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How to Sleep Comfortably With a Frozen Shoulder (7 Ways)

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  • This article has been medically reviewed by Darshan Shingala (M.D, MPH) – a qualified and practicing medical doctor – for maximum factual accuracy and reliability.

A frozen shoulder – medically named adhesive capsulitis – is a painful condition where inflammation and swelling in the joint prevents a complete range of movement and may make it harder to get to sleep due to the associated discomfort.

So how do you get to sleep with a painful frozen shoulder?

To sleep comfortably with a frozen shoulder: take doctor-prescribed anti-inflammatory pain medications, follow a rehabilitation program, sleep on your back, use extra pillows for support, stretch the shoulder before bed, rest the shoulder during the day, and follow a nightly sleep routine.

The rest of this article explains in more detail the practical steps that you can take to ease your shoulder pain, and there’s a short guide that explains how a frozen shoulder can affect your sleep.

Although this article was written and reviewed by a qualified and practicing medical doctor, you should always consult with your own doctor to ensure that you’re following a treatment plan that’s right for you.

Need a new mattress for your frozen shoulder? Then I recommend the Puffy Lux Hybrid because it has excellent pressure relief to reduce internal joint discomfort. Learn more in my Puffy Lux Hybrid review here.

7 Ways to Sleep Better With a Frozen Shoulder

Below are 7 tips to help you sleep better with a frozen shoulder tonight:

1: Take Prescribed Anti-Inflammatory and Pain Medications

You must strictly adhere to your doctor’s prescription to effectively manage your sore shoulder.

It is likely that your doctor will recommend that you take some anti-inflammatory medications to significantly help in reducing the inflammation in your shoulder.

Most of these medications also have an analgesic effect, meaning that they can help in reducing pain as well.

The most commonly prescribed medications for a frozen shoulder are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory meds, such as ibuprofen and diclofenac.

However, it is important to highlight that all medications must be administered and used safely.

It is necessary that you always consult with your doctor prior to consuming any form of medication, follow the prescribed medicinal dosage, take your medicines at the advised time of the day and report to your doctor in case you experience any adverse side-effects.

Although many types of painkillers are readily available over-the-counter, it is strongly recommended that you avoid self-medicating yourself as it may lead to unwanted complications.

2: Sleep On Your Back

Finding a comfortable sleeping position while recovering from a frozen shoulder very important to reduce pain, and for many people sleeping on their back will likely be the most suitable position.

However, it might take a while for you to find a sleeping position that is comfortable for you.

But typically, sleeping on your back or sleeping on the side of the unaffected shoulder are the most comfortable positions for most patients.

Furthermore, research suggests that sleeping on your back – also known as sleeping in the supine position – is one of the most comfortable positions to sleep in.

Sleeping in a supine position will also help you to maintain the posture of your body and may also help to prevent back pain.

However, if you are a side sleeper, sleeping on the side of the unaffected shoulder can also be a good option for you.

It would be a good idea to invest in a high-quality mattress because it is necessary to provide adequate cushioning and support to your musculoskeletal structure while you are recovering from a frozen shoulder.

I highly recommend the Puffy Lux Hybrid mattress for recovering from a frozen shoulder because it has excellent pressure relief and support to ensure that it doesn’t feel like your shoulder is being put under a lot of strain as you are lying on the bed.

See my full Puffy Lux Hybrid mattress review here for more details and to get $300 off.

3: Use Extra Pillows For Support

Doctors and sleep specialists typically recommend the use of extra pillows or cushions to support any injured joint as you sleep.

In the case of a frozen shoulder, you can use these additional pillows in different ways depending on your preferred sleeping position.

For example, if you prefer sleeping on your back, you can position pillows next to your hips so that you do not accidentally roll over onto your frozen shoulder while you are asleep.

You may also consider using a cushion or a wedge pillow underneath your affected arm to support the frozen shoulder.

Even if you prefer sleeping on the side of your unaffected shoulder, you should keep a body pillow behind you so that if you mistakenly turn over to the other side while sleeping, the pillow can support your frozen shoulder and avoid any unnecessary strain of the already injured joint.

4: Warm Up Your Shoulder Before Bed

Research shows that doing a mild and quick mobility session to stretch the shoulder prior to going to bed may help to substantially ease the pain and stiffness in the joint.

The rationale behind this is that a basic warm-up session with light stretches can promote blood flow to the injured area, reduce the soreness, and relax the tension in the surrounding muscle tissue.

If your shoulder is less sore, you are more likely to fall asleep quickly.

Additionally, you can also consider using a heating pad on your affected shoulder to encourage blood flow to the frozen shoulder and it can assist in healing the injury.

In the video below, Dr. Jo shows you how to stretch and mobilize your frozen shoulder:

Frozen Shoulder Stretches & Exercises – Ask Doctor Jo

5: Rest Your Shoulder During the Day

If you try to relax and rest your frozen shoulder throughout the day, it is likely that there will be a significant reduction of pain and inflammation in your affected shoulder by the time you go to bed.

This means that come bedtime, your shoulder is less likely to be as painful so that you can get to sleep faster.

To achieve adequate rest of your shoulder joint, try to avoid any form of repetitive or sudden movements such as lifting or throwing because these movements can put unnecessary stress on your shoulder joint.

However, if repetitive movements are a part of your job and it is difficult to avoid them, then it would be best if you could take regularly spaced breaks in between the unavoidable shoulder movements.

It is also important to make sure that you protect your frozen joint from jerky movements because they may aggravate the already injured joint.

6: Stretch and Mobilize the Shoulder

Your doctor may recommend that you do some very mild movements and light exercises at home after your pain has resolved to some degree (resting will be the initial treatment when the pain is acute).

These easy-to-do functional exercises will help you to not only quickly regain the complete range of your movement but they will also help in reducing the inflammation in your frozen shoulder.

The quicker the inflammatory state of your shoulder resolves, the easier it will be for you to find comfort at night while sleeping.

At the discretion of your doctor, you can try to slowly practice the following exercises that are clinically recommended for a frozen shoulder.

Generally, it is recommended to do each of these exercises once per day, or you must perform them as advised by your doctor or physiotherapist:

i) Pendulum Stretch

Rest your unaffected arm on a table and let your affected arm hang down.

Then, swing the affected arm in a circular motion, first clockwise, then anticlockwise.

ii) Towel Stretch

Hold a regular-sized towel behind your back with both hands.

Use your healthy arm to pull up your affected arm and try to keep the towel in a horizontal position.

iii) Cross-Body Reach

Lift your arms at the level of your elbow and then use your unaffected arm to apply gentle pressure on your affected arm.

Try to hold the position for ten seconds and then stretch in the opposite direction.

iv) Outward and Inward Rotation

Use an exercise rubber band and pull the rubber band in outward and inward directions using the affected arm.

7: Adhere to a Nightly Sleep Routine

Sticking to a nightly routine before you go to bed can help to prime your body for sleep and make it easier to drift off whether your frozen shoulder is painful or not.

There are many techniques that can help you in achieving a good sleep routine, some ideas are as follows:

  • Taking a warm shower before bed.
  • Napping less (or not at all) in the day.
  • Going to bed at the same time each night.
  • Getting up at the same time each morning.
  • Avoiding screens 1-2 hours before bedtime.
  • Dimming the room lights 1-2 hours in advance.
  • Eating a light meal before bed – avoid heavy foods.
  • Mindfulness meditation (listen to the music in the video below):
Endless Relaxing Zen Music for Yoga, Meditation, Mindfulness & Sleep

How a Frozen Shoulder Can Affect Sleep

Below is a short guide that explains what a frozen shoulder is, how it can be treated, and how it can affect your sleep:

Inflamed Connective Tissues Can Cause a Frozen Shoulder

Adhesive capsulitis – more commonly referred to as a frozen shoulder – is a condition in which the connective tissues in the shoulder joint get inflamed, stiff, and tight.

The capsule of the shoulder joint thickens, and it eventually results in the development of a thick band of tissues in the surrounding area with the formation of adhesions.

This leads to a cascade of the inflammatory processes in the shoulder and the patient experiences pain, joint stiffness, and limitation of the range of movement (1, 2).

Previous Injuries Can Lead to a Frozen Shoulder

The risk of developing a frozen shoulder is higher if the patient has a history of neglecting adequate treatment of any previous shoulder injuries, such as tendinitis.

According to statistical data, approximately ten percent of people who have been previously diagnosed with rotator cuff disorders tend to develop a frozen shoulder in the future.

The underlying reason for this magnitude can be attributable to negligence and underestimation of the importance of exercise therapy after shoulder injuries or rotator cuff disorders.

For instance, if the patient wears a support sling continuously for more than a few days without intermittent stretching or light exercises, the risk of developing a frozen shoulder is likely to increase.

In addition to the above-mentioned reasons, there can be other medical conditions, such as thyroid disorders, or forced immobility after surgery, which tend to increase the risk of development of a frozen shoulder.

The Shoulder Can Be Freezing, Frozen, or Thawing

Frozen shoulder can be quite a painful condition for the patient as it severely limits the range of shoulder movements, both with and without assistance.

The characteristic symptoms of this ailment are joint stiffness and severe pain experienced while mobilizing the shoulder joint (1).

Usually, doctors recognize three clinical stages of frozen shoulder, namely:

  • Freezing.
  • Frozen.
  • Thawing.

The symptoms in each of these three stages vary and it is classical to identify these stages in the patient as follows:

  • During the freezing stage, the range of motion becomes very limited and the patient experiences pain upon very little movement.
  • During the frozen stage, the pain lessens to some extent but the stiffness in the shoulder and limited ability to move the shoulder persists.
  • During the thawing stage, the patient begins to notice a gradual improvement as the symptoms begin to resolve (2).

A Frozen Shoulder is Often More Painful at Night

It is well known that all types of inflammatory conditions – including adhesive capsulitis or frozen shoulder – tend to become worse during the night due to several reasons, such as: slower body reactions at nighttime, limited flow of blood, and overall increased stiffness (2).

Often, the patient complains of waking up with a stiffer joint and experiencing significantly increased pain in the morning (1, 2).

It is also not uncommon for patients to struggle with their sleep while they are recovering from a frozen shoulder.

Patients usually have difficulties in finding a suitable sleeping position that would minimize the pressure on their affected shoulder joint, although back sleeping is typically the most comfortable position for many patients.

Frozen Shoulder Treatments Include Medication and Exercise

The main aim of treating a frozen shoulder is to reduce the pain and regain maximum mobility (1,2).

In general, most doctors prefer an individualized treatment approach, hence, they are likely to recommend a combination of the several treatment options listed below.

Overall, the basic management of a frozen shoulder involves the use of medications to relieve pain and doing exercises to regain movement.

The pain management can be achieved through oral drugs or through injections directly into the affected shoulder joint, and the exercise regimen can include both at-home exercises and those which require the guidance of a physiotherapist.

The main frozen shoulder treatments are listed below:

i) Over-the-counter Analgesics

In order to achieve analgesia or pain relief, you may consider taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen or diclofenac, which is usually easily available over the counter at any local pharmacy.

ii) Prescription Painkillers or Injections

If your pain is severe, you may consider taking some stronger painkillers which are dispensable by prescription only.

It is important that you clearly describe the character and intensity of your pain to your doctor and discuss your worries at length without any hesitations.

In some cases, your doctor may inject a steroid in your shoulder joint to ease your pain and relieve the swelling and stiffness in your shoulder joint.

iii) At-home Exercises

It is crucial to try to get the movement back in your affected joint.

To achieve this, your doctor will likely recommend that you practice a few shoulder exercises at home once your pain resolves to some extent.

Usually, these are easy to do functional exercises which are aimed at increasing the range of movement of the affected joint.

iv) Physiotherapy

Despite doing the recommended exercises at home, sometimes it might be necessary to consult a physiotherapist to obtain additional help in regaining the full range of joint movement.

Scientific studies suggest that physiotherapy can significantly improve the stretch and strength of a recovering frozen shoulder (1, 2).

However, it is quite likely that you may require more than one session of physiotherapy in order to achieve optimal results.

Conclusion: Combine Treatments

To sleep better with a frozen shoulder, taking doctor prescribed pain medications, sleeping on your back, and following a rehabilitation program are the most effective techniques and your doctor will likely advise that you do all three.

Up next: 12 thought and relaxation strategies to help you sleep.


Sources and References

(1) NCBI – Frozen shoulder: A systematic review of therapeutic options. Accessed 24/3/21.

(2) NCBI – Current concepts of natural course and in management of frozen shoulder: A clinical overview. Accessed 24/3/21.

(3) PubMed – Sleep quality and nocturnal pain in patients with shoulder disorders. Accessed 24/3/21.

(4) PubMed – Sleep quality, pain, anxiety, depression and quality of life in patients with frozen shoulder. Accessed 24/3/21.

(5) PubMed – Sleep Quality in Patients With Rotator Cuff Disease. Accessed 24/3/21.

Medical Disclaimer

No part of this article or website offers medical advice – always consult with your own doctor for the best medical guidance for you.

Image Attribution and Licencing

Main image: ‘Woman Suffering From Neck and Shoulder Pain in Bed’ by Doucefleur (Getty Images) – used with permission under the terms of Canva’s One Design Use License Agreement.

 

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