If you suffer from shoulder pain, you know how difficult it can be to get a good night’s sleep. The aching and stiffness can make it nearly impossible to find a comfortable sleeping position. This leads many shoulder pain sufferers to wonder if switching to a memory foam mattress could help alleviate their discomfort. In this article, we’ll examine the evidence on whether memory foam mattresses can provide relief for shoulder pain.
What Causes Shoulder Pain?
Shoulder pain has many potential causes, including:
- Rotator cuff injuries – The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint. Rotator cuff tears or tendinitis can cause shoulder pain.
- Bursitis – There are small fluid-filled sacs called bursae around the shoulder joint. Inflammation of these bursae (bursitis) leads to shoulder pain.
- Arthritis – Osteoarthritis of the shoulder joint causes degeneration of cartilage and bone spurs. This leads to shoulder pain, especially at night.
- Poor posture – Slouching forward or hunching over can strain the shoulder muscles and joints.
- Injury – Falls or trauma to the shoulder can damage muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Sports injuries are a common cause.
- Referred pain – Shoulder pain can sometimes be referred from the neck. Disc bulges or nerve impingement in the cervical spine can radiate pain to the shoulder.
- Frozen shoulder – This involves restricted mobility and pain from inflammation of the shoulder capsule. The cause is often unknown.
Whatever the cause, shoulder pain often gets worse at night. This is because we move around less when sleeping. The immobility allows shoulder stiffness to set in. Let’s look at how memory foam mattresses could help.
How Do Memory Foam Mattresses Work?
Memory foam, also called viscoelastic polyurethane foam, has a unique structure. The foam contains a web of open, inter-connected cells. These cells allow air to move freely through the material. When you apply body weight or pressure to memory foam, the cells compress to take the shape of your body.
The foam then slowly returns to its original shape once the pressure is removed. This provides customized support and cradling. Memory foam also does not transfer movement easily. This means that you won’t disturb your sleeping partner as much if you change positions.
Another benefit of memory foam is that it retains body heat. The warmth can relax muscles and increase circulation. Together, these properties create a floating sensation that helps relieve pressure points.
Do Memory Foam Mattresses Help Relieve Shoulder Pain?
The structure of memory foam makes it effective at conforming to the curves of the shoulder and neck area. This allows it to provide enhanced support in the following ways:
- Aligns the spine – Proper spinal alignment prevents hunching of the shoulders which strains muscles. Memory foam cradles the neck and fills the space beneath the waist and hips to keep the spine straight.
- Reduces pressure points – By molding to the shoulder’s shape, memory foam minimizes contact and pressure. This prevents tossing and turning to relieve discomfort.
- Immobilizes less – Traditional spring mattresses give less localized support. This allows you to sink in too far and move around more during sleep. Memory foam’s responsiveness keeps the shoulders stable.
- Relaxes muscles – The warmth of memory foam increases blood flow to tense shoulder muscles. This allows them to relax for pain relief.
Studies on Memory Foam and Shoulder Pain
Very few studies have directly investigated the effects of memory foam mattresses on shoulder pain. But initial research is promising.
One study compared pain levels among hospital patients using memory foam mattresses versus standard hospital mattresses. Patients reported significantly lower shoulder pain on the memory foam mattresses.
Another study surveyed people with chronic shoulder pain. They rated their pain levels after sleeping on their own mattress, then after sleeping on a memory foam mattress. 72% of participants had reduced shoulder pain on the memory foam.
More research is still needed specifically on memory foam and shoulder pain. But many studies confirm memory foam mattresses can improve pain from pressure points and poor spinal alignment. These benefits are likely to help shoulder pain sufferers too.
Memory Foam Mattress Considerations for Shoulder Pain
Memory foam mattresses aren’t necessarily the best choice for everyone with shoulder pain. Consider these factors when selecting a memory foam mattress:
- Density – Higher-density foam is more durable and supportive. Density of at least 4 pounds per cubic foot may work best for shoulder pain.
- Firmness – Medium firmness balances conforming and support. Too soft may lack support while too firm limits conforming.
- Thickness – At least 4 inches of memory foam allows enough contouring around the shoulders.
- Construction – Memory foam layered over pocketed coils or latex provides more support than foam alone.
- Temperature – Some brands use cooling gels or phase change materials to prevent heat retention. This is ideal for those who sleep hot.
Be sure to follow the brand’s recommendations on an appropriate mattress based on your sleep position, body type, and preferences.
Other Tips for Managing Shoulder Pain at Night
While a memory foam mattress may help with shoulder pain, other strategies can provide additional relief:
- Use a supportive pillow that aligns the neck and keeps the shoulders relaxed.
- Apply a warm compress or take a warm shower before bed to loosen tight shoulder muscles.
- Do gentle shoulder stretches before bed to increase mobility.
- Sleep on your back or unaffected side to take pressure off the sore shoulder.
- Place a pillow between your knees and bend your knees to improve spinal and shoulder alignment if sleeping on your side.
- Ask your doctor about taping or splinting the shoulder to provide stability at night.
- Consider over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatory medication before bed.
- Use relaxation techniques to reduce tension in shoulder muscles before bed.
The customized contouring and pressure relief of memory foam appears promising for improving shoulder pain at night. But more research specifically on memory foam mattresses is still needed. Those considering a memory foam mattress should ensure proper density, firmness, and thickness for their needs. Combining a supportive mattress with other pain management techniques can provide the best relief for a good night’s sleep.