An arthroscopic shoulder surgery is performed for many reasons. These can include SLAP (Superior Labral Tear from Anterior to Posterior) tear or lesion, partial or full thickness tear of the rotator cuff and others. Rotator cuff tears are among the most common conditions affecting the shoulder.
Although partial tear of the rotator cuff came up in the reading for my left shoulder MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), the orthopedic surgeon performed subacromial decompression and a SLAP (Superior Labral Tear from Anterior to Posterior) tear repair on my left shoulder.
General anesthesia is typically administered in all these procedures, and in my case, the anesthesia resulted in much drowsiness and nausea. I thought that wouldn't be a problem since it was almost 9 pm by the time we reached home. I was more than willing to hit the sack and sleep soundly.
Difficulty Sleeping after Shoulder Surgery
According to the University of Washington School of Medicine, many patients from shoulder surgery find it difficult to sleep because they cannot find a comfortable position, with or without the sling on. Many patients find it easier and more comfortable to sleep in a reclined position.
I immediately realized that sleeping in a reclined position with pillows propping me up would be difficult. First, I'm not accustomed to sleeping in that position. Secondly, I roll over many times in my sleep, mainly because I dislike getting my back warm on the bed.
Because of this, I decided to take off the arm sling as I slept, since it would be too awkward and uncomfortable to wear in a lying horizontal position.
In my first night after surgery, I was able to sleep on my back after I rested the affected left arm on a pillow. Eventually, I was able to just let the left arm rest at my side. I also used the pillow on my left side as a "border" to partition my space on the bed from my wife's.
Rolling over and sleeping on my good side, the right side, was possible only after resting the affected left arm on a pillow as shown below.
Doing this puts the arm in a neutral position with the shoulder. I actually used two pillows to prop the affected left arm during the first night. Depending on your comfort level, add more pillows as needed.
Side sleepers should not let the affected arm droop down as shown below, at least for the first few days after shoulder arthroscopic surgery. This position puts too much pulling strain on the newly operated shoulder joint.
Positioning Yourself to Sleep in Bed after Shoulder Surgery
Getting in and out of the bed could also be a challenge if you don't do it correctly.
My solution to easily get in and out of bed is to simply sleep on the right side of the bed. The sequence of steps to lying on the bed is:
- Sit on the right side of the bed.
- Put the good arm, the right arm on the bed and slowly lower your torso on the bed.
- Use the momentum to raise your legs on to the bed.
- Roll to the left so your back is now against the bed.
Do the reverse to get out of bed.
Controlling and Managing Pain after Surgery
It is more difficult to sleep when you have severe pain after shoulder surgery. So always try to prevent the pain from becoming severe by taking smaller doses of pain medication at the early signs of discomfort. This, rather than large doses when the pain is more severe. Medication taken every 8 hours for instance, would be better rather than every 12 hours. Set your alarm if you have to in order to take the medicines on time.
If you're on anti-hypertension drugs, remember to take the prescribed dosages religiously. I learned after my arthroscopic shoulder surgery that my blood pressure rose whenever I felt pain. This is normal, according to the nurse on duty. So avoid shooting up your blood pressure because of the pain from surgery. Don't forget to take your heart medications as prescribed.