How to Sleep With Lower Back Pain

Apr 29, 2022

How-to-Sleep-With-Lower-Back-PainSleep is incredibly important for the human body. In addition to resting our minds, sleep is when the body is able to heal and restore itself the fastest. But when you are suffering from lower back pain, sleep can feel anything but calming or restful. While the goal is to fix the underlying issue and relieve your pain long-term, there are ways to manage lower back pain to help you sleep more comfortably and prevent further damage. Working with chiropractors and car accident doctors can help you heal from any damage and work towards more restful nights.

About Lower Back Pain

While any part of the back can be subject to pain and injuries, the lower back is the most commonly affected. This is because the lower back is a complex series of structures that need to work together to serve their function. Also known as the lumbar spine, the lower back includes five vertebrae and their interlocking discs, as well as the ligaments that hold them in place. This is surrounded by muscles that support the spine and tendons that allow connection to the spine. The spinal column also contains nerves that deliver signals throughout the body.

The lower back is tasked with supporting the majority of the body’s weight and stabilizing the spine. It also allows for many movements, such as standing, walking, sitting, or lying down. When these systems are not working together properly, it can cause pain and impact quality of life. Most people will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives, though it can range from mild to severe and may be short-lived or a lifelong issue.

Lower back pain is split into two main categories: acute and chronic.

  • Acute lower back pain is short-term, usually lasting no more than a few weeks. In most cases, this is related to a specific event or circumstance, like an identifiable injury or event that may have strained the back. Once the back pain has resolved, there is no ongoing impact on mobility or quality of life.
  • Chronic lower back pain goes on for three months or longer and may not be easily linked to an injury or other event. Once left untreated, this kind of back pain will not go away on its own.

Over time, acute pain that is not properly treated or managed can become chronic.

Sleep and Lower Back Pain

There is a distinct connection between sleep and lower back pain, which has been shown to be a two-way relationship that can lead to mutual reinforcement.

Discomfort, like back pain, can be a major issue when it comes to sleep. If you are uncomfortable, it can make falling asleep difficult or cause constant waking in response to pain. At the same time, people who have existing sleep problems are more likely to begin having pain or worsening symptoms of existing conditions. This is potentially related to sleep deprivation and the way it can impact healing, as well as the mental impact it can have, which heightens pain sensitivity.

When it comes to lower back pain specifically, sleep position is also a common factor in spinal alignment and potential issues. Posture is typically associated with sitting or standing, but it is also related to lying down, and when the spine is not well aligned or the body moves in unnatural ways, it can place pressure on the lumbar spine.

Best Sleep Positions for Lower Back Pain

Generally speaking, it is recommended to sleep on your back when possible, with a pillow that keeps your neck in a neutral position. However, for many people with lower back pain, lying flat in this way can exacerbate pain, making it difficult. Others simply find it hard to sleep in this way.

If you are suffering from lower back pain, these sleep positions are designed to help relieve symptoms and improve your quality of sleep.

Side Sleeping with a Pillow Between Your Legs

When sleeping on your side, be sure that your right or left shoulder is making contact with the mattress, along with the rest of that side of your body. Place a pillow between your knees. If there is a gap between your waist and the mattress, you can use another small pillow there for added support.

Resist the urge to always sleep on the same side and instead alternate each night. Always sleeping on one side can lead to muscle imbalances or even more severe issues like scoliosis.

The key to this position is the pillow between your knees, not just sleeping on your side. The pillow allows your hips, pelvis, and spine to remain aligned throughout the night.

Side Sleeping in the Fetal Position

If your lower back pain is caused or exacerbated by a herniated disc, sleeping on your side in a fetal position can be helpful. To do so, you can lay on your back and then gently roll over onto either side (again alternating each night). Tuck your knees toward your chest and carefully curl your torso toward the knees.

The curling part of the position helps to open up the spaces between vertebrae, allowing the discs more room to return to their natural position.

Stomach Sleeping with a Pillow Under Your Abdomen

In general, sleeping on your stomach is not recommended for anyone because it puts additional strain on the neck. But if you find this most comfortable, you can make it a better option by placing a pillow under your pelvis and lower abdomen to relieve pressure off of your back. Depending on how you feel, you may or may not use a pillow under your head.

The pillow under your head can relieve stress that is placed on the space between discs, helping to prevent issues that may arise from degenerative disc disease.

Back Sleeping with a Pillow Under Your Knees

If you are able to sleep on your back, this can be one of the best positions to relieve pain. Sleeping on your back allows your weight to be evenly distributed and spread across the widest area of your body, which places less strain on pressure points. It also allows for better alignment of the spine and internal organs.

To make back sleeping more comfortable, you can place a pillow underneath your knees to keep the spine neutral. The pillow is important as it keeps the curve in your lower back which is otherwise lost when on your back. If needed, you can also place a small, rolled-up towel under the small of your back for additional support.

Back Sleeping with a Recline

You may have heard people with chronic back issues talk about sleeping in a recliner to find comfort. While a chair isn’t the best choice, certain conditions mean that a reclined position is the best option as it creates an angle between your thighs and trunk which reduces pressure on the spine.

The best way to do this is to invest in an adjustable bed, rather than using pillows which can be uneven and cause more issues.

Alignment Is Important

Whatever position you sleep in, the most important piece is that the spine is in alignment. Focus on your ears, shoulder, and hips to help you keep this alignment correct. If you notice any gaps between your body and the bed, use pillows and rolled-up towels to fill the gaps and reduce strain on the muscles and spine.

Another way to prevent pain is to avoid too many twists and turns when in bed, as this can cause the body to get out of alignment. If you do need to move, keep your core tight and pulled in and move your entire body together. Rolling over can be helped by bringing your knees toward your chest.

Pillows and Mattresses

Your bed and surrounding environment can be important for relieving back pain, as they should provide adequate support.

A pillow should cradle your head and neck, supporting the upper portion of your spine. The pillow should never come under your shoulder, but the type of pillow that works best will differ based on the position that you sleep in.

  • Back sleepers: Any pillow you use should completely fill the space between your neck and mattress. A good choice may be thinner pillows or ones with extra padding on the bottom to support the neck. Memory foam can mold specifically to the neck, and water pillows offer firm support.
  • Stomach sleepers: The best pillow choice for stomach sleepers is an extremely thin one or even no pillow at all under your head. If you are trying to transition away from stomach sleeping, you can try holding a body pillow which helps you feel like something is against your stomach and keeps your body aligned.
  • Side sleepers: A firm pillow or one with an extra-wide gusset can help fill the space between your ear and shoulders. A pillow or rolled towel between your knees is also important here.

Whatever pillows you use, it is important to change them out roughly every 18 months as they can hold a lot of mold and dust mites, even when protectors are used. In addition to pillows, the mattress you choose can also be important.

Most chiropractors and doctors recommend very firm orthopedic mattresses to people with lower back pain, but there is also some evidence that very firm mattresses contribute to poorer quality of sleep. However, a mattress that is too soft is also problematic for alignment.

The best thing you can choose is usually a firm or medium-firm mattress made with good-quality innersprings or foam. If you already own an innerspring mattress, you can add a memory foam mattress topper to make it better for your back.

Testing a mattress for a few moments is usually not enough to understand if a mattress will help your lower back pain. Some companies will let you use a mattress for a trial period and return or exchange it if it doesn’t work for you. Another way to test if a firmer mattress would help is by placing an inexpensive plywood board under your current mattress or placing the mattress on the floor to reduce the movement of the springs.

Sleep Hygiene Tips

Getting better rest at night can help your body to heal faster and improve your overall health. While it may not be enough to reverse any damage, keeping up with good sleep habits can help relieve some pain and improve your mood overall.

One of the best things you can do for your health is to adhere to a regular sleep schedule. Having both wake times and bedtimes that are somewhat consistent help your body fall into a natural sleeping pattern. You should aim for about eight hours of sleep per night. If you struggle with a sleep schedule, you can start by putting together a nightly routine. Choose two soothing activities that help you relax, like reading or taking a bath, and try to avoid screens in the hour before bed.

If you struggle to fall asleep, try saving things like caffeine and other stimulants for the morning and early afternoon. You should also save hard exercise for these hours to give your body the chance to reduce adrenaline levels.

When to Seek Care for Lower Back Pain

Adjusting your sleep environment can help prevent worsening of spine conditions and relieve symptoms, but it will not heal the underlying problem that is causing the back pain. If you experience lower back pain that lasts more than a few days or is not relieved by basic home remedies, it is a good idea to seek care from a chiropractor who can help determine a treatment plan.

When you visit AICA Marietta, our team of specialists will work to help you understand what is going on that causes your back pain and then create a personalized plan to help you find relief. With chiropractors, physical therapists, pain management specialists, and other experts on the team, you will receive holistic care aimed at your concerns and needs. Contact us today to get started.



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