How To Fix Back Pain When Sleeping
Why is it that kids (or people who don’t seem to have back problems) can sleep in the strangest, most bizarre positions, but never seem to have any pain?
How is that they can sleep in totally unnatural positions and still sleep just fine?
And why is it that even when I try to sleep in a perfect position, on a great bed, with tons of pillows, I can’t sleep. What the heck is going on?
After many years of sleepless nights, I figured out the answer.
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Table of Contents:
- The Proper Painless Position For Your Spine
- Proper Sleep Positions To Prevent Back Pain When Sleeping
- Which Position is the Best?
The Proper Painless Position For Your Spine
Alright, so you’re going to have to trust me on this next one – your spine wants to be perfectly aligned all day.
Standing, sitting, walking, sleeping – your spine really only has one optimal position, although it’s obviously built to accommodate flexibility and constant motion.
When you mess up that natural, optimal alignment for too long (like when you sit at work for 8 hours and get terrible lower back pain), pain results. Comprende?
Here’s your normal spine:
Here’s a common misalignment of the spine, where the shoulders are hunched and the head pokes out (computer caveman syndrome anyone?):
And here’s another common spinal misalignment that is frequent in many of us who sit a lot. Tight hip muscles cause the lower back to overly arch:
So what do any of these have to do with your sleep?
It’s important to know what proper spinal alignment is versus dysfunctional alignment – so that when you sleep you can quickly remind yourself how to get into a properly aligned position.
The real question is how to keep the natural position of the spine while sleeping.
Proper Sleep Positions To Prevent Back Pain When Sleeping
A. The Fetal Position
Problem #1: The lower back is overly arched
Depending on how tight your hips are, if your legs are too straight, it will pull the lower back into an arched position. If your legs are too bent, tight hamstrings will pull the lower back into an overly-rounded position.
The key is to find the sweet spot in-between.
Problem #2: The back is overly rounded
For many of us with tight hamstrings, tucking the legs up too close to the chest will result in an over-rounding of the lower back.
Problem #3: Shoulders are overly hunched and the head is bent down too much.
For those of you with neck/upper back pain, it’s really important to pay attention to your shoulder and neck alignment.
Problem #4: Head is overly tilted back
Proper Position When Sleeping On Your Side In Fetal Position
B. On The Back
Common Problems: Lower back is overly arched and in pain
Generally, the main problem that people have with back sleeping is that the lower back starts to ache.
Usually this can be because of tight hip muscles like the hip flexors & psoas. It’s pretty easy to figure out if they’re tight: Just bend your knees to a 90 degree angle – when your legs are pulled up, is there less pain and does your lower back feel less arched? If so, it’s probably tight hips.
The easy fix is to simply add a pillow beneath your knees, which will let the lower back settle a bit.
C. On The Stomach
Main Problem: Tight hips cause the lower back to overly arch
The problem here is very similar to the problem that people have with sleeping on their back – but in reverse.
Here, you want to put a pillow or flat towel under your stomach/groin to help push that lower back up into alignment a bit. Usually you can immediately feel the relief.
So Which Sleep Position is The Best If You Get Back Pain When Sleeping?
If you’re having problems with your back or neck, I highly suggest sleeping on your back.
There are a number of reasons for this: first – just from personal experience, sleeping on your back is generally the easiest way to aggravate the fewest number of things (well, except for snoring 😉 ).
When you sleep on your side, you have to worry about your back alignment, neck alignment, your hips twisting, etc. When you sleep on your back there is less than can go wrong and fewer variables to experiment with to get comfortable.
Second, when you sleep on your back, you are naturally laying flat which is letting gravity re-align the body a bit. It’s offsetting the fact that you might have just been sitting in a caveman computer pose for 10 hours (here’s how to fix that back pain).
Also, if you have neck pain, I’ve found that back sleeping is also easier than side sleeping for some people. People with neck pain tend to have protruding necks (in my case – from staring at a computer screen for 10 hours a day). Usually when they go to sleep the neck continues protruding and stays in the poor alignment, reinforcing the pain.
It took me years of waking up to throbbing neck muscles and spasming trapezius muscles, with a crap night of sleep, to realize this.
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If you’re at work, make sure to focus on sitting properly to prevent back pain.
If you’re in pain when you’re sleeping (or when you wake up), take the same precautions – for a few weeks, awkwardly force yourself to get into a more aligned position when you sleep. Missed sleep sucks, and I’ve been there with the back pain. You just need to be patient and experiment.
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