A rotator cuff injury can be debilitating, causing pain, weakness, and limited mobility. It affects the rotator cuff, which is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint and help to stabilize and move the shoulder. While there are several causes of rotator cuff injuries, including overuse and trauma, the impact on sleep quality is undeniable.
According to Cleveland Clinic, joint pain, especially in your hips, knees, and shoulders, frequently worsens at night. The pain can make it difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position, and the discomfort can wake you up during the night or leave you struggling to fall asleep.
There are several strategies you can also try to improve your sleep quality and achieve a good night’s rest if you have a rotator cuff injury. One of the first steps is to adjust your sleeping position.
The Best Sleeping Positions for Rotator Cuff Pain
Here are some of the best sleeping positions for a rotator cuff injury:
Sleeping On Your Back
Going to sleep on your back is perhaps the best sleeping position for rotator cuff pain. This is because sleeping in this neutral position reduces pressure on the affected shoulder and promotes better spine alignment. The position also alleviates pressure on the neck and shoulders, making it easier to relax and fall asleep.
To optimize this position:
- Use a pillow to support your head and neck.
- Use another pillow or cushion to support the injured shoulder and keep it in a comfortable position. Doing this will minimize any strain that can be caused by gravity pushing the joint downward.
- Avoid tucking your hands under your head or body, or above your head as this can add pressure and strain to the rotator cuff muscle and tendons.
Sleeping on the Unaffected Side
Lying on the opposite side of the injured shoulder can help reduce pressure on the injury, thereby reducing pain and discomfort.
To optimize this position:
- Place a firm, but comfortable pillow between your unaffected arm and the mattress to keep your shoulder in a neutral position and prevent excessive pressure on the injured arm.
- Put another pillow between your knees for spinal alignment and added support on the lower back and hips.
Sleeping in a Reclined Position
Sleeping in a recliner, propping yourself up on pillows in bed, or using an adjustable bed can help elevate the upper body and reduce pressure on the injured shoulder. This position is especially helpful if you are experiencing severe pain or discomfort.
To optimize this position:
- Use pillows or cushions to support your head, neck, and shoulders and keep your body in a comfortable position.
- Try to incline towards the uninjured side to allow the injured shoulder to heal.
- Consider using a reclining chair with armrests for optimal comfort.
Some more tips for optimizing all three sleeping positions include:
- Using a firm mattress to maintain proper alignment and prevent excessive pressure on the affected shoulder.
- Experimenting with different pillow types and sizes to find the ones that provide the most comfort and support for your specific injury.
- Using a body pillow to provide additional support and alignment for your body and relieve pressure on the injured shoulder.
Sleeping Positions to Avoid When You Have a Rotator Cuff Injury
The optimal sleeping position for rotator cuff pain is whatever works best for you. However, certain sleeping positions will cause extra strain on your injured shoulder and make the pain worse.
Sleeping on the Injured Side
This may seem like an obvious sleeping position to avoid when you’re in pain, but many people are side sleepers, according to research. So, there’s a chance your body may be inclined to sleep on the injured side.
Although changing sleeping positions can be difficult, it’s important to remember that when sleeping on your side, your body weight adds pressure to your shoulder, and this can increase pain and discomfort. In fact, one study revealed that 67% of side sleepers experienced shoulder pain on the side they were sleeping on.
As such, it’s best to try and avoid sleeping on your injured shoulder. A good way to do this is to prop yourself up in bed with lots of pillow support to prevent yourself from rolling over onto your painful shoulder. You can also sleep on your back, and if side sleeping is the only way you can get some shuteye, consider sleeping on the uninjured side.
By using the Nighttime Movement Feature, Oura members can assess whether they are restless or frequently move around throughout the night. This information can be useful for determining the most suitable sleeping position that alleviates discomfort-induced restlessness.
Sleeping on Your Stomach
Sleeping on your stomach can hinder the recovery of your rotator cuff. This position not only places strain on your shoulders, resulting in shoulder and neck pain, but it can also cause your arm to twist, putting added pressure on the injured shoulder.
To aid your recovery, it’s best to avoid sleeping on your injured shoulder or on your stomach, even if these are your preferred sleeping positions. Instead, experiment with other sleeping positions, and if you really have to sleep on your stomach, consider:
- Putting a pillow under your hips for proper support. This will help support and align your lower and upper body, preventing your shoulders from sagging.
- Placing a rolled-up towel or blanket under the shoulders to improve shoulder support and reduce pressure on the injured area.
How to Minimize Shoulder Pain While Sleeping
In addition to finding and optimizing, the best sleeping position for your rotator cuff injury, you may also want to:
- Apply ice or heat to your shoulder before bed to reduce pain and inflammation while also promoting relaxation.
- Stretch your injured shoulder before bed and when you wake up. Opt for low-impact stretches that help ease the discomfort and pain without putting too much pressure on your shoulder. Some good examples of stretches you can try include a crossbody stretch, a finger walk stretch, and a towel stretch.
- Take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen, to alleviate pain and swelling.
- Maintain good sleep hygiene. Keeping your sleep schedule as consistent as possible will help your body get the support it needs to recover from the injury.
If you’re having trouble finding the best sleeping position or experiencing ongoing pain and discomfort despite self-care, it’s best to talk to your doctor or physical therapist for additional advice and appropriate treatment options.
Applying these tips will help you sleep better with rotator cuff pain, whether that’s caused by a rotator cuff tear or other types of rotator cuff injuries.
READ MORE: How To Get Better Sleep