How to Sleep After Shoulder Replacement Surgery

Struggling to find a comfortable sleeping position after shoulder replacement surgery? You’re not alone. Post-operative pain and movement limitations present genuine sleep challenges. In this post, I get straight to the core of your concerns, how to sleep after shoulder replacement surgery?

As the only fellowship-trained shoulder surgeon in Modesto, this is a question I often receive from patients facing shoulder replacement surgery.

In this blog post, I’ll provide actionable advice for achieving pain-free, restorative sleep during your recovery. Discover the optimal sleep positions, pain management techniques, and supportive equipment without any excess fluff.

Key Takeaways

  • Adopting safe and comfortable sleeping positions, such as back sleeping with a 45-degree elevation or side sleeping on the non-operated side with pillows for support, can alleviate shoulder pain and promote healing after shoulder surgery.
  • Effective pain management, including appropriate timing of pain medication and the use of ice packs or cold therapy, is crucial for ensuring quality sleep during recovery from shoulder replacement surgery.
  • Providing proper shoulder support while sleeping by using slings, additional support techniques, and creating a conducive sleep environment with bed adjustments and sleep hygiene practices can help in maintaining a safe position and enhancing sleep quality post-surgery.

Optimal Sleeping Positions Post-Shoulder Replacement Surgery

The discomfort that comes with trying to sleep after shoulder surgery can be a real hindrance to recovery. But here’s the good news: with a few tweaks to your sleeping positions, you can alleviate shoulder pain and enjoy peaceful nights. Whether it’s back sleeping with elevation or side sleeping on the non-surgical side, the key lies in finding a position that minimizes strain on your healing shoulder.

You might wonder, how can you avoid causing further damage? The secret is in correct support and elevation techniques. Here’s a detailed analysis of how you can sleep comfortably while allowing your shoulder to heal.

Back Sleeping with Elevation

Back sleeping with elevation is a tried and tested technique that can help you sail through the recovery phase without losing sleep over shoulder pain. This position, achieved using a 45-degree wedge pillow, can minimize the risk of rolling onto the operated shoulder, aiding in healing and reducing pain during the recovery process. A reclined position is advised for reducing the load on the shoulder girdle after surgery.

Wedge pillows serve to elevate the upper body, minimizing the risk of rolling over onto the operated shoulder while sleeping. This simple yet effective tool can be obtained from a medical supply store, providing a stable base for maintaining an inclined sleeping position. Remember, the first week after surgery is critical, and maintaining the best position for sleep can help kickstart your path to recovery.

Side Sleeping on the Non-Surgical Side

For those who find back sleeping uncomfortable, there’s another option: side sleeping on the non-surgical side. With the correct use of additional pillows and support mechanisms, this position can be made safe and comfortable.

Preventing yourself from rolling onto the surgical side while sleeping can be achieved by strategically placing pillows behind your back to stabilize your sleeping position. For added support and to immobilize the healing shoulder, inserting a pillow between your torso and the affected shoulder can be helpful. With these techniques, you aren’t only falling asleep but are doing so in a manner that fosters your recovery.

Pain Management and Sleep Quality

Getting quality shoulder surgery sleep after shoulder replacement surgery isn’t just about finding the right position—it’s also about effective pain management. And this involves more than just taking pain medication; it’s about using a combination of techniques, including the use of ice packs and cold therapy, to ensure a good night’s sleep.

You might wonder, what’s the best way to manage pain and guarantee sleep quality? Let’s examine the role of pain medications and cold therapy in fostering sleep after shoulder surgery.

Proper Use of Pain Medications

Pain medications can be a lifeline in the days and weeks following shoulder surgery, especially for those with an injured shoulder. However, they must be used judiciously and at the right times to ensure they provide effective pain relief throughout the night for patients in their post shoulder surgery recovery.

Taking pain medication about 30-60 minutes before going to bed can help the medication take effect by the time you’re ready to sleep, leading to better sleep quality. Always remember, if sleep disturbances due to pain persist despite taking medications as directed, it’s important to consult your shoulder surgeon for possible adjustments to the medication regimen. This consultation can help promote better sleep following shoulder surgery.

Utilizing Ice Packs and Cold Therapy

In addition to pain medications, ice therapy is a safe and effective method for managing post-surgical pain after shoulder surgery, significantly aiding the recovery process. Icing the shoulder before sleep is known to numb the nerves and reduce inflammation, thus enabling faster sleep onset and more restful sleep.

The recommended approach for ice packs or cold therapy after shoulder surgery is the ‘20 minutes on, 20 minutes off’ technique, which can decrease pain and inflammation. For cold therapy, you could use a simple plastic bag filled with ice and water, wrapped in a washcloth, or even a bag of frozen peas for comfort. Advanced cryotherapy units, which provide targeted pain relief with less frequent changes than traditional ice packs, are also available post-surgery.

Certain units also offer compression, which can enhance the healing process, improve blood flow, and provide additional pain relief.

Sling Usage and Shoulder Support While Sleeping

Wearing a sling and providing proper shoulder support while sleeping is another key element of post-surgery recovery. Not only does it keep your shoulder stationary, but it also prevents overworking and excessive movement while your shoulder heals.

You might ask, how do you select the appropriate sling and what other support techniques can you employ to protect your shoulder while you sleep? I’ll address these queries in the following subsections.

Types of Slings for Sleep

Slings and immobilizers are commonly used to protect the shoulder post-surgery, especially in cases of shoulder injuries. They feature a strap around the neck that supports the arm’s weight, and it’s essential that they are properly fitted for comfort and effectiveness in the case of a shoulder injury.

There are different types of slings available, each designed for specific uses:

  • The classic sling supports the shoulder in an inward rotation position, often used following soft-tissue anterior instability surgeries or rotator cuff repair.
  • Abduction slings come with a small pillow attached that keeps the shoulder slightly separated from the body.
  • An external rotation brace, featuring a larger pillow, maintains the shoulder in an externally rotated position and is beneficial after procedures such as posterior shoulder instability surgery.

Always consult your surgery team before selecting or changing slings to ensure proper shoulder support and recovery post-surgery.

Additional Support Techniques

In addition to slings, there are other techniques you can use for additional support while sleeping. These techniques can help maintain an optimal sleeping position and reduce stress on the surgical site.

Placing pillows behind your back can prevent turning during the night, which might disrupt the shoulder’s healing position. A small pillow between the healing shoulder and the torso can provide extra support, maintain circulation, and prevent the shoulder from moving out of position. Specialized shoulder pillows, such as those with a contoured design, can help maintain the shoulder in an optimal position and reduce stress on the surgical site during sleep.

Creating a Conducive Sleep Environment

Beyond sleeping positions and pain management, the environment you sleep in plays a critical role in the quality of your sleep. Ideally, you want a sleep environment with minimal disruptions, which is crucial for restful sleep after shoulder replacement surgery.

So, how do you cultivate a conducive sleep environment? A blend of bed adjustments, accessories, and sleep hygiene practices can significantly impact your sleep, especially if you have trouble sleeping. Let’s explore these strategies in more detail.

Additional Support Techniques

Bed Adjustments and Accessories

Bed adjustments can play a significant role in reducing strain on the shoulder joint and promoting a good night’s sleep. For instance, adjustable beds can be particularly beneficial as they allow for elevation of the head and knees, providing a comfortable position.

Sleeping on an incline, for example, can help limit movement, thereby mitigating pain and preventing further injury. These adjustments can help maintain a static and safe position during sleep, which is crucial after shoulder replacement surgery.

Sleep Hygiene Practices

Finally, maintaining good sleep hygiene can support the body’s natural circadian rhythm and improve sleep patterns post-surgery. One way to do this is by maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, which aids in regulating the body’s internal clock and helps you fall asleep more easily.

Regulating light exposure is another key aspect of sleep hygiene. Creating a regimen for light exposure, such as reducing blue light exposure before bedtime, supports the body’s natural circadian rhythm and can improve sleep patterns post-surgery.


In conclusion, a good night’s sleep after shoulder surgery is not just possible—it’s within your grasp. From finding the optimal sleeping positions and managing pain effectively to choosing the right slings and creating a conducive sleep environment, implementing these strategies can significantly improve your sleep quality during recovery.

So here’s to restful nights and a speedy recovery!

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do you have to sleep sitting up after shoulder surgery?

You should plan to sleep sitting up for 4-6 weeks after shoulder surgery. A recliner or a 45-degree wedge can offer a stable and comfortable sleeping position for the first week or two.

Can I sleep on my side after a total shoulder replacement?

Yes, you can sleep on your side after a total shoulder replacement, but ensure to sleep on your uninjured arm and use pillows to prevent rolling onto the healing shoulder.

What is the fastest way to recover from shoulder replacement surgery?

The fastest way to recover from shoulder replacement surgery is to start physical therapy early, as the specific exercises taught by the physical therapist will help prevent stiffness and regain full range of motion. It’s important to follow the recommended timeline for gentle therapy and gradually increase activities over time to return to normal function.

How to sleep with a broken shoulder?

To sleep with a broken shoulder, it’s best to elevate the injury and sleep in an upright position with adequate support for the affected extremity to reduce swelling and discomfort.

What role does pain medication play in post-surgery sleep?

Taking pain medications 30-60 minutes before bedtime can help provide overnight pain relief, leading to better sleep quality. This can be especially helpful for post-surgery recovery.

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Modesto Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Eric Giang

Dr. Eric Giang, DO

Dr. Giang is a leading fellowship-trained shoulder surgeon in Modesto, CA. As a trusted orthopedic surgeon, he is serving the Modesto community with a commitment to enhancing the quality of life for every patient.

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