The Best Way to Sleep with Lower Back Pain | Total Performance Physical Therapy

The Best Way to Sleep with Lower Back Pain

September 28, 2021

When people treat back pain on their own, they usually do it through some type of anti-inflammatory and rest, meaning laying flat on your back on the couch.  This treatment of back pain only keeps the underlying problems going until eventually it fails, and you wind up in the ER or urgent care because it has gotten so bad you cannot walk or go to work.  Laying flat on your back is rarely the answer to solving back pain.

However, your sleeping position and how you sleep at night is one of the best ways of solving low back and preventing it from ever happening.  Regardless of whether you have pain in your back or not, setting yourself up in the proper sleeping position is essential for overall joint and muscle health.  But a proper sleeping position is even more imperative if you are currently suffering or do suffer from back pain.

Sleep is the way the body naturally recovers.  The rest that you get for the hours that you are in bed allow the body to reset and the muscles, joints, and ligaments to heal from the day’s activities.  Even if you sat all day, that puts a strain on your body that it must heal from at night.

We cannot talk about sleep without first addressing the mattress.  Having a firm supportive mattress is essential in being able to maintain proper posture.  Pillow top mattresses and soft mattresses and old mattresses cannot support the body as it needs to be.  Mattresses that are over 10 years old should be replaced.  Mattresses that are too soft should be replaced.

However, buying a new mattress is the not the only thing that needs to be considered.  Many people buy a new mattress thinking that it is the only solution.  But that solves only part of the problem.  How you sleep on that mattress needs to look at and addressed.

For starters, you should never sleep on your stomach.  Sleeping on your stomach can cause back pain and make existing back pain and sciatica worse.  Sleeping on your back puts an arch in your back that causes pain and injury even while you are sleeping.  Therefore, stomach sleeping with back pain needs to be avoided.

The best way to sleep when you are dealing with back pain is on your back.  Not completely flat with your legs stretched out, but flat with your legs elevated on pillows so that your back is able to lay flat against the bed.

The biggest mistake that people make when they are laying on their back is the put one or two pillows underneath their legs.  Then when the weight of their legs goes onto the pillows it flattens them out and they are basically laying flat.  It is important to remember that the pillows that go under your legs need to be firm enough to support your legs and bring your lower back into a position where is lying flat against the bed.  Watch the video to see how high your legs should be when you are laying down.

It is also important to pay attention to the pillow you have at your head.  You want the pillow to be flat enough that it doesn’t prop your head up, but you don’t want it to be too flat so that your head bends back.  Down pillows are not a great option.

You also only want to sleep with one pillow.  It is important to know that whether you are sitting or standing that the position of your head also affects the lower back so you can’t have good sleeping position if your head is not in proper position.

If you are someone that likes to roll out of the position of being on your back, you can also put a pillow under each arm.  This will put the shoulders in good posture but also will make it harder for you to roll when you fall asleep.  And if you do happen to roll in the middle of the night, no worries, just reposition yourself the way you were set up to begin with.  It will take your body some time to get used to sleeping on the back in this position especially if you have never done it.

If sleeping on your back is not working you can also sleep on your side.  You will need a side sleeper pillow for your head.  This is a thick, not at all fluffy pillow that allows for your head to be in correct position and your shoulder to be able to stay directly under you.  You should not roll forward or backward to make room for your shoulders nor should your head slump down.  It should be in a nice straight position even when you lay down.

You should also have a pillow in between your knees.  This will allow the hips and low back to stay in alignment as you sleep.  It can be a special wedge or just a medium thick pillow that can go between your ankles and your knees.  And if you find that you still have a slump in your back you can position a small towel rolled up underneath your side right above your hip bone to maintain a straight spine.

Find the position that is right for you because how you recover at night can keep you from a lifetime of chronic pain.

If you or someone you know is suffering from low back pain and wants a FREE consultation with a Doctor of Physical therapy, click here and enter your information or call our office at 215-997-9898 and we would be happy to get you in!