How to Sleep After Rotator Cuff Surgery

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Rotator cuff surgery is a major operation where scar tissue in the shoulder is severed while tendons and bones are surgically joined. The operation is performed to restore full shoulder function following an injury or trauma to the shoulder. Careful post-operational procedures must be followed, including proper sleeping techniques, to ensure proper healing.

  • Relax and try to sleep despite any post-operational conditions you may experience. In the first few days following surgery, your hospital bed may be outfitted with a continuous passive motion (CPM) machine. This machine is a simple mechanical lever that is tied to your wrist and slowly, continuously moves your arm. This is done to prevent stiffening and incorrect healing of the shoulder muscles and bones. This machine will likely be active when you are in your hospital bed, including while you sleep. Relax, as you will get used to the CPM machine and soon be able to sleep normally on your back.

  • Sleep on a recliner or at a slightly seated angle, once you are released from the hospital. Sleeping horizontally can be quite painful following rotator cuff surgery, so your physician will likely recommend sleeping on a reclining chair or with several stacked pillows on your bed. Sitting up places less pressure on your back and shoulder, allowing it to heal properly. After a few weeks or months, try sleeping horizontally in your bed to see if you experience shoulder pain. If sleeping continues to be prohibitively difficult, alert your physician.

  • Do a few light shoulder exercises, such as moving your arm back and forth slowly, to loosen up your shoulder muscles. These should be done throughout the day, but they can also help you return to sleep. You may wake up intermittently during the night for a week or two following surgery. This common side effect is caused by discomfort or stiffness in the shoulder. A few minutes of shoulder rolls and deep breaths should alleviate the stiffness and allow you to return to sleep. If you are in pain, you may take any prescribed pain medication. Once your shoulder is more comfortable, return to sleep on your back.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you have sleep apnea or any other sleep disorder, talk to your doctor about specific considerations for you.

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