Coordinated Health

Sleep Comfortably After Your Shoulder Surgery

By: Richard Martinetti, PT, MSPT   December 8, 2017

The first six weeks after any type of shoulder surgery, including rotator cuff repair, labral repair or arthroscopic debridement, can be difficult. But, one of the most common problems people have is finding a comfortable position to sleep.

Following surgery, many people need to wear a post-operative sling to keep their shoulder in place and safe while it is healing. The sling is equipped with an abduction pillow, which is a small pillow built into the sling to keep your shoulder slightly away from your body. The sling has to be worn at all times, including at night while you are sleeping. This can make for a difficult night of rest.

In many cases, the best way to sleep after shoulder surgery is in a recliner. The recliner allows you to lie down and rest without giving you the freedom to turn over.

To maximize your comfort and protect your shoulder while it is immobilized, look over at your surgical arm when you are lying down and check to see if you can see your elbow. If not, have someone place a few pillows underneath the back of your arm, between your arm and the bed or recliner. This will position your upper arm forward. Therapists refer to this position as the plane of the scapula. This puts less stress on the front of the shoulder and keeps the joint in better alignment, making for a more comfortable sleep.

It’s also important to remember to take all of your medication as directed throughout the day to minimize any discomfort. Most people who undergo shoulder surgery are prescribed at minimum several days of narcotics and in some cases up to two weeks. In addition, you can take an anti-inflammatory 30 minutes before you go to bed. This will give the medication time to work and allow you to get comfortable to sleep.

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