The key to finding the best way to sleep with upper back pain is correct positioning. Keep reading to learn how a wedge pillow can help you combat pain in your neck or upper back.
The best way to sleep with upper back pain is to keep your neck and upper back aligned. When you stand upright, your neck is not rotated or bending to the side. It should not be when you sleep, either. The only difference between standing and sleeping is that when you sleep, pillows should maintain your good posture rather than your muscles.
Stomach sleepers; don’t do it
Sleeping on your stomach is not the best way to sleep with upper back pain. Stomach sleeping puts substantial strain on your neck and back and should be avoided. A much better position is the 3-quarter turn position.
If you like to sleep on your stomach, the 3-quarter turn is the best sleeping position for upper back pain. To get in this position you will need a supportive leg separator pillow and neck pillow. Try facing both right and left to see which is more comfortable.
To face right:
- Your right arm, right half of torso, and right leg will be resting on top of the body pillow
- Your left arm will be relaxed and resting beside your left hip
- The body pillow will be supporting the right half of your body so you feel like you are partially resting on your stomach and partially resting on your side
For your neck, use a supportive neck pillow that completely fills the space between your ear and shoulder. In this position your body should not turn independently of your neck, they are rotating as a unit. You should be able to draw a straight line from the top of your head, through your nose, chin, and upper spine.
Eliminating side sleeper upper back pain
Side sleeper upper back pain is often a direct result of spinal misalignment. To correct this, you first need a side sleeper wedge. A side sleeper wedge fills in the gap between your hip and ribcage. It keeps your lower spine straight instead of dipping down towards your bed. When you side sleep without back support, your lumbar spine curves, which puts strain on your upper spine and neck.
After supporting your lower spine with a side sleeper wedge, a supportive neck pillow will position your upper spine correctly. For side sleepers, an ideal option to accomplish this is a neck wedge pillow. When you lie down on a neck wedge pillow, you know it is supporting you well if you can draw a straight line from the top of your head, through your nose, neck, and upper spine. There should be no side bending or rotation in your neck. There should also be no gap between your pillow and your shoulder.
Another advantage of using the side sleeper wedge and neck wedge pillow is the extra support offloads the shoulder you sleep on. Instead of the shoulder closest to the bed supporting your body weight, the pillows do the job of supporting your body.
One last tip: be sure your upper back and neck are not curling into a “c.” If you notice you are curling up, try using a leg separator pillow. Resting your top leg and arm on a leg separator pillow can take away the urge to curl your spine.
Back sleepers; best position for upper back pain
The best way to sleep with upper back pain for back sleepers is at a slight incline. Sleeping flat on your back can increase pain on an already sore upper back. An incline wedge pillow will reduce pressure on your spine.
Depending on your preference, a 7- or 10-inch tall wedge pillow will give you the incline you need. Your regular neck pillow will rest on top of the wedge pillow to support your neck. This position gives your spine the additional support while still allowing you to sleep on your back.
A knee wedge pillow should also be used while sleeping on your back. Resting your legs on a leg wedge when lying on your back will offload your hips and low back, allowing your spine to fully relax. When your spine is fully relaxed, you can fully relax.
Now that you have an idea about your best sleeping position for upper back pain, get ready to sleep well and enjoy the mornings again!
-Hillary Blare, Doctor of Physical Therapy