How to Sleep with a Broken Shoulder

The collarbone, the shoulder blade, and the humerus are three bones that make the shoulder’s skeletal structure. These bones are surrounded by a complex network of muscles, tissues, ligaments, tendons, and nerves. 

Muscles in the shoulder are the deltoid, rotator cuff, and pectoral muscles. Arteries, veins, and nerves emerge from the lower part of the clavicle bone and go down the arm through the shoulder’s front. 

Sprains, strains, separations, dislocations, bursitis, tendinitis, torn rotator cuffs, and broken bones can cause severe shoulder pain. According to Cleveland Clinic, the proximal humerus, also known as the broken shoulder, is a common musculoskeletal disorder in older adults. 

It occurs after a fall and accident or weakening of musculoskeletal structures due to aging. In addition, high-force injuries, such as falls and car accidents, can break the proximal humerus in children and younger adults. 

Many people with broken shoulders find it challenging to sleep at night due to severe discomfort and pain. Sleeping problems are common after a shoulder injury or a traumatic experience like a fall or accident. 

Hyperarousal, alertness, and irritability due to the body’s stress response can take a massive toll on a person’s circadian rhythm, preventing them from falling asleep efficiently and quickly. Today’s article will give you a few evidence-based and practical tips to sleep with a broken shoulder. Read on! 


The Science Behind The Shoulders

The humerus is one of the largest extremity bones in the upper body. It is an integral component of the musculoskeletal system that provides an attachment point for thirteen muscles and streamlines the upper limb’s movement through elbow and hand movement. 

Although the humerus is a potent bone with high strength levels, it can undergo damage. For instance, a fractured humerus (broken shoulder) occurs when the bone faces extreme pressure or force, leading to breakage. 

A traumatic injury like a fall or car accident can result in a humerus fracture. Treatment varies depending on the breakage, injury severity, and pain intensity. A qualified orthopedic doctor or surgeon prescribes medication, physiotherapy, or surgery based on the severity of the broken shoulder. 

Research shows that a broken shoulder is not a common condition or fracture and accounts for less than 10% of all injuries related to the musculoskeletal system. However, a severe shoulder injury takes a few months to recover or heal, requiring the patient to follow the doctor’s strict guidelines during the rehabilitation. 

People above 40 are more prone to developing osteoporosis, a skeletal condition with no or minor symptoms. However, this medical condition can weaken bones and make you vulnerable to sudden and unexpected fractures, including a broken shoulder. Common symptoms of a fractured or broken shoulder are:

  • Swelling 
  • Inflammation 
  • Bruising 
  • Tenderness 
  • Pain 
  • Discomfort 
  • Abnormal bump 
  • Skeletal deformity 
  • Restricted range of motion 
  • Bone grinding and deteriorating 

Shoulder Pain and Sleep Disturbance 

How to sleep with a broken shoulder? It is a common question asked by people with a fractured humerus. Before answering this question, let us discuss the association of shoulder pain with sleep disruption. 

A broken shoulder causes severe inflammation and pain in the musculoskeletal structures of your upper body. The condition is directly proportional to disrupted or disturbed sleep. Not getting enough sleep at night can take a massive toll on your overall health, leading to lower energy levels, depression, and fatigue. 

A shoulder injury or pain forces patients to change their favorite sleeping position, making it challenging to fall asleep quickly or get enough/comfortable sleep at night. Not sleeping in an appropriate position can also affect nearby muscles, tissues, and nerves, causing pain in the neck and other problems, such as:

  • Shoulder bursitis
  • Rotator cuff issues 
  • Frozen shoulder 

A 2015 research study published by the National Institutes of Health highlights the association of a broken shoulder (proximal humerus fracture) with poor sleep, low energy levels, and emotional imbalances. The study states that 41% of patients with a broken shoulder or proximal humerus fracture reported poor sleep quality. 

Likewise, 36% of patients with tibial plateau and 25% with distal radius fracture reported poor sleep patterns and discomfort at night. Researchers performed a 12-month follow-up and found that 20% of patients with musculoskeletal fractures experience sleeping difficulties. 

In addition, tossing, turning, and changing positions with a broken shoulder throughout the night can cause severe discomfort and disrupt the circadian rhythm, leading to mental health conditions such as fatigue, stress, irritability, and exhaustion during the daytime. 

A torn rotator cuff is a common shoulder injury characterized by intense restlessness, discomfort, and pain at night. On the other hand, a broken shoulder is even worse than a torn rotator cuff, causing inflammation and pain and preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep. 


Sleeping with a Broken Shoulder: Our Tips

A broken shoulder negatively affects various aspects of your life, particularly when finding a relaxing and comfortable sleeping position. Not only does it cause physical pain, but it also leads to mental trauma and stress. So, How to sleep with a broken shoulder? Let us answer this question by giving you some practical/evidence-based tips. 

Apply Ice Before Bed 

A 2022 study highlights that applying ice packs to the injured shoulder before bed is an excellent way to numb the nerves and reduce discomfort/pain. Wrap some ice packs in a towel or cloth before applying them to the shoulder. 

The purpose is to prevent ice burns and reduce inflammation. You can also use heat therapy after 20-30 minutes to improve your shoulder’s mobility and range of motion. 

Cold or ice therapy during the first few days after a broken shoulder can alleviate swelling, bruising, and pain. Cleveland Clinic recommends applying ice to the shoulder at least 30 minutes before bed. Wear a sling once you have completed the ice therapy. 

Take the Prescribed Pain Medication 

Pain and discomfort are inevitable following a fall or accident that causes a broken shoulder or fractured humerus. Whether the fracture is “opened or closed,” a broken shoulder requires corrective surgery to fix the bones and surrounding structures, including muscles, tissues, and nerves. 

However, your doctor will prescribe medications to relieve pain when you follow a conventional treatment method. You may also need pain medication after shoulder surgery. Taking medicines as directed by the doctor during the first few weeks is essential to minimizing inflammation and pain. These medications may include:

  • Tylenol 
  • Ibuprofen or naproxen 
  • Opioids 
  • Analgesics 
  • Muscle relaxants 
  • Antidepressants 

Create a Comfortable Sleeping Environment 

A broken shoulder makes it extremely challenging to carry out day-to-day tasks or activities. Depending on the injury, soreness, and pain, you will stay in bed for weeks or months. So this makes you more likely to watch TV, play video games, or use smartphones/tablets. 

Although you can do these activities to distract yourself from pain, these devices emit blue light that stimulates brain activity and suppresses melatonin production. Low melatonin means you can’t fall asleep efficiently and quickly.

A 2019 study published by NCBI states that cutting screen time at least 60 minutes before can reduce blue light penetration and promote optimal sleep. Moreover, you must sleep alone in the bed and request your partner to sleep on the couch, sofa, or another bed. The purpose is to prevent unpleasant circumstances at night. 

Some people share their beds with their furry friends. According to AKC, 45% of people in the United States allow their dogs in bed. Although this is a sign of love and compassion for the pet, sharing your bed with your dog is alarming, especially if you have a broken shoulder. Besides, allergens from a pet’s body can linger in your clothes, sheets, and pillows and increase the risk of an allergic reaction. 

According to the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, avoid consuming caffeine at least six hours before bed to prevent sleep disruptions. The Sleep Foundation highlights that caffeine stimulates the brain, making it challenging to fall asleep quickly. It also disturbs your biological clock and reduces overall sleep duration. 

Adjust Your Sleeping Position 

Although adjusting your sleeping position is challenging, you must sleep in the correct position and make proper adjustments. Otherwise, the unnecessary pressure on the shoulder will elevate trauma, stress, swelling, and pain. 

Although swelling and inflammation are normal body responses with most injuries, they can slow the healing process and increase the pain intensity. The good news is that you can reduce swelling, blood pooling, and pain at night by keeping your injured shoulder elevated. 

Sleeping upright with proper support to the injuries is the best position to sleep with a broken humerus or fractured shoulder. A good wedge pillow is a great investment and we have our top 5 picks here.

Besides, you can place comfortable pillows on both sides to restrict movement at night and place a memory foam pillow beneath the broken shoulder to cushion and support the injured musculoskeletal structures. 

Some doctors recommend holding the broken shoulder above the heart to reduce the risk of severe inflammation and swelling. Keeping the broken bone slightly above the heart can also prevent blood from accumulating in the injured area. 

Although your shoulder is higher than the upper chest, including the heart, lying down on the bed aligns it with the heart. Similarly, your shoulder may sink slightly lower than the heart if you have an old mattress. 

That’s why we suggest a reclined sleeping position to elevate your broken shoulder. Not only does elevation appropriately position the injured area above the heart’s level, but it also speeds up healing by quickly subsiding swelling and inflammation. 

Wear a Sling 

Your doctor may instruct you to wear a sling after a broken, injured, or fractured shoulder. The question: How to sleep with a broken shoulder, and whether you can sleep with a shoulder sling? 

According to the National Health Service, wearing a shoulder sling based on the doctor’s instructions can support the injured area and keep it in an appropriate position. However, you must sleep on your back in a reclined position when wearing a shoulder sling. 

We recommend stacking 2-3 pillows to give your upper back and shoulder proper support and cushioning. Research shows that 4% of people have abnormal sleep patterns, movements (tossing and turning), and behaviors. 

The problem is more common among children and adolescents; more than 20% of this age group experience these nocturnal occurrences. So, these movements can severely affect sleep quality, particularly for people with a broken or injured shoulder. 

Therefore, sleeping with a sling can minimize discomfort and pain from involuntary movement. Not only does a sling reduce swelling, but it also prevents the risk of hyperflexion. Make sure you follow the doctor’s instructions when using a sling. 

A high-quality sling allows for better immobilization of severe shoulder injuries compared to standard slings. A premium-quality sling prescribed by your doctor is suitable for restricting shoulder muscles, joints, bones, tendons, and ligaments. 

We recommend choosing a sling with soft and breathable materials. Use an adjustable shoulder sling because it keeps the musculoskeletal structures fit. An elastic sling is an excellent way to avoid worrying about too-loose or too-tight sling, over-compression or excess pressure, and accidental hyperflexion of the shoulder muscles and tissues.


Final Words 

A broken or fractured shoulder results from injuries or traumas from a fall, car accident, sports injury, or direct blow to the humerus or other bones. Although you can take medications to reduce discomfort, inflammation, and pain, sleeping at night with a broken shoulder is challenging. 

Not sleeping in the correct position and neglecting safety measures can negatively affect the healing shoulder and worsen the discomfort and pain. Follow the tips/tricks above to streamline the entire process and promote your good night’s sleep. Until Next Time!