How Long Should a Person Sleep in a Recliner after Shoulder Surgery?

Updated May 27th, 2020

Shoulder surgery happens for many reasons. People may have had shoulder surgery to repair a rotator cuff, have a shoulder replaced, or fix a frozen or dislocated shoulder. One of the most common questions post-op is, “how long should a person sleep in a recliner after shoulder surgery?”. Well, whatever the reason for the surgery, it is common practice to sleep in a recliner and then an inclined position after any shoulder surgery to prevent damage to the surgery area.

In general

In general, doctors suggest sleeping in a recliner for the first couple of weeks after surgery. After the first couple of weeks, people who have shoulder surgery should sleep in an inclined position for up to six weeks. This position can be achieved by propping self up at a 45-degree angle with pillows. One pillow that patients have found helpful is a reading pillow with arm supports. This allows them to place the arm on one of the chair arms for extra support. Another pillow that can be used for propping the patient up is a wedge pillow that can be purchased at many health stores.


So why should people who have shoulder surgery sleep in a top recliner or an inclined position? First, it is the most advantageous position that promotes quick healing. It allows blood flow and prevents muscle strain. Next, it prevents moving. Many sleepers roll and toss as they sleep. If people who have just had surgery move too much, it may cause excessive pain and damage to the arm. Sleeping in an inclined position prevents patients from laying down horizontally. When laying horizontally, several muscles are firmly engaged. This causes unnecessary strain to the shoulder and muscles.

Other suggestions

Doctors have other suggestions for the healing process after the shoulder surgery. First, doctors suggest avoiding sleeping flat on your back or either side. Sleeping on the surgery side could tear out sutures or cause excess pain. Sleeping on the other side can cause strain. Next, wear the sling while sleeping. This sling will keep tension off the shoulder. It will also prevent movement while sleeping that could cause more damage to the shoulder. To help with pain, doctors suggest taking pain medication 30 minutes before bed as well as putting ice on the shoulder just before bed. Doctors often prescribe up to two weeks of narcotic pain medication for shoulder surgery patients. The benefits of taking pain medication and icing before bed allows the patient to relax as well as relaxation in the shoulder.

Doctor’s Orders

Although sleeping in a recliner for two weeks and then in an inclined position for four to six more weeks sounds uncomfortable, it is essential to follow the doctor’s orders that were given. These orders will optimize healing, prevent excess pain, and eliminate strain. Not following these orders or having incorrect postures or positioning while sleeping will also increase recovery time and cause damage. It can take a few months for the discomfort while sleeping to go away; however, stay persistent, a more restful sleep is on the way.

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