Sleeping with a Rotator Cuff Injury

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 serious pain in your shoulder muscles and tendons. Sleeping also becomes difficult and uncomfortable.

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

An injury to the rotator cuff also reduces stabilization within the joint. You may 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 could take six weeks after surgery for you to sleep comfortably. Tips on sleeping with a rotator cuff injury can be found below.

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 does not feel comfortable, you may want to consider lying on your back. In this case, place a small pillow under your injured shoulder to “prop” it up.

Propping up your arm will 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.
  • Sit in a comfortable, reclining chair that has armrests
  • Use 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 for healing time during your rotator cuff injury recovery.

A young woman feels pain in her shoulder

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. Doing so will push back the shoulders gently and open up the chest.

Other tips for reducing pain and discomfort when sleeping with a rotator cuff injury include:

  • Apply 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.
  • Stretch the injured shoulder before sleeping and after waking up. Rotator cuff exercises like cross-body stretch and towel stretch can ease the discomfort.
  • Take 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 can then make a proper diagnosis and put you on the appropriate treatment plan. The pain could be injury-related arthritis, nerve problems, tendonitis, bursitis, soft tissue injuries, or a rotator cuff tear.

Sleep Better With Cawley Physical Therapy

At Cawley Physical Therapy, we want to provide the best medical advice for your specific issues. If you believe you may be having a problem with your rotator cuff, take a rotator cuff injury test at home. Detecting the early signs of rotator cuff tendonitis and getting ahead of it will simplify the recovery process.

We provide comprehensive and individualized care to help you through your shoulder pain recovery and other orthopedic-related concerns. Contact us today at or call 570-208-2787 to schedule an appointment.