How to Prevent Upper Back Pain or Pain Between Shoulder Blades 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
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.
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.
Other Resources I Recommend
#1 Tools I Use Daily – Theracane and Trigger Point Ball
Another creative solution you can use is put a tennis ball into a sock, sling it over your shoulder, then roll against the wall.
For other parts on my body, I use a trigger point therapy ball. This is primarily something that I travel with, so I can use it while driving, on a plane, in hotels, etc.
#2 Inversion Table
I have no idea if there’s scientific evidence supporting the use of inversion tables for lower back pain, but having recently purchased one for my dad, he said there has been a world of difference in the quick relief it can get.
Curcumin is another supplement gaining major press lately about it’s ability to lower inflammation in the body.
#4 Books That I Use Religiously
Pete Egoscue – Pain Free:
A few of the exercises demonstrated here are ones that I learned from the Egoscue method – one of the only things that has worked for me.
Consistently, after having spoken with chiropractors and doctors, who gave me zero useful advice about self-treating back pain, this book has come through.
You can read more about the book Pain Free on Amazon here.
Esther Gokhale – 8 Steps to a Pain Free Back
Pete’s book is less about how to walk and move on a day to day basis, and shows exercises you can do right now.
Esther’s book is the opposite – it shows you how to sit, stand, sleep, and move to stop and prevent back and neck pain. It was pretty enlightening to see her research based on third world country populations with minimal back pain.
If you feel like you aren’t getting permanent relief, if you can’t sleep from the back pain, or it’s just preventing you from doing all the things you love (like playing with your kids, hiking, traveling, or just bending down to tie your shoe), this course will help.