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back pain when sleeping

Got Back Pain When Sleeping? Here’s How to Fix It (In Pictures)

upper back pain between shoulder blades after sleeping

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.

Exclusive Bonus: Download a bonus step by step guide here to getting pain free (2 tips not mentioned here).

Table of Contents:

  1. The Proper Painless Position For Your Spine
  2. Proper Sleep Positions To Prevent Back Pain When Sleeping
  3. Which Position is the Best?
  4. Troubleshooting

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:


Via Wikipedia

Normal posture - upper back pain between shoulder blades after sleeping

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:


Via University of Maryland Medical Center


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.

Resources and tools mentioned in this article:

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

upper back pain between shoulder blades after sleeping - fetal position

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

upper back pain after sleeping - rounded position

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.

how to get rid of lower back Pain When Sleeping - Fetal Position

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

how to get rid of lower back Pain When Sleeping - Fetal Position

Proper Position When Sleeping On Your Side In Fetal Position

how to get rid of lower back Pain When Sleeping - Fetal Position

back pain between shoulder blades after sleeping - pillow between legs

Resources and tools mentioned:

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.

back pain between shoulder blades after sleeping - pillow between legs

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.

back pain between shoulder blades after sleeping - sleeping on stomach

back pain between shoulder blades after sleeping - sleeping on stomach

Resources and tools mentioned in this article:

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.

Other Resources I Recommend

#1 Tools I Use Daily – Theracane and Trigger Point Ball

The Theracane is the self-massage cane I’ve demonstrated in all these videos, and the primary reason I use it is because it’s hard to get the traps, shoulders, and upper back on your own.

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.

Here’s what they look like:

#3 Supplements That Lower Inflammation

One of the core supplements I usually recommend across the board is Fish Oil.

An interesting feature of back pain is that there are people with structural issues – who have no pain – and people with no structural issues, who have pain.

So it makes one wonder how much inflammation, the microbiome, stress, and emotions affect back pain.

Fish oil and other omega fatty acids help with inflammation, and weight loss too.

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.

You can read about the book 8 Steps to a Pain Free Back here on Amazon.

Trigger Point Therapy Workbook

The trigger point therapy workbook is a book I’ve used to learn where to self-massage using the Theracane (above) and the trigger point therapy ball mentioned above.

Personally, It’s a really useful book for learning the locations to self-massage, as well as learning where pain gets referred from other areas.

You can read more about the Trigger Point Therapy Workbook Here.

Focus on The 3 Major Causes of Back and Neck Pain

If this article helped you, you might want to also check out my course Back Pain Freedom.

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.

It comes complete with HD video demonstrations on every technique (release, postural, and self-massage), so you know exactly what to do when the pain hits (or keeps you up).

If you’re trying to figure out:

  1. Why you get short-term relief, but not long-term relief, you can read more on that here
  2. Why it happens, what causes it, and how to prevent it (see the pictures I put together here)
  3. How to treat acute pain (right now) without painkillers

… Then my course might help you.

You can read all the details about back pain freedom right here.

— Alex