A Wedge Pillow After Shoulder Surgery: How to Sleep

A Wedge Pillow After Shoulder Surgery: How to Sleep 

A wedge pillow after shoulder surgery helps you sleep. Let’s face it, recovering from any type of shoulder surgery is no small feat, and sleep in an essential component of your recovery. Without sleep, your healing could be delayed.

Why sleep is essential after surgery

Sleep is a necessary part of healing. When we sleep, our brain enters repair mode. We may be resting, but our brain is releasing hormones that promote healing and tissue repair. It tells our body to fix blood vessels and rebuild any damaged muscles. Our brain also directs our body to replenish white blood cells so we are able to fight off infection and other organisms that may be hindering our healing. Without sleep, these processes get disrupted.

How to use a wedge pillow after shoulder surgery

Immediately after any shoulder surgery, sleeping is painful for a while. Whether you are sleeping in or out of a sling, you must protect your shoulder. The best way to do this is to sleep on your back, inclined with a wedge pillow for shoulder surgery. Sleeping flat will not be comfortable for several months because it increases pressure on your shoulder. This is why you may find that a foam wedge pillow will be your best friend.

An ideal wedge pillow after shoulder surgery is one that is 12 inches tall. This amount of incline offers you enough support to alleviate the pressure you would feel in your shoulder if you were lying flat. In addition to an incline pillow, you will want to place a supportive pillow on top of the wedge, under your surgical arm. Placing a supportive pillow under your arm allows your shoulder muscles to fully relax.

Because a 12-inch bed wedge is fairly steep, it is also recommended that you sleep with a knee wedge pillow. Propping your legs on a knee wedge pillow helps prevent you from sliding down your incline wedge during the night. It also relaxes the muscles around your spine, allowing your back to fully rest overnight.

Transitioning to side sleeping

After 6-8 weeks of sleeping reclined on a wedge pillow, you may be ready to transition to sleeping on your side. At this point in recovery, most people are not ready to sleep on their surgical arm. However, a bed wedge can be used to start trying to sleep on your non-surgical arm.

Depending on your level of pain and mobility, you have two options for side sleeping. If you are still experiencing a significant amount of pain, you will want to transition to a contoured side sleeping wedge. This wedge still has a slight incline which helps alleviate any pressure you experience when lying flat. It also has unique contours that specifically alleviate shoulder pressure and pain.

When sleeping with a contoured, wedge pillow after shoulder surgery, try sleeping on your non-surgical arm first. You can also use a long and firm body pillow for additional shoulder support by resting your surgical arm on top of it. A supportive body pillow not only supports your surgical arm, but also supports your back and hips when put between your legs. 

As you continue to heal and your pain decreases, you can try sleeping on your surgical arm. A contoured, memory foam-topped wedge, will cradle and support your shoulder as you begin to sleep on it again. The combination of a contoured incline wedge and a supportive neck pillow takes pressure off of your surgical arm while you sleep.

Side sleeping after recovering from shoulder surgery 

As your healing journey progresses and you are ready to side sleep without an inclined pillow wedge, be sure you continue to care for your shoulder. Sleeping on your side without adequate support can cause wear and tear on your shoulder. Since we typically sleep 7-8 hours each night, its important to position ourselves in a way that does not cause harm.

There are three essential components to side sleeping. First is a supportive neck pillow. I recommend a contoured neck pillow because it supports the natural curve of your neck. Second is a side sleeper wedge pillow. This small wedge will support the curve of your lower spine. The combination of these two pillows supports the weight of your body so you are not “crushing” the shoulder you lie on.

Finally, use a leg separator pillow. Depending on what you find comfortable, you can rest your arm on top of the pillow or give it a “hug.” It can also be used to support your hip and back by placing it between your legs. Or, you can use it to do both at the same time!

A wedge pillow for shoulder surgery is something that will help you in your recovery. When you sleep better, you feel better and heal better!

-Hillary Blare, Doctor of Physical Therapy



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