Waking up with shoulder pain and stiffness is an unpleasant way to start the day. While there can be many reasons for shoulder discomfort, one potential but often overlooked cause is your mattress. An unsupportive or worn-out mattress that lacks proper alignment for your body can put undue strain on your shoulders while you sleep. Here’s how to tell if your mattress might be the culprit behind your shoulder woes—and what to do about it.
Assess Your Sleep Position
The first step is to consider your normal sleep position. Side sleeping or sleeping on your stomach can cause improper spinal alignment that twists the neck and shoulders into unnatural positions for hours. This persistent awkward positioning stresses the muscles and puts pressure on the shoulder joints, leading to pain.
Take note of the position you tend to wake up in. If you often find yourself with an arm folded up and numb underneath you, or wake up lying on your stomach with your neck turned to the side, your mattress may not be providing the alignment and support you need.
Pay Attention to Pain Patterns
Think about when your shoulder pain occurs. If it’s at its worst in the mornings and tends to improve once you get up and moving, your mattress is likely a major contributor.
The lack of movement through the night allows shoulder muscles to tighten up and become stiff. Gravity compresses the spine, further restricting blood flow and oxygen. Your mattress should help maintain alignment and circulation, but if it sags or lacks support, it can actually make matters worse. Morning shoulder pain that’s focused in one area indicates that side or position was unsupported all night long.
Check for Visible Sagging
Inspect your mattress, especially on the sides you sleep on most, for any visible sagging or impressions. Use a ruler or tape measure to check the depth. Even dips of 1.5 to 2 inches can spell trouble. Sagging indicates the mattress materials are breaking down, compromising its ability to keep your spine aligned.
Another sign is if you and your partner tend to roll together toward the middle of the mattress. This sinkage prevents your shoulders from straightening out, forcing the joints to remain rotated for prolonged periods.
Assess Mattress Age and Materials
Mattresses wear out over time. The average life span is around 7-10 years, though inferior materials can break down much sooner. Pillowtops and ultra-soft memory foam are most prone to developing body impressions and sagging that misalign the shoulders.
If your mattress is more than 7 years old, the materials have likely started deteriorating. Weak spinal support paired with sinking can tug the shoulders out of their natural position while you sleep. Even a 2 to 4 year old mattress might need replacing sooner if it’s an inferior product or you weigh over 200 pounds.
Pay Attention After Sleeping Elsewhere
Sometimes it takes leaving your own bed to realize the true extent of the problem. Hotel beds or a friend’s guest room mattress may not be top-of-the-line, but provide enough support that you wake up feeling refreshed without shoulder pain. Or the opposite could happen if you sleep at a hotel and wake up with intense shoulder aches.
Take note of how your shoulders feel after sleeping away from home for a night or two. It likely signals whether your mattress is up to par or not. If morning shoulder pain disappears during travel, it’s a sign your own bed is the culprit.
Consider Other Factors
While a sagging, unsupportive mattress is a prime suspect for causing shoulder discomfort, take a moment to rule out other potential reasons. Chronic conditions like arthritis or injuries like a torn rotator cuff can also be to blame.
Review your medical history and any recent changes to your health or activity levels. Carrying heavy bags over one shoulder, spending prolonged time on the computer, or taking up a new workout routine like swimming could also provoke shoulder pain. Determining whether it’s the mattress or something else will help you find the right solution.
Try a Mattress Topper
If your mattress is sagging but still relatively new, you may be able to salvage it with a mattress topper. Look for a thick memory foam or latex topper that will fill in depressions and provide extra support in the shoulder area. Toppers also dampen motion transfer, cutting down on disruptions if you sleep with a partner.
Give it 2 to 4 weeks to see if using a quality topper reduces morning shoulder stiffness and pain. If symptoms improve, you’ve found an economical solution. If not, then it’s definitely time to replace the mattress itself.
Change Sleep Positions
Modifying your sleep position may help take pressure off the shoulders. Try switching from side sleeping to your back if possible. Place pillows under your knees to better support the lower back and keep the spine aligned.
If you must sleep on your side, put a supportive pillow between your knees and use a thicker pillow under your head. The goal is to keep your neck, spine, and shoulders as neutral as possible through the night. Improving alignment this way may resolve mild shoulder discomfort.
Choose the Right Mattress Design
If your current mattress lacks adequate support and it’s time for a new one, be selective about the materials and design. Pay attention to your predominant sleeping position and body type. In general, medium-firm mattresses around a 5/10 on the firmness scale often provide the best mix of cushioning and support for shoulder pain sufferers.
Back sleepers need sufficient lumbar support. Side sleepers require more padding under the shoulders. Stomach sleepers should choose a firmer model. Heavier individuals need a thicker, denser mattress for proper spinal alignment. Don’t overlook the importance of quality foundational support from the base or frame too.
Allow Time to Adjust
Be aware that it can take up to 6 weeks for your body to adjust to a new mattress. Allow time for you muscles to relax into better alignment. While morning shoulder pain should start improving within the first month, it may take 2 to 3 months to experience the full benefits of proper support.
Give your new mattress an adequate trial period before deciding if it’s right or needs to be returned. And take note of limited return policies, especially for beds-in-a-box.
When persistent morning shoulder pain is disrupting your rest, take time to assess whether your mattress could be to blame. Pay attention to pain patterns, visible sagging, mattress age, and how you feel after sleeping away from home. If your bed is the culprit, a topper, position change, or mattress replacement could help get your shoulders back on track so you can start each day pain-free.