How To Sleep After Shoulder Surgery

Sleeping after shoulder surgery can be difficult as it’s often difficult to get comfortable or you may roll over onto your injury during your sleep.

Let’s take a look into how to get you healed up whilst still getting a sounds night sleep!

Your shoulder contains three bones: the humerus, scapula, and clavicle. The humerus is the upper arm bone, the scapula is your shoulder blade, and the clavicle is your collarbone. These three bones give your shoulder a complex structure but, at the same time, make it capable of more streamlined motion compared to other joints. 

Age-related wear and tear, arthritis, overuse/repetitive stress, and injury are common shoulder problems. People undergo physiotherapy, perform specific shoulder exercises, and take NSAIDs to relieve discomfort, stiffness, and pain in the shoulder. 

However, doctors recommend that patients undergo shoulder surgery when the discomfort and pain persist for a prolonged period. Surgery is the last option to relieve painful symptoms and repair rotator cuff, labrum, ligaments, loose cartilage, inflamed tissues, and discoloration-related problems. 

Although surgery is a reliable treatment option, it can cause postoperative complications. A 2018 research study highlights postoperative side effects and complications, such as blood clots, nerve injury, infection, stiffness, pain, neurapraxia, soft-tissue injury, and instability. 

A good night’s sleep is essential to keep your body rested, restore energy levels, and prevent pressure on incisions. However, most patients find it challenging to sleep appropriately after shoulder surgery. 

Not sleeping correctly or in the correct position can take a massive toll on the incisions, slowing down the healing process. So, today’s article will answer how to sleep after shoulder surgery based on evidence. Read on! 

How to Sleep After Shoulder Surgery: Best Tips 

Getting a good night’s sleep after shoulder surgery is challenging because finding the correct sleep position and following other guidelines is daunting. Sleep deprivation after surgery can slow recovery and lengthen the rehabilitation period. Here are a few ways to sleep after shoulder surgery and prevent the risk of complications. 

Invest in a High-Quality Wedge Pillow 

Wedge pillows are specialized products surgeons recommend to their patients following shoulder surgery. These pillows are an excellent way to reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain in the shoulder’s sensitive joint and support the head, upper back, and neck.

You can find dozens of brands and hundreds of wedge pillow products on the market. However, not all are comfortable, reliable, and cost-effective. Therefore, selecting or purchasing a premium-quality wedge pillow with a gradual slope (not too high) is essential to promoting a good night’s sleep and mitigating the risk of damage to your shoulder structures and nearby muscles, tissues, and nerves. 

Apply an Ice Pack Before Bed 

A 2010 study on NCBI highlights cryotherapy or ice packs to the surgical site as an excellent way to reduce swelling, inflammation, discomfort, and pain. Cold compresses, or ice packs supply more oxygen to the incision site or wound by slowing down intracellular and intercellular metabolism. 

So this produces an analgesic effect on your shoulder and reduces discomfort and pain. If you notice increased swelling or inflammation, apply ice packs 2-3 times a day. 

Likewise, applying ice packs 20-30 minutes before bed can relieve inflammation and pain quickly. Reduced inflammation will give you relief and make you fall asleep quickly. 

However, wrapping the ice in a towel is essential to preventing the risk of irritation and frostbite. If you don’t have ice packs, you can use frozen veggies or fruits for 15 to 60 minutes, depending on your shoulder soreness and swelling. 

Wear a Sling 

A 2014 study published in the National Library of Medicine confirms the effectiveness of wearing a sling after arthroscopic shoulder surgery. Researchers conclude that wearing a sling is a well-accepted method to streamline surgical repairs during rehabilitation. 

Therefore, we recommend wearing a sling after shoulder surgery to rest your arm and protect it against unnecessary pressure. Not only does a sling reduce pain, but it also decreases the risk of stiffness. However, the duration of wearing a sling depends on your doctor’s advice. 

Sometimes, a sling restricts elbow and shoulder movement, causing severe stiffness due to reduced blood flow. You must perform the prescribed exercises when not wearing a sling to improve blood flow to the incision. 

Remember, not choosing to wear a sling will slow recovery and cause discomfort and pain. Always follow your surgeon’s instructions regarding how and when to wear a sling. Using a sling for sleep will:

  • Keep your shoulder and arm stable 
  • Prevent unnecessary stress, pressure, and movement 
  • Mitigate the risk of accidentally sleeping on the operated shoulder 
  • Streamline incision/wound healing and promote faster recovery 

Sleep in a Reclined Position

Sleeping in a reclined position is an excellent way to speed up healing and reduce the risk of short and long-term postoperative complications. It increases blood flow to the wound/incision and prevents strain/pressure on the shoulder’s musculoskeletal structures, such as muscles, tissues, and ligaments. 

Besides, sleeping in a reclined position can reduce discomfort and pain and prevent you from lying horizontally. Otherwise, this can firmly engage several muscles in your body and cause unnecessary strain on the shoulder joint. 

You can use a recliner for a few weeks following the surgery. You can use a pillow to sleep in an inclined position. However, this works six weeks after the initial recovery. We recommend using a comfortable pillow and propping yourself at 45 degrees angle. 

Some surgeons advise their patients to use a reading pillow with arm support. The purpose is to achieve extra comfort and mitigate the risk of unnecessary pressure on the muscles, joints, and ligaments. 

Avoid Sleeping on Your Side 

Sleeping on your side can put extra pressure on your shoulder’s musculoskeletal structures, causing irritation, discomfort, inflammation, swelling, and pain. If you already have severe soreness after surgery, sleeping in this position can worsen the pain and deprive you of sleep. 

However, you can adjust your sleeping position if you feel discomfort at night. However, resting directly on your shoulder is harmful and may cause additional pressure on the incision site, increasing the risk of infections, fluid accumulation, wound dehiscence and delayed healing. 

If you want to sleep on your side, place a few comfortable pillows behind you. The purpose is to prevent yourself from turning around at night and damaging the healing shoulder. However, surgeons suggest avoiding this sleeping position for at least 4-6 weeks to prevent complications. 

Avoid Using Your Smartphone Before Bed 

According to Oberlo statistical data, more than 6.6 billion people use smartphones. So, it is very likely that you will use a smartphone to keep yourself engaged or distract yourself from discomfort and pain. 

However, smartphones can disrupt sleep because they emit blue light penetrating your eyes, damaging retinal cells, and interfering with your biological clock. So, you must not use your smartphone for at least 30 to 60 minutes before bed to avoid disturbance at night. 

A 2020 study shows that smartphones can reduce sleep latency and duration because blue light interferes with melatonin production and disrupts your circadian rhythm. 

Melatonin is a hormone that promotes a good night’s sleep. Low melatonin levels keep you awake at night, causing headaches, fatigue, and discomfort. Remember, poor sleep quality is directly proportional to slow wound healing. 

Take Meds Before Bed to Reduce Discomfort 

Taking the prescribed medications, such as NSAIDs, antidepressants, sleeping pills, or analgesics, can reduce pain and make you fall asleep quickly. Surgeons recommend taking anti-inflammatory or analgesic medications at least 30-40 minutes before bed to relieve pain and feel more comfortable.

The purpose is to soothe your muscles and stop pain signals from reaching your brain. In addition, avoid taking pills or meds on an empty or full stomach. Eat soft food, such as yogurt, cereal, fruit, or toast, to prevent digestive distress, nausea, and vomiting. 

Take pills with water, not beer, wine, or other alcoholic beverages. Bear in mind that alcohol thins your blood and inhibits platelet activity, making it challenging for the incision site to heal efficiently and quickly. 

You May Sleep on Your Back 

Using a recliner is the best way to promote sleep and feel comfortable at night. However, you can sleep on your back after a few weeks once the inflammation, swelling, and pain have subsided. 

Sleeping on your back promotes even bodyweight distribution and reduces the risk of pressure/strain on the healing shoulder muscles. However, it requires a gradual approach, meaning you must not sleep horizontally to avoid extreme discomfort and restlessness. 

If you want to sleep on your back without hurting your shoulder muscles, you can use a few pillows to support your shoulder and arm. Always keep your neck and head elevated for a relaxing sleep. 

Final Words 

Not sleeping correctly or in a suitable position can hurt your shoulder and pressurize the incisions and nearby muscles, tissues, nerves, and other soft tissue structures. Follow the tips/strategies above to speed up postoperative recovery and prevent sutures opening, infections, stiffness, bleeding, and other complications.

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