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How to Sleep After Shoulder Surgery

How to Sleep After Shoulder Surgery

Thousands of shoulder surgeries are performed in the United States every year from rotator cuff and labral repairs to total shoulder replacement surgeries. How long it takes you to recover and what rehabilitative protocol you follow will depend on the type and severity of your shoulder surgery. However, one complaint that all recipients of shoulder surgery have in common is the pain that accompanies sleeping. The following strategies should help you get a better night’s sleep while you’re recovering from your shoulder surgery. 

Sleep in a Reclined Position

Many patients find that it’s much easier and less painful to sleep in a reclined position, rather than flat on their backs after shoulder surgery. To achieve a reclined position, you can either bolster your lower back with pillows or sleep in a Lay-Z-Boy style adjustable chair. As your pain subsides and your shoulder heals, you can slowly lower yourself deeper into a horizontal position until it’s finally comfortable again.

You will most likely need to sleep in a semi-reclined position for at least six weeks after surgery, sometimes longer. If you don’t own a recliner, it may be worthwhile to buy one or borrow one from a friend before you have your shoulder surgery.

Prop Your Arm Up

If you place a single pillow under your elbow and hand, it places your shoulder in a position that encourages the maximum amount of blood flow to your rotator cuff while you sleep. While in a sitting or semi-reclined position, slide a pillow between your arm and your body, keeping your elbow bent and the pillow snug under your armpit. It should look like you’re hugging the pillow in towards your stomach. This position works even while you’re wearing your physician-prescribed shoulder sling.

Build a Pillow Fort

If you will be sleeping in your bed after your shoulder surgery, it’s important to ensure that you don’t roll over onto your healing shoulder and damage it further. If you sleep on your side, sleep on your uninjured arm and stack pillows behind you to keep you from rolling in the night. You can also use pillows to prop your surgery side into a more comfortable position in front of you. Soft pillows work better than firm pillows for this strategy because your arm will sink into them instead of rolling off.

If you sleep on your back, prop your healing arm up with pillows or rolled up towels to ensure maximum blood flow. It’s best to line both sides of your body with pillows to keep you from rolling and jolting your shoulder joint. If you are a restless sleeper, prone to tossing and turning, consider sleeping in a recliner or creating a pillow chair on your bed. When you sleep sitting up, or in a reclined position, you are less likely to turn-over than when you lie flat on your back.

Pain Management

No matter which sleeping position you decide is most comfortable for you, remember to follow your surgeon’s post-operative treatment plan closely. One of the simplest ways to help you get rest is to keep your pain levels from rising too high. Take your prescription or over-the-counter pain medication on schedule and at the dosage prescribed. You can also ice your shoulder 20 minutes before bed to help reduce any inflammation that may be causing you pain.

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