Can You Sleep With a Shoulder Sling On?
According to studies, as many as 18% to 26% of adults deal with shoulder pain. If you're one of these patients, or if you've injured your shoulder, your doctor may have told you to wear a sling. If this is your first time doing so, you may be wondering, "Can you sleep with a shoulder sling on?"
Yes, you can. In fact, even the National Health Service recommends sleeping with a shoulder sling. Your doctor will also give you instructions on its proper use, especially while you sleep.
How Can You Sleep With a Shoulder Sling on?
With your shoulder sling on, sleep on your back in a slightly reclined position. A stack of two to three pillows can give your upper back and injured shoulder enough support. You can also prop up the arm of your recovering shoulder on a smaller pillow placed on top of your torso.
Why Should You Sleep With a Shoulder Sling?
Medical experts say that up to 4% of adults have abnormal sleep movements and behaviors. However, it's more common in children, affecting 15% to 20% of minors.
Either way, these "nocturnal" occurrences can involve tossing and turning in one's sleep. All these movements can affect sleep quality in people with or without injury. For instance, they can give rise to restless sleep and other sleep disorders.
This means that such movements can already affect otherwise healthy people. So, just imagine what they can do to those with injuries.
The thing is, immobilization is a crucial part of soft tissue recovery. For instance, immobilizing a sprained or dislocated shoulder helps prevent re-injury. If you restrict the movement of damaged tissues, you can reduce the risks of tearing them again.
With a dislocated shoulder, slinging secures the injured joint in its proper position. By limiting movement, slinging helps to "glue" the shoulder back in its natural place. This also helps prevent further dislocations from occurring.
So, if you toss and turn at night, you're at even more risk of injuring your shoulder again. That's why you need to use a shoulder immobilizer sling while you sleep. It's also important to sleep with your sling on because it's at night that the body heals injuries faster.
How Else Can Sleeping With a Sling After Shoulder Surgery or Injury Help?
Since a sling protects your injured shoulder, it can help hasten your recovery. In addition, scientists found that immobilization affects healing on a cellular level. They found that movement restriction alters the way stem cells work.
Stem cells, in turn, are cells that can develop into many other types of cells. They also function as one of the body's repair systems. It's because of these healing effects that stem cell therapy has grown in popularity.
Sleeping with a shoulder sling can also help ease pain from involuntary movement. Moreover, an arm sling for shoulder pain can work to reduce swelling. Researchers also say that sling exercises have the potential to reduce low back pain.
Once you can start moving your shoulder gradually, slinging helps prevent hyperflexion. It’s vital to mobilize your shoulder as soon as your doctor allows you to, as this is key to preventing stiffness.
This means that you can exercise with a shoulder sling, provided that it’s adjustable. Otherwise, moving your shoulder while it's on a super-tight sling can cause it to hurt more.
A too-loose sling can also raise your risk of developing another injury. Without enough restriction, you may end up overextending the tissues in your shoulder. Since your tissues are still recovering, they are more vulnerable to further damage.
Mobilization can help keep stiffness at bay, but you need to get your doctor's okay first. This means you may have to wait for one to three weeks after your injury before you can use your shoulder again.
How Long Should You Use a Sling When You Sleep?
Immobilization is key during weeks one through three of an acute musculoskeletal injury. These "acute injuries" include minor shoulder sprains, strains, and partial dislocations. Proper immobilization helps prevent the disruption of fibroblast formation.
Fibroblasts are cells that produce collagen proteins. Collagen, in turn, is the main structural protein found in connective tissues. They are crucial rebuilders of injured tissues, such as a sprain or strained shoulder.
As such, you likely must wear your sling to sleep for one to three weeks for a minor shoulder injury. For more severe sprains, strains, or dislocations, you might have to "sling to sleep" for four to six weeks.
However, if you have a fractured shoulder, expect a recovery period of at least 12 weeks. Some researchers say that it may take up to 37 weeks or more for more severe broken shoulder bones.
In any case, your doctor will tell you exactly how long you need to wear your sling to sleep. Be sure to follow your physician's instructions to avoid another injury.
How Do You Sleep With a Sling After Shoulder Surgery or Injury?
Pillows and adjustable shoulder slings will help limit your movements during sleep. However, you may have to change a few things when it comes to your sleeping positions.
You can use the following tips to help you get better sleep with a shoulder injury.
Ice Before You Go to Sleep
Ice or cold therapy during the first few days after the shoulder injury can help ease swelling. It can also dampen the pain that you're more than likely to feel following a shoulder injury. Try icing your shoulder half an hour before you put your sling on and prepare yourself for bed.
Keep Your Back Reclined
Your shoulder is naturally higher than your heart. However, lying down places your shoulder on the same level as your heart. Your shoulder may even sink lower if you sleep on an old mattress.
A reclined sleep position helps ensure your injured shoulder remains elevated. Elevation, in turn, is the practice of positioning an injured area of the body at or above the heart's level. If you do this during the first few days after your shoulder injury, the swelling can go down faster.
Sleep on Your Back or Your Uninjured Side
The fetal position, which 4 in 10 people favor, is one of the most common sleeping positions. On top of this is the "log" position, another form of side-sleeping, preferred by 15% of the population.
If you're a side-sleeper, then make sure you sleep on the side without the shoulder sling. Hopefully, the side that you favor isn't the location of your shoulder injury. Either way, sleeping on your uninjured side can further help elevate the injured one.
To help prevent moving during sleep, place a few stacked pillows right behind your back. These can serve as a "wall," helping minimize your tossing and turning.
Prop Up Your Arm
If you're going to sleep on your back, you can boost shoulder elevation with another pillow on your chest. Slowly position the arm with the injured shoulder over the cushion. Your arm should feel as comfortable as possible on your side.
To further restrict sleep movement, stack a few more pillows on the side of your injured arm. As with the back "wall," these extra cushions can also block abnormal arm movements at night.
Use the Appropriate Sling
Dislocated shoulder braces are better for immobilizing more serious injuries than standard slings. They are more ideal for restricting damaged joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. However, the best ones still provide comfort through soft and breathable materials.
Invest in an Adjustable Shoulder Sling
Adjustability is key to a perfect shoulder sling fit. If you use adjustable shoulder support, you don't have to worry about a too-tight or too-loose sling. You can avoid over-compression or accidental hyperflexion of your shoulder tissues.
Also, the greater the level of flexibility, the more use you can get out of your shoulder sling. Remember: you'd need to move your injured arm after a few days or weeks of rest. However, you'd need to exercise it while still wearing a sling.
If the sling lacks adjustability, then you may have to buy another one that lets you move more. By buying the right one from the get-go, you can avoid having to shell out more money later on.
What Should You Avoid When Sleeping With a Shoulder Sling?
Incorrect use of a shoulder sling can cause discomfort or result in new injuries. These mistakes may also result in fluid and blood to build up in your hand or wrist.
As such, it's vital that you know what these errors are so that you can avoid them at all costs. Here are a few don'ts when you need to sleep with a shoulder sling.
Overtightening Your Sling
If you overtighten your sling, you may end up restricting the flow of blood in and out of your injured shoulder. At the very least, this can hinder your recovery as damaged tissues won't get enough nutrients. A too-tight shoulder brace can also dig into your skin, irritating or wounding it.
Worse, long term oxygen deprivation can cause severe damage to your tissues. You may experience numbness or the "pins and needles" sensation in your injured arm. If you feel any of these, make sure you loosen your shoulder sling right away.
If your shoulder sling is too loose, then it won't be able to do its job of securing your shoulder in place. It won't immobilize your injured tissues, so this can result in more pain and injury.
Remember, new tissue injuries are weaker and more sensitive than fully-functional tissues. So, even the slightest movements can already damage still-healing tissues. If this occurs, you're likely to feel stabbing or shooting pains in your shoulder.
Relying Too Much on Your Shoulder Sling
As helpful as shoulder slings are, you shouldn't use them as your only source of treatment. You still need to ice your swollen shoulder and then switch to heat once the inflammation is gone. You should also ask your doctor if you can massage a shoulder sprain or strain.
If your doctor prescribes medications, be sure to follow your physician's directions. However, you should also feel free to tell your doctor if you rather not take strong pain relievers. What's important is to stick to everything else that your healthcare provider tells you to do.
A few days after your injury, your doctor may want you to go in for a second check-up. Be sure to see your physician, as this is a good time to ask about shoulder exercises. If most of the swelling is gone, you may be able to loosen your sling a bit so that you can move your shoulder more.
It's best to mobilize your injury bit by bit and as early as medically possible. This way, you can avoid too much scar tissue from forming in your shoulder. Scar tissue is often a culprit behind shoulder stiffness and pain.
Speaking of mobilization, rely more on your uninjured arm for the first few days after the injury. With the permission of your doctor, you can then "reuse" your recovering arm for lighter tasks.
Proper Use of Shoulder Slings Is Key to a Faster Recovery
There you have it, your ultimate answer guide to the question, "can you sleep with a shoulder sling on?" Now that you know you can, the next step is to make sure you master their correct usage. Proper use of slings, supports, and braces will help you heal faster and avoid new injuries.
If you need a medical-grade shoulder sling that's comfortable to sleep in, we can help. Please feel free to check out PowerRebound's shoulder braces and supports. You can also email us if you have any questions about our products and brace sizes.