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Pain Free Sleep

Pain Free Sleep

by Hilary Froman, PharmD

One thing is clear to all of us who have had shoulder injuries – shoulder pain and sleep don’t mix. You can toss and turn for ages and not find a comfortable position, and catching some shut-eye can seem like a lost cause.

Insomnia happens to all of us occasionally. When you are recovering from an injury, sleep is essential, but often elusive. For those with shoulder injuries, having good sleep positioning strategies is essential for healing.

First of all, don’t ‘tough it out.’ Before worrying about sleep positions, get control over your pain. This is no time to test your pain threshold. Follow your prescribed icing and medication regimen. Pain is a big barrier to a good night’s rest, so keep on top of the pain. Once you’ve addressed that, then you can figure out which sleep position to try. Here are a couple of ideas:

Sleeping on Your Back
Sleeping on Your Back

Try a recliner- Many individuals find sleeping in a recliner to be the most comfortable option during a shoulder injury.  If this sounds good, use the armrest to support your arm and even add a pillow between your arm and the armrest if that feels better. If you don’t have a recliner or there is no way you can see yourself sleeping in one for the night, there are a few more options.

If you sleep on your back- Use pillows to cushion and prop your injured side.

If you sleep on your side- Don’t sleep on your injured side. You’ll know it’s a bad idea as soon as you try. If you tend to toss and turn, tape a marble to your shoulder so you won’t stay on it for too long.

Sleeping on Your Side
Sleeping on Your Side

Use pillows, pillows, and more pillows to keep your arm and shoulder in a position that prevents additional pain. Also, prop pillows in front of your body to create a platform that can support your hand and prevent your arm from fallingforward.

If you sleep on your stomach- The most challenging aspect of stomach sleeping is getting into and out of the position. And if you neck is sore, this is not a good position to try. If you must sleep on your stomach, place a pillow under your shoulder for support .

Waking up with Shoulder Pain. If you are reading this and thinking, “I don’t go to bed with shoulder pain, but I wake up with it,” you may be sleeping with your arms above your head. Don’t place your hands above your head or under your pillow, and see if that alleviates morning pain.

Trying to sleep with an injury is frustrating, but not impossible. First, get control of pain before going to bed. It will make all the difference when falling asleep. If you wake up in pain during the night, you should get up and ice and take medication as prescribed. Lying there hoping it will get better never works.

Second, for those with shoulder injuries, use pillows. Propping and cushioning the correct way keeps the shoulder open and circulation moving. It will improve your sleep as well as promote healing.

Sweet dreams.


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