For individuals suffering from back pain, getting a good night’s rest can often be a challenge. However, some people report feeling relief from the strain on their aching backs after sleeping in specific positions. Often misunderstood, it’s strongly believed that certain forms of back pain can be associated with sleep complications, including an improper sleeping posture.
“There is not a lot of science behind sleep as a major cause of back pain,” stated Santhosh Thomas, DO, a spine specialist with the Cleveland Clinic and associate medical director of the Richard E. Jacobs Medical Center in Avon, Ohio. However, experts do claim that individuals with sleep problems experience more complications regarding back pain. “Sleep deprivation is known to affect mood and functional ability as well as negatively impact perception of pain,” Dr. Thomas quoted. According to the National Sleep Foundation, pain in turn can affect the quality of an individual’s sleep, leading to a lighter sleep state and more frequent waking throughout the night.
A study published in the Asian Spine Journal in 2014 involving more than 3,100 people found that more than 32 percent of those individuals with low back pain suffered from sleep disturbances due to their back pain symptoms, waking a minimum of two times during the night. Additionally, improper sleeping posture can place increased pressure on the neck, shoulders, hips, lower back, knees and even the heels, all which can result in pain. There’s not a specific sleep position that can ultimately eliminate back pain for everyone, but a few methods can help manage the symptoms to help individuals sleep more soundly throughout the night.
Sleeping on your stomach is one of the most common sleep position which can aggravate back pain. “Typically, sleeping on your stomach can flatten the natural curve of the spine, putting some additional strain on your back muscles,” Santhosh Thomas said. “Plus, stomach sleeping means that your neck is rotated, which can actually result in back pain between the shoulders,” added Paul Grous, MSPT, a physical therapist and spine specialist with Good Sheppard Penn Partners in greater Philadelphia.
While several sleep positions can create back complications, the source of many individuals’ back pain and symptoms is frequently caused by their daily activities or a lack of it. It is believed that the biggest factor contributing to the development of back complications among the general population is the amount of time people spend sitting during their waking hours in an improper posture. Sitting for extended periods of time behind a desk in a slouched posture with a rounded back can strain as well as increase the pressure on the structures surrounding the spine. During daylight hours, its essential to stand, walk, or stretch as often as possible and practice good posture when standing and sitting to help ease back pain at night.
Furthermore, several simple modifications to an individual’s regular sleep position can help reduce the pressure on their back. For those who sleep on their back, you can place a pillow under your knees to allow the spine to maintain its natural curve. For those who sleep on their stomach, place a pillow under the lower abdomen and pelvis to ease back strain. And last but not least, for those individuals who sleep on their sides, draw your legs up slightly towards your chest and sleep with a pillow, preferably a full body pillow, between your knees.
Also, a selected mattress and pillow according to each person’s individual preference in comfort can help improve back pain symptoms. Some people prefer the firmness of a harder mattress while others are more comfortable on a softer mattress. In the same way, some people may find it helpful to use a contoured pillow to help improve neck pain symptoms or sleeping on a single pillow as compared to multiple pillows can alleviate neck strain. Whatever your preference and comfort, its essential for every individual experiencing some form of back pain to find the best suitable sleep position, mattress, and pillow for them to relieve or even eliminate their back pain.
If after a few changes to your sleep regimen, the symptoms of back pain don’t improve, make sure you seek immediate medical attention to properly diagnose any possible injuries or underlying conditions that could be the source of your pain, discomfort, and sleep problems.
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For individuals suffering from back pain, getting a good night’s rest can often be a challenge. However, some people report feeling relief from the strain on their aching backs after sleeping in specific positions. Often misunderstood, it’s strongly believed that certain forms of back pain can be associated with sleep complications, including an improper sleeping posture. For more information, please feel free to ask Dr. Jimenez or contact us at (915) 850-0900.
By Dr. Alex Jimenez
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The information herein on "Sleep Postures Associated with Back Pain" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, or licensed physician, and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make your own healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.
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