Shouldering On

With my half century approaching I’ve not really suffered any of the real problems of age – but ever since I turned 40 and realised my warranty had effectively expired, the ageing process has been an accumulation of small inconveniences and indignities (the latter usually visited by some dangerously young-looking health professional or other pointing out that x is only to be expected at one’s advancing age). I remained braced for the menopause, and resigned to the possibility of reading glasses, but what I wasn’t expecting was to have a lifetime’s habit cruelly snatched away from me.

Not cycling (it remains my chief hope for holding back time), but reading in bed. Ever since I can remember, I have read my books in bed while lying on my side. This remains the last thing I do every night, even if only for a page or two, curled up under the duvet and reading until the words stop making sense, before falling asleep. Sadly no more. For I have developed what Dr. Google has diagnosed as a rotator cuff injury (so much more impressive sounding than a sore shoulder). Not only can I not read comfortably in bed, I now can’t sleep comfortably either and – most distressing of all – it’s painful to reach out for my cup of coffee from the coffee table when lounging on the sofa.

Obviously the response to ‘Doctor it hurts when I do this’ is to stop doing it, so I’ve had to try various tactics – reading on the other side (but then my bedside light is in the wrong place and I’d probably only end up knackering the other one too), reading sitting up in bed (wrong), reading lying flat with my book above my head (wronger than wrong), and (inevitably) hoping it’s got better and going back to reading on my right side (ouch, but oh it just feels so natural). I’ve also discovered that when I wake up at four am and need to go back to sleep before I start systematically visiting all my anxieties in turn to keep them all fresh, my body’s signal to the brain that it’s time to go back to sleep is to turn onto my right side. So I’m getting up either in pain or unrefreshed, or a combination of both, and it’s making me grumpy.

More to the point, it’s got so that I no longer really look forward to going to bed with a book which, as a former boarding school pupil, has always been one of my chief pleasures in life (I discovered fairly quickly that going to bed early was the best way to get undisturbed reading time alone, something it had never occurred to them to ban until then). A quick search of the internet suggests that the answer may be better pillows and/or a replacement mattress (this mainly according to sites that sell mattresses). It also suggests that the world of pillows has moved on from just being a bag stuffed with feathers (I don’t know about you, but I’ve read enough fairy tales to be wary of sleeping on anything that bills itself as being made of ‘memory foam’). This all feels a bit complicated because you can pay anything from £15 to £100 for a pillow and no guarantee that it will do any good.

So, loyal readers – any recommendations as to pillows for the confirmed side sleeper? Or is this just one of the many downward steps on the road to dereliction?

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13 Responses to Shouldering On

  1. Viviane says:

    How I feel for you ! My favorite place in the world is my bed with a book, lying on my left side, the book supported by a pillow. I once feared that I would have to find another position, when my arms became too short and I had to take my glasses in bed. I bought kid frames, very narrow so that they don’t move across my face when it is lying on the pillow.
    Well, all that to say that maybe the solution to your rotator cuff disease is maybe to go see a real doctor and take drugs for some time…

  2. Flighty says:

    My sympathies. I’ve always read in bed as you do. I hope you get your shoulder sorted, or find a solution. xx

  3. disgruntled says:

    @Viviane – I hadn’t even thought about the difficulties of wearing reading glasses in bed!
    @Flighty – thanks

  4. WOL says:

    You need to be assessed by an MD, an orthopedist. It might be that you can be helped by rehab — exercises. However, rotator cuff repair surgery is what worked for me. That and a pillow especially designed for side sleepers, as I also have spinal nerve impingement at C2 vertebra left over from the same incident that caused my rotator cuff tear. The pillow needs to be firm and very thick (15 cm). A curved lower edge to accommodate your shoulder is nice but not essential. The one I got was pricey, but worth every penny.

    BTW, rotator cuff surgery was no big deal. Depending on what needs to be done, you can go home the day of surgery, or they can keep you overnight. I was out of the sling in 4 days and into rehab. Of course it was my left shoulder, and I’m right handed . . . but then I’m also single. And yes, you can type with your arm in a sling.

  5. Charles says:

    I did my rotator cuff in on a flight trying to adjust my seat, it is very easily done and takes ages to heal. Mine took a year but now at 58 it is good as it ever was. It does take time. Mine was pretty much the ultimate middle class injury!

    I am quite wary about letting people with sharp knives near me and it is worthwhile asking around for people who have had the surgery as to how good it is.

    You could try one of those V shaped pillows and read half sitting up with the book on your lap. You would probably need a shawl to keep warm but I imagine you could knit one?

    The techie answer would be to get some virtual reality goggles and load your book onto a pc and then read it where ever you want. Not sure that this is a great bed time look though.

  6. Erik Borg says:

    Don’t read in bed, but must sleep on my side, so I’ve done the pillow search. John Lewis firm works well, but in that search I found that you’re supposed to change your pillow yearly (pillow makers recommendation, I suppose). I’m not there yet.

    • ballsofwool says:

      I had to get that exact pillow, the one Erik says. It worked for me (picky, reader-in-bed, pushing 50). Being also a good-girl-who-does-what-she’s-told, I change my pillow every 18 months or so, too.

  7. do u have pain when u lift your outstretched arms to shoulder height? i had that, and tai chi solved it. there are a lot of movements involving lifting the arms to shoulder height in tai chi, at first it was painful and i could not do it, but gradually as i did the classes, (and it was only once a week) i was able to lift it to shoulder height with no pain at all. i am wondering if that might solve your problem , it did with me.

  8. disgruntled says:

    Thanks for all the suggestions! I’ve been trying a firmer pillow but the problem is I also sleep on my back so that’s just moved the pain to my neck. I’m also doing yoga … hopefully I can keep the surgery at bay

  9. Bob McLean says:

    Sucks to get old. Better than the alternative though. I’ll “see” your rotator cuff thingy and raise you a “tennis elbow”. And I haven’t played tennis in 30 years. *grumble*.

  10. scsmith4 says:

    Osteoarthritis in my big toe, caused by years of wearing shows that let my toes move healthily (my slightly hypermobile joints move further than they should, which most comfy/sensible shoes understandably don’t take into account).
    Loathe as I am to say it, Ikea (used to?) do pillows for all sleeping positions. They have slightly firmer, fuller pillows for side sleepers, which eventually flatten and soften to become good mushing-into-shape top-up pillows for elevating you when reading in bed – no doubt helped on their journey in my house by my need to tuck the pillow firmly into the space between my neck and shoulder.
    I could do with refreshing mine, so I’ve just had a look to see if I can find my preferred pillow, and none of the names strike me as familiar (noooooo!)(also, quelle surprise), but when I go shopping for my living room waste bin I’ll be scrutinising the Axags and Hampdans.

  11. disgruntled says:

    @Bob – I’ve had tennis elbow too (also not tennis related) and it’s no fun.
    @sam – I’ve decided I need a pillow that magically transforms from a firm one for side sleeping into a flatter one for when I’m on my back… even Ikea may not have that option

    • cyclopaul says:

      Kindle paperwhite. Back lit so you don’t need a bedside light. I had to migrate to this as my wife (who, ironically, currently has a similar shoulder injury) complained about the bedside light.

      Reading glasses are so far the only things that are showing my advancing age. I think it is the cycling keeping me a lot younger than my colleagues at work.

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