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3 Most Common Sleep Injuries

‘Sleep behaviours have a significant effect on injury recovery, training adaptation, neuro-cognition and the ability to perform sport at an optimum level’

(Mick Hughes, Physio).


Sleep hygiene is a hot topic right now. Neuroscientist Matthew Walker is committed to raising awareness about the importance of a good sleep for overall mental and physical health, including better immunity, general vitality and longevity. His book “Why We Sleep”, and Ted Talk “Sleep is Your Superpower”, are well worth a look.

The US-based National Sleep Foundation recommends that the optimal sleep duration is 7-9 hours per night. We discuss tips for getting a better night’s in our blogs on the topic.

But sleep quantity is not the only important factor. Sleep quality is also a key aspect of a good night’s sleep. The ‘way we sleep’ is just as important, and is fundamental to both immediate and long term injury prevention. It’s quite common for our neck, shoulders or back to hurt after sleeping if we haven’t set ourselves up in bed properly.

Common Sleep Injuries and Prevention Tips!

The way you sleep can actually cause you to injure yourself, or exacerbate specific aches and pains. Three of the most common injuries occur in the shoulders, back and neck. We also have a number of bad habits that cause back, neck and shoulder pain to be mindful of during the day. A major one is slouching while working, walking and eating, not to mention while constantly staring down at your smart-phone! (check out our article ‘How Do I Fix My Text Neck?’). (Cleveland Clinic)

Common sleep injuries and prevention tips include:

What Causes Neck Pain After Sleeping?

Neck pain: Sleeping on your stomach results in your neck being twisted at a weird angle. Sleeping on your back can strain the curvature of your spine if the pillow is too thick. Similarly, if the pillow is too thin, side-sleeping can strain the muscles on the side of your neck (Dr. Michael Gelb).

Neck pain prevention: When your neck hurts after sleeping it’s all about the pillow(!) and the position we sleep in. Spine-universe has a wonderful explanation of the importance of the right pillow, alignment and neck pain reduction – “Generally when you wake up with neck pain, there are one or two issues at play here. Either your pillow isn’t right for you, the position in which you sleep is aggravating your neck, or both.

You might think that a hard pillow can hurt your neck, but it’s usually a pillow that’s too soft that makes you wake up with neck pain. Just like you need to keep your cervical spine aligned during the day to avoid overly taxing your muscles and ligaments, you need to do the same at night. It’s harder, though; you can make a conscious effort in daylight, but how can you control your posture when you’re asleep?

Your pillow is the answer. A nice, firm pillow will keep your spine in a straight line from your atlas (the first cervical vertebra, C1) down to your coccyx (tailbone).”


Check out this blog on choosing the right pillow.

Sore Shoulder after Sleeping?

Shoulder Pain: Firstly, placing your arm underneath your head as a pillow can actually wear down the cartilage of your joint.

Secondly, if you have a habit of sleeping on your right or left side, this constant pressure on the shoulder’s tendons against the underlying bone can cause them to fray or become inflamed (causing rotator cuff tendonitis or impingement syndrome). (Sports-health).

Shoulder Pain Prevention: If you have a habit of sleeping in these positions, or an existing shoulder issue, consider sleeping on your back, or switching sides during the night (and not on the injured side). Placing your arm under your head as a pillow is generally not recommended (Sports-health).

Can’t Sleep Because Your Back Hurts?

Back pain: Waking up with a sore back after sleeping is quite common. Back strain can occur from sleeping on an old mattress without enough support to keep the spine aligned, or from just sleeping on your back and not switching-up the positions throughout the night.

Back pain prevention: ensure you have a supportive mattress, along with your pillow to keep your whole spine aligned throughout the night. Keep warm enough so you aren’t huddled up all night in one position but naturally move around in your sleep.

As Stable Therapist Konrad outlines, most sleep issues commonly occur due to a mixture of several factors, health history, sleeping position, sleeping surface, or underlying long term/acute physical issues. It’s worth seeing a doctor for any acute aches and pains. If you are experiencing any sleep injury symptoms, first visit your GP to assess the underlying causes, then on the advice of your GP visit your physical therapist for targeted relief, and an ongoing treatment plan (including home exercises between appointments).

A single appointment will most likely provide immediate relief but there is no magic bullet for chronic aches and pains. Long term improvements will happen only with ongoing therapy and an active treatment plan.

Book an appointment with a therapist today on 03 8598 9804 or online.