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Best sleeping position for lower back pain

Lower back pain afflicts most adults in industrialized countries at some point in their lives. It has been estimated that, in the United States alone, nearly 150 million work days per year are lost due to back pain.1

Anyone that has experienced lower back pain might not be surprised by these numbers. However, there is hope: the way you position your body at night can decrease your lower back pain. That is why it is important to learn the best sleeping position for lower back pain.

Which positions work best

It is important to keep in mind that if your back pain continues for more than a few months, you should see a doctor to diagnose what is causing the back pain. However, there are ways to position your body at night that can help reduce or even eliminate the pain.

You may have discovered by trial and error that when you have your upper legs drawn upwards towards your body while lying down, your back is more comfortable. This position reduces the amount of strain on your lumbar region, the area on your back below your ribs that is what we refer to as the lower back. As a result, sleeping positions that allow you to keep your legs tucked in this way have been shown to reduce lower back pain.2

In practice, this means there are basically two options. One is to sleep on your side with your knees up in front of you. The other is to sleep on your back with your legs supported by a pillow, so that your hips are rotated forward just like you were on your side.

Sleeping face down, or prone, does not provide a way for you to tuck your legs and rotate your hips, and as a result is not good for lower back pain. But if you must sleep on your stomach, the best way to do this is to place a pillow under your hips and try sleeping without a pillow under your head.

Maintaining the best position

Positioning yourself to alleviate your lower back pain is great in theory, but if you stir and shift during the night, you could end up oriented in a way that could undo your carefully chosen posture.

For example, one insomnia type is the inability to remain asleep as long as you would like to. If insomnia makes you wake periodically throughout the night, you could end up so focused on how to fall asleep fast that you forget to position yourself for back relief.

If you think you may suffer from a sleep disorder, find a sleep specialist that can help you. Lack of sleep effects can be as hard to live with as back pain!

FAQs

How do you loosen a tight lower back?

Just like any muscle region, tightness in the lower back responds to stretching. The lumbar region can be stretched with what is called a slump stretch, where you sit on the floor with your legs in front of you and slump downwards from your head.3 Imagine you are trying to curl the top of your body downwards. Holding for thirty seconds and repeating this twice per session, two times a week, can loosen a tight lower back.

Why won’t my lower back pain go away?

Lower back pain from muscle or ligament strain due to unaccustomed exercise or lifting may spontaneously resolve after a few days. The muscles and connecting tissues in your lower back can become sore in the same way that other parts of your body do after intense usage. If the lower back pain doesn’t seem to be related to physical activity, or if it continues for more than a few days, the pain may be caused by a more serious issue.
For example, a slipped or otherwise damaged disc between two vertebrae can cause severe back pain that may not resolve quickly. The specific cause of persistent lower back pain should only be diagnosed by a doctor or medical professional.4

How should I sleep with lower back pain?

There are a few options for the easiest way to fall asleep if you suffer from lower back pain. The key is to keep your spine in as straight a line as possible. This rules out sleeping in a prone, or face down, position, as it forces your lower back to curve sharply. Sleeping on your side with your legs bent into a sitting position, or on your back with your knees elevated has been shown to reduce lower back pain.5 Changing your posture can be an effective home remedy to help you sleep.

 

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Resources

  1. https://www.who.int/medicines/areas/priority_medicines/Ch6_24LBP.pdf
  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/multimedia/sleeping-positions/sls-20076452?s=2
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3267445/
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20369906
  5. https://content.iospress.com/articles/work/wor2243#wor-53-wor2243-g001
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