Lower back pain after sleeping is common. Why? Because most people don’t know the best way to sleep with low back pain! Keep reading to learn how to position your body to avoid low back pain while you sleep.
Sleeping is a way for your body to rejuvenate, recover, heal, and restore. It’s science. We are designed to need sleep, otherwise our body can’t function properly. Therefore, sleep should be designed and strategized to optimize our ability to function during the day.
When you have lower back pain while sleeping, it disrupts your body’s ability to repair itself. Sleeping in the correct position, without pain, helps existing back problems heal and decreases the chances of waking up with a sore back after sleeping.
The key to eliminating lower back pain after sleeping is to keep the spine in a “neutral” and restful position. This is a position where your muscles are not pulling or putting tension on your spine, and your joints are not strained.
Back pain after sleeping on your back
Do you have a sore back after sleeping supine? Lower back pain after sleeping on your back occurs most commonly due to tight hip flexors. When you lie flat on your back, tight hip flexor muscles (which most all of us have because of sitting too much) rotate your pelvis forward, causing your lower back to arch. This arch in your low back can put tension on the facet joints in your lumbar spine, your ligaments, and your nerves.
To avoid lower back pain while sleeping on your back, use a knee wedge pillow to keep your spine in a neutral position. When you sleep with a slight bend in your hip and knees, it prevents your hip flexors from rotating your pelvis forward. This position eliminates the arch in your lower back that you have when you lie flat.
Sore back after sleeping on your side?
If you have a sore back after sleeping on your side, it’s because when you side sleep, it’s harder to keep your spine in a neutral position. The side of your body has natural curvatures (think hips, waist, rib cage). This means that sleeping on these curves, while trying to keep a neutral spine, is a little more difficult.
The best way to avoid lower back pain after sleeping on your side is to fill in the curves on the side of your body so that while you sleep, your spine is in a neutral position. To do this, you will lie on a side sleeper wedge so that it fills in your waist area (the area between the bottom of your rib cage and the top of your hip bone.) A side sleeper wedge keeps your spine in a neutral position while you sleep, giving it a chance to rejuvenate overnight.
To maintain the alignment of your hips, and to make sure that your hip muscles are not pulling on your back, side sleepers also need to use a leg separator pillow. This pillow should do 2 things:
- Support the entire length of your leg from your pubic bone down to your feet.
- Hold your top leg as close to parallel with your bed as possible.
Sleeping in this position keeps your hip muscles relaxed and ensures your muscles and tendons are not pulling on your spine in an unhealthy way.
Sore back after sleeping on your stomach?
Honestly, that makes sense. Lower back pain after sleeping on your stomach occurs because stomach sleeping puts your low back into and extended position (excessive arching). This excessive arch can compress your lumbar facet joints as well as decrease the opening where the nerve roots come out of your spine.
Additionally, some studies have shown that individuals who sleep on their stomach are at a higher risk for stroke due their head position. Most people who sleep on their stomach turn their head completely to one side or the other. This position can compress the vertebral artery and overtime this can be very damaging.
The best alternative to this position is the 3/4 turn position which you can read more about in the linked article. This position is for people that like the tactile feedback of pressure against the front of their body, but also want to maintain a “neutral” or elongated spine.
If you are having lower back pain after sleeping, could it be because of your positioning? Most of the time the answer is yes. Now that you know how to sleep with back pain, make the necessary changes and get back to the revitalizing sleep that your body craves!
-Bryan Blare, Doctor of Physical Therapy