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10 Best Pillows for Shoulder Surgery Recovery and Shoulder Pain Relief

Updated: Jan 20

Shoulder surgery such as a rotator cuff repair can be truly life-changing in the long term. In the short term, the recovery process can be grueling. You can spend weeks taking pain medication and months in physical therapy.

various pillows for shoulder pain and surgery recovery

Worse, the pain can make it difficult to sleep. Here are the best pillows for your post-surgery period, as well as other ways to sleep comfortably after your surgery.

How to Sleep Comfortably After Surgery

So, you just got your rotator cuff repaired, and your shoulder pain is keeping you up at night. How are you supposed to get a good night’s sleep? Here are seven tried and true tips.

1. Wear your sling

First and foremost, it’s important to wear your sling. This is critical; wearing a sling is key to your surgery recovery.

Wearing Your Sling in the Daytime

Following your surgery, your surgeon will outfit you with a shoulder sling that you need to wear for a period of several weeks. The most important function of the sling is to support your arm, reducing the strain on your shoulder joint. It also limits your arm’s motion[*], which helps to speed healing.

Wearing Your Sling at Night

Your surgeon may or may not direct you to wear your sling at night. But unless they told you not to, it’s probably a good idea. For one thing, it will continue to limit your range of motion.

This is more important than you might think since you aren’t consciously controlling your motions while you’re sleeping. It’s easy to twist your arm into an awkward position and exacerbate your shoulder pain.

With all of that being said, always follow your doctor’s advice and the advice of your physical therapist.

Dr. Dawn's virtual physical therapy services

2. Sleep in a Reclined Position

If possible, skip your bed altogether and sleep in a recliner for the first few weeks.

If you don’t own one, you can always improvise. Stack up pillows on the couch or, better yet, invest in a good-quality wedge pillow for your bed. Ideally, you should do this for 4 to 6 weeks post-surgery.

The benefit of reclining as opposed to lying down is that you’re not putting as much pressure on your shoulder. More of your body weight will be on your hips, eliminating the potential for pressure points on your joint capsule.

Make sure you have plenty of lumbar support.

3. Sleep on Your Back or Non-Surgical Side

If reclining doesn’t work for you, try sleeping on your back. This will spread your weight evenly across your body. However, this may still be uncomfortable, so make sure to position your pillows to support your shoulder by simulating a semi-reclined position.

As you recover, you can slowly reduce your angle until you’re flat on your back. Depending on the nature of the shoulder surgery, this can take as long as six weeks.

You can also try sleeping on your non-surgical side. This will put all your weight onto your healthy side, with no pressure on your sore shoulder.

4. Prop up and Support Your Shoulder With Pillows

As you’re making the transition from side sleep to back sleep, you’ll need to support your injured arm. Use pillows to prop yourself up and provide extra support.

You can even put a thin pillow between your elbow and your side, to keep your arm at a more comfortable angle.

5. Listen to Your Doctor and Physical Therapist

Following your shoulder surgery, your doctor will have explicit instructions for post-surgery care. Follow them to the letter

Always take your medication as directed, but if possible, try to schedule your last dose of the day right before bedtime. That way, you (hopefully) won’t have to wake up in the middle of the night for your next dose.

Along the same lines, follow any instructions from your physical therapist. They know your situation inside and out and can give you much better advice than any website.


ice therapy machine with attachments

6. Ice Your Shoulder Before Going to Bed

About 30 minutes before you go to bed, apply an ice pack to your shoulder. This will help reduce pain, which makes it easier to fall asleep.

Applying an ice pack also reduces blood flow[*], which in turn reduces inflammation. This helps cut down on swelling and stiffness.

When you apply an ice pack, don’t put it directly on your skin – it might give you frostbite. A thin towel or layered pillowcase will provide enough of a barrier to prevent this.

7. Practice Good Sleeping Habits

Healthy habits, sometimes called “sleep hygiene,” can make all the difference between a restless night and sleeping soundly. Here are some tips[*] to start with:

  • Give yourself a bedtime, and set your alarm at the same time every day. Sleeping in on weekends feels good, but it throws off your circadian rhythm in the long term.

  • Create an environment conducive to sleeping. Turn off your lights and set the thermostat at a comfortable level.

  • Get some exercise during the day. You’ll feel less restless at night.

  • Avoid caffeine before sleeping – as well as alcohol.

  • Put your electronics in the other room. If you use your smartphone as an alarm, flip it over on your nightstand and leave it that way.

Best Pillows for Recovery From Shoulder Surgery

We’ve looked at ways to sleep well after shoulder operations and how to sleep with shoulder pain. But what’s the best pillow for shoulder surgery? Here are 10 excellent choices.

Zoey Sleep Adjustable Rounded Pillow

The Zoey Sleep pillow is also made from memory foam. Its crescent moon shape makes it easy to hold your injured arm in any position. Since your upper arm is free to move, it’s easy to prevent shoulder pain.

A zipper on one side of the shell allows you to access the stuffing inside. It arrives very plump, but you can remove memory foam at will to make the pillow larger or smaller.

MedCline Shoulder Relief Wedge and Body Pillow System

The MedCline system is both a wedge pillow and a candy-cane-shaped body pillow all in one. It’s a complete shoulder relief system.

Unlike other wedge pillows, this one has a cutout in the bottom. You can sleep on your side, with the injured arm holding the candy-cane pillow on top.

All in all, this system is ideal for recovering from shoulder surgery. However, it comes at a price. Here are the unique benefits that make it worth it!

  1. Cooling Comfort: Immerse yourself in cooling comfort with the gel-infused foam, ensuring a soothing and relaxing sleep environment.

  2. Comprehensive Three-Component System: Benefit from a holistic sleep system that eliminates the need to stack pillows at night. Enjoy optimal support and alignment with every use.

  3. Versatile Symmetrical Design: Embrace the freedom to sleep on either the right or left side with the symmetrical design, catering to your unique sleeping preferences.

  4. Flexible Arm Positions: Find your perfect sleep posture with the flexibility to position your arms comfortably. Say goodbye to tossing and turning during the night.

  5. Effective Relief for Various Conditions: Whether it's rotator cuff injuries, arm numbness, arthritis, bursitis, nerve impingement, tendonitis, or general shoulder pain.

  6. FSA/HSA Approved: Your path to relief is financially accessible. The MedCline Shoulder Relief Wedge and Body Pillow System is approved by most FSA/HSA plans, making it a smart investment in your health.

InteVision Foam Bed Wedge Pillow

The 10-12" wedge pillow is not only affordable at $69 but the therapeutic foam provides optimal positioning for a more comfortable night's sleep. It’s made from cooling memory foam and conforms well to your body. This wedge comes in 7, 10, and 12" rise. I'd suggest, pairing it with a small neck pillow to improve positioning.

It’s also easy to keep clean, with a washable, removable cover. If you’re looking for a wedge pillow, this is your best bet.

Layla Kapok Pillow

In terms of shape and appearance, this is an ordinary pillow. There’s nothing intrinsic about it that has anything to do with shoulder surgery. That said, it’s a good choice if you experience shoulder pain with your current pillow.

The Layla Kapok Pillow can be used for just about anything. Prop up your injured shoulder when you’re laying on your side, or use it for lumbar support as part of a broader shoulder relief system.

Himoon Bed Pillows

Himoon Bed Pillows can be used for ordinary sleeping. But they’re concave on all four edges, which allows for minimal shoulder pain in many sleeping positions.

Following shoulder surgery, you may need to transition from your side to your back. These pillows will help you get there. Or, you can combine them with wedge pillows to create a steeper angle.

Snuggle-Pedic Body Pillow

Unlike other pillows, body pillows are a type of larger, softer pillow that you can hug with your whole body. Hence the name.

This pillow is not ideal for back sleeping. But it’s perfect for curling up on your side early in your shoulder surgery recovery.

7. Cheer Collection W Shaped Shoulder Pillow

Tempur-Pedic Body Pillow

The Cheer Collection W Shaped Shoulder Support Pillow is meticulously designed to provide exceptional support for your shoulder, bicep, or elbow post-injury or surgery. This pillow simplifies your daily activities like sitting, lying down, and sleeping.

With dimensions of 23.5 x 14 x 6 inches, the W Shape Design, combined with its softness and gentle texture, delivers comfort and targeted support for rotator cuff involvement, shoulder pain, arm injuries, and more.

Tempur-Pedic Cloud

The Tempur-Pedic Cloud is a broad, flat pillow that’s designed for ordinary sleeping. It’s great for propping yourself up, and won’t wear out prematurely like a lot of other pillows.

Sidney Sleep Kidney Pillow

This pillow has a unique design with a wide profile and scooped bottom portion. It can relieve shoulder pain in any position, from your side to your back.

Mediflow Fiber Water Pillow

This is a water pillow, which means you can adjust the stiffness. Add more water or let some out until your shoulder pain is at a minimum.

You don’t have to worry about it feeling like you’re sleeping on plastic. A soft cotton shell fits snugly over the inner bladder, for a smooth, comfortable feel on your skin.

Final Thoughts

Shoulder surgery recovery can be long, difficult, and painful, but sleeping through the night doesn’t have to be. By following these tips, you can get a good night’s sleep even in the days after your shoulder surgery.

Along the way, we’ve looked at several pillows that can make it much simpler to find a comfortable sleeping position. Let us know what you think in the comments!

Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site, including text, graphics, images, and other material, is provided solely for informational purposes and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other healthcare professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your specific condition.

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