Your guide to combatting morning aches and pain


Getting adequate sleep is vital to how you feel and perform throughout the day. Here, physiotherapist and practice principal Andrew Mitchell shares the most common physical complaints and the sleeping positions that cause them. 

1. Neck

» Stiff Neck: This is the first sign of the effect of micro tearing on the muscles and joints of the neck due to a poor posture. Often a warning sign that the sleeping posture should change.

» Muscle Sprain: Typically occurs in the muscles at the side of the neck due to prolonged overstretching. This occurs when the pillow is too soft or thin, allowing the head to tilt at an angle to create muscle tearing, which leads to pain.

» Wry Neck/Torticollis: When the head becomes stuck or tilted to one side because of pain, spasm and shortening of the muscle fibres in the neck occur. It is caused by repeated sleeping on one side with a pillow that is too thin or soft.

» Disc Sprain: Disc injuries usually occur as a result of the head being tilted forward for a prolonged or repeated period. Often seen if the person is sleeping on their back with a pillow that is too high or hard or having too many pillows under the head.

» Headache: A cervicogenic headache is one that is caused by impingement, pinching or compression of the nerves, typically in the top three cervical and neck vertebrae. This pinching can occur when sleeping on your stomach, causing your head to be turned for a prolonged period of time. In the upper neck the compressed nerve can cause a headache and in the lower neck the compressed nerve can cause pain, pins and needles or tingling that radiates down the arm.

2. Middle back

Hugging your pillow while lying on your side causes the area between your shoulder blades to over-rotate, overstretching the soft tissue that attach onto the facet joints. Pain, inflammation and stiffness is felt between the shoulder blades.

3. Shoulder

Lying on your side with your arm overstretched forward causes the head of your humerus bone to fall forwards, overstretching and compressing the tendons of the rotator cuff muscles. This leads to pain and difficulty in lifting your arm overhead.

4. Elbow

Sleeping with your arm under a pillow or with your head resting directly on your elbow can compress two nerves running around your elbow. Symptoms include numbness, pins and needles, tingling down the inside or outside of the arm, dead arm on waking and difficulty holding objects.

5. The wrist (carpal tunnel syndrome) 

Sleeping with your hand tucked underneath your head can lead to pressure on the carpal tunnel. Symptoms include pins and needles, tingling and numbness in the hand and fingers.

6. Lower back

The spinal vertebrae in the lower back curves inwards, but sleeping on your stomach or in a foetal position changes the shape of the curve, placing the soft tissue and disc under stress and strain. The structures most likely to be affected are the lumbar discs, causing low back pain and, if large enough, pressure on the sciatic nerve causing pain to radiate down the legs.

7. The hip

Sleeping on the point of your hip bone with repetitive stress causes inflammation and pressure on muscle tendons such as the gluteals, causing buttock and hip pain and stiffness.