, resulting in muscle fatigue, damage or knots.
  • Lack of movement: Staying in one position limits the normal alternating contraction and relaxation of muscles that allows them time to recover.

Warning Signs of Trouble

If you regularly wake up with shoulder pain or discomfort after reading in bed, pay attention to these red flags:

  • Achy, stiff shoulders upon waking up
  • Sharp pain with certain shoulder movements
  • Tenderness in muscles around shoulders and neck
  • Reduced range of motion in arms or neck
  • Muscle spasms in neck or upper back
  • Shoulder crepitus or popping sounds with movement
  • Tingling or numbness in arms or hands
  • Difficulty finding a comfortable sleeping position

These types of symptoms may signal muscle strain or inflammation, potential impingement of the rotator cuff tendons, or poor shoulder joint mechanics. Heeding these early warning signs can help you address the issue before significant damage occurs.

Tips to Prevent Shoulder Pain from Reading in Bed

If reading in bed is causing you shoulder grief, try these handy tips to enjoy books again without pain:

  • Use a reading pillow – This supports the arms to take stress off the shoulders.
  • Sit up in bed – Avoid slouching down flat. Maintain a slight upright posture.
  • Bring arms closer – Keep elbows bent and arms nearer to body.
  • Switch positions often – Change positions every 15-30 minutes.
  • Try a stand – Use an book stand to keep arms supported.
  • Sit elsewhere – Read in a chair or couch where you can rest arms.
  • Stretch beforehand – Open up tight shoulder muscles before settling in.
  • Strengthen muscles – Target exercises that improve posture and shoulder stability.
  • Use warming techniques – Apply heat packs or massage sore muscles after reading.
  • Check bed setup – Adjust pillows for optimal neck alignment and support.

When to Seek Help

If pain persists despite trying preventive measures, consult a physical therapist or doctor. An evaluation can determine if muscle imbalance, poor movement patterns, or an underlying condition are contributing to your shoulder pain. Appropriate treatment may include:

  • Physical therapy to improve strength, mobility and mechanics
  • Manual therapy such as massage, trigger point therapy or joint mobilization
  • Posture correction exercises and stretches
  • Ergonomic recommendations
  • Bracing or taping for stabilization
  • Medication or injections to reduce inflammation
  • Surgery if indicated for conditions like impingement or rotator cuff tears

Don’t let shoulder pain deter you from enjoying a good book in bed. With some adjustments to your positioning, proactive strengthening, and awareness of proper postures, you can read comfortably without hurting your shoulders.