The rotator cuff comprises four muscles that help stabilize and support the shoulder girdle. When the rotator cuff is injured, it can limit your daily activities and cause pain in the entire arm. Sleeping also becomes difficult and uncomfortable.

You can experience increased discomfort when lying flat on your back. It happens because of gravity pushing straight down on the shoulder joint.

An injury to the rotator cuff also reduces stabilization within the joint. It means that you have to adjust your sleeping position to get the most out of your sleeping hours.

If you’ve undergone rotator cuff surgery, experts say that it may take approximately six weeks after surgery for you to sleep comfortably in a horizontal position. This article gives you tips on how to sleep when you have a rotator cuff injury.

Tips on How to Sleep When You Have a Rotator Cuff Injury

Sit in a Reclined Position

A helpful tip is to lay on a recliner at an angle to take pressure off your arm. If a recliner doesn’t feel comfortable, you may wish to lay on your back. In this case, place a small pillow under your injured shoulder to “prop” it up.

It’ll take pressure and pain off of the injured arm. Small support under the shoulder will reduce the additional strain caused by gravity pushing the joint downward.

You may also consider:

  • Place several pillows behind your back as you lay on the bed or couch.
  • Sitting in a comfortable, reclining chair that has armrests.
  • Using an adjustable bed to control the mattress’ angle.

Most importantly, try to incline towards the uninjured side when in this position. It’s necessary to allow the injured rotator cuff time to heal.

Sleep on Your Stomach

If you’re a stomach sleeper, you may feel uncomfortable in this position when you have an injured rotator cuff. Sleeping on your stomach makes your shoulders sag forward and apply pressure, resulting in neck and shoulder pain.

However, you can alleviate the pain and discomfort by allowing yourself to sleep in your favorite position. Consider placing a pillow underneath your hips and pelvis for proper support. Doing so helps you align your lower body with the upper one, preventing the shoulders from sagging. A rolled-up towel or blanket placed underneath the shoulders can also enhance support.

Sleep on Your Back

Lying down on your back is a neutral position that reduces back, neck, and shoulder pressure. The neutral position provides a pain-free posture and keeps the spine aligned, reducing shoulder and neck pain. You may also want to try placing a small pillow underneath the shoulders to push back the shoulders gently and open up the chest.

Other tips for reducing pain and discomfort when sleeping with an injured rotator cuff include:

  • Applying a cold compressor to the injured shoulder for 15 to 20 minutes. It reduces pain and inflammation. Ensure you wrap the ice pack in a towel to prevent an ice burn.
  • Stretching the injured shoulder before sleeping and after waking up. Stretching exercises like cross-body stretch and towel stretch can ease the discomfort.
  • Taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine to reduce pain and swelling.

If the pain from your injured rotator cuff persists for several weeks despite self-care, it’s essential to see your doctor. They will make a proper diagnosis and put you on the appropriate treatment plan. The pain could be due to injury-related arthritis, nerve problems, tendonitis, bursitis, soft tissue injuries, or a rotator cuff tear.

At Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation, we provide comprehensive and individualized care to help you deal with shoulder pain and other orthopedic-related conditions. Contact us today at or call 570-208-2787 to schedule an appointment.