The lower back is made up of a network of intertwined components. It includes the five lumbar vertebrae, each of which is supported by shock-absorbing discs and held in place by ligaments. Tendons connect the muscles of the back to the spine, providing additional support. The spinal column is home to a network of nerves that send messages throughout the body.
To perform any kind of action, you need to have a strong lower back that can handle the weight of your body. The lower back has an important role in movement and comfort, regardless of whether you’re standing, sitting, walking, or lying down.
It’s no wonder that the lower back is a common source of pain, given its intricacy and how much we rely on it. At some point in their lives, eight out of ten people will have back pain, and lower back discomfort is one of the leading causes of visits to the ER and hospital.
Acute back pain can be minor or severe, and it can linger for a short time or be chronic. Even sleep can be disrupted when the condition is severe enough to be debilitating.
Pain and sleep are linked in a complicated way. People who suffer from chronic pain may find it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep, which in turn increases the likelihood that they may have chronic pain. Another cause of lower back pain is sleeping in a position or on a mattress that does not properly support the lumbar spine.
New ways to treating lower back pain can be gleaned by studying the connections between sleep and back pain. Getting enough rest will help keep back pain at bay, and learning how to sleep properly when you’re in pain can hasten your recovery and speed up your recovery.
Types of Lower Back Pain
Generally speaking, acute lower back pain and chronic lower back pain are two distinct categories.
- Acute lower back pain can persist anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the severity of the case. It is frequently linked to a specific incident or injury. When acute back pain subsides, there is no long-term impact on one’s ability to do daily activities.
- Symptoms of chronic lower back pain last for at least three months. It can happen for a variety of reasons, and in many situations, there is no obvious cause.
Chronic lower back pain can develop from acute discomfort in the lower back. Acute low back pain can develop chronic in about 20% of instances, according to estimates.
How Are Sleep and Lower Back Pain Related?
Lower back discomfort and sleep issues have long been linked by researchers, and more and more data suggests that the two may be connected in a way that reinforces one another.
Pain can make it difficult to fall asleep. Lower back pain can prevent you from falling asleep or may cause nightly awakenings due to sharp bursts of agony.
People who have sleep issues are more likely to develop or worsen pain than those who do not. There are a number of theories as to why this occurs, but experts aren’t entirely sure. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to a variety of negative health effects, including decreased immune function, heightened sensitivity to pain, and changes in brain chemistry that influence how we perceive and respond to pain.
How Do Sleeping Positions Affect Lower Back Pain?
When you sleep, your spinal posture might change, which can lead to lower back pain. In addition to while you’re sitting or standing, it’s vital to maintain good posture when you’re lying down.
Pain and stiffness can result from sleeping in a posture that puts pressure on the lumbar spine. In the morning, the discomfort is usually stronger, although it might last all day.
The Best Sleeping Positions for Lower Back Pain
On your side, with your knees slightly bent, is the greatest posture to sleep if you suffer from lower back pain. Keeping the knees bent helps keep the body balanced and reduces pressure on the lower back. A tiny pillow between the knees can make this position more comfortable for many people.
Unfortunately, many people who sleep on their backs or stomachs find it difficult to switch positions at night. In spite of this, there are things people may do to lessen the stress on their lower backs.
- You can use a cushion to support your lower back, legs, or knees to reduce lumbar pressure as you sleep.
- For stomach sleepers, a thin pillow under the head is all that is needed, but the hips and abdomen should be supported by a thicker pillow. This helps to keep the lower back from sinking into a U-shape and therefore pulling the spine out of place.
Some persons with back discomfort utilize an adjustable bed, which allows them to elevate or lower the mattress’ upper or lower portion, thereby reducing lower back tension.
Can Your Mattress Cause Lower Back Pain?
Lower back discomfort can be prevented or reduced in part by using a mattress, which is a primary support system for the body while sleeping.
A mattress that is in good condition and does not sag excessively is required for proper spinal alignment. However, the best firmness for lower back pain depends on a person’s weight and body type, as well as their sleeping posture and personal comfort preferences.
How to Sleep Better With Lower Back Pain
The following is an easy-to-follow method to help you regain your sleep schedule:
1. Sleep on your side to relieve pain from a pulled back muscle
A pulled back muscle is one of the most prevalent causes of lower back discomfort, and it happens when a lower back muscle is overstretched and strained or torn. A torn back muscle’s symptoms usually go away in a few days, but the excruciating agony can keep you up at night. Adding insult to injury, the more time you spend lying in bed, the more deconditioned your body becomes and the more severe your symptoms may become
There is no one-size-fits-all sleeping posture for people with a pulled back muscle, but trying sleeping on your side can be a good starting point. Sleeping on your side, try this method:.
- When it comes to sleeping, avoid the fetal posture in which your knees are tucked in toward your body.
- To maintain your spine’s natural curvature, place a thin pillow between your knees as you sleep at night.
- It is important to get a cushion that supports your head in the middle of your shoulders. Having a pillow that’s either too thin or too thick might put strain on your neck.
If you have a pulled back muscle, you may find it helpful to sleep with it wrapped in a disposable heat wrap. Using these wraps can help you fall asleep faster and remain asleep longer since they give muscle-relaxing, low-level heat for several hours.
2. Listen to soothing audio
Most of the day’s sensations fade away as you turn out the lights and lay your head down on the pillow, so your attention is drawn to your aching back. As you focus more on your back pain, you may find it more difficult to fall asleep as a result.
Listening to relaxing music can help with anxiety and back pain by taking your mind off of the discomfort you’re experiencing. The following evening audio options are available:
- Music from the classical era
- Children’s audio books are available.
- Podcasts that help you unwind and unwind
In any case, make sure there are no harsh sounds or powerful plot lines in the audio you pick to play.
3. Don’t skimp on your mattress
You may find a plethora of information about extending the life of a sagging mattress on the internet. These include putting plywood under your mattress and getting rid of your box spring. While these methods may work for some people, the most effective solution is to buy a new mattress to replace an old one.
A sagging mattress can increase lower back discomfort for some people by adding additional stress and strain to your spinal structures, therefore it’s critical that you take care of your mattress. This, in turn, can make it more difficult to get to sleep at night.
Most expensive mattresses aren’t necessarily ideal for people with lower back discomfort who need to sleep. As a result, the greatest mattress for you is one that offers you with the most restful night’s rest. Keeping this in mind, here are a few basic principles to get you started:
- Your spine’s natural curve should be supported by your mattress. When you’re lying on your back or side, your spine should have the same alignment as when you’re standing straight.
- Try out a variety of mattresses at your local mattress store. You’ll be able to tell if a mattress is a good fit for you after just 15 minutes on it. Take your time and don’t be afraid to do so.
- Consider a larger mattress if you sleep with someone else. You and your partner will be able to get a good night’s sleep without waking each other up.
The Best Sleeping Positions for Lower Back Pain
If you suffer from lower back pain, here are some of the best sleeping positions to try, as well as some additional ways to obtain a better night’s sleep.
1. Sleep on your side with a pillow between your knees
If resting on your back is too painful, try lying on your side instead.
- Allow the remainder of your body, including your shoulder(s), to make contact with the mattress on either your right or left side.
- Pillows can be placed between your knees.
- Small pillows can be used to fill any gaps between your waist and the mattress.
Regardless of how many pillows you use, you should avoid sleeping on the same side every night. Muscle imbalance and even scoliosis might result from overdoing it.
In what ways does this role benefit you? You won’t feel better if you sleep on your side alone. The secret is in placing a pillow between your knees. Your spine, pelvis, and hips will all be in better alignment if you use a pillow.
2. Sleep on your side in the fetal position
Try sleeping on your side in a fetal posture if you have a herniated disc:
- Make a gentle turn over to your side while laying on your back
- Curl your torso toward your knees while tucking your knees into your chest.
- Maintaining a healthy balance is essential, so don’t forget to switch sides every so often.
In what ways does this role benefit you? The discs in your spine act as a cushion between each of the vertebrae. One of the most common causes of back pain and other symptoms is the herniation of discs. The space between your vertebrae is made more accessible by curving your torso into a fetal position while lying on your stomach.
3. Sleep on your stomach with a pillow under your abdomen
Even if you’ve heard otherwise, lying on your stomach isn’t recommended if you suffer from back pain. In part, this is accurate, as it may place additional strain on your neck.
It’s fine to lay on your stomach if that’s the only position you’re comfortable with. Instead:
- Relieve back pain by placing a pillow under your pelvis and lower abdomen.
- It’s entirely up to you whether or not you utilize a pillow beneath your head in this position.
In what ways does this role benefit you? Those with degenerative disc condition may benefit most from sleeping on their stomachs with a pillow. It can alleviate any strain on the space between your discs.
4. Sleep on your back with a pillow under your knees
Sleeping on one’s back may be the most effective position for relieving back pain for certain people.
- Lie down on your back with your legs extended straight out in front of you.
- Stay in a neutral spine position by placing a pillow beneath the knees. Having a good cushion is essential because it helps maintain the curvature of your lower back.
- Additional support can be provided by placing an extra towel under your lower back.
In what ways does this role benefit you? On your back, you distribute your weight evenly and cover the widest part of your body. Your pressure points aren’t put under as much strain as they would be otherwise. You can also improve your spine and internal organ alignment.
5. Sleep on your back in a reclined position
Do you prefer to sleep in a reclining position? If you have isthmic spondylolisthesis, you may benefit from sleeping on a chair rather than on your back.
To get the finest alignment and support when sleeping this position, consider an adjustable bed.
In what ways does this role benefit you? When a vertebra slips over another, it is called isthmic spondylolysis. The angle between your thighs and trunk that is created when you recline may be good for your back. The pressure on your spine is lessened when you sit at an angle like this.
When Should You See a Doctor About Lower Back Pain
A doctor should be consulted if back discomfort persists for more than a few days:
- a single injury set in motion the agony
- For more than a few days, the pain persists or intensifies.
- Pain is a debilitating experience.
- Legs or other regions of the body are affected by the pain.
- As a result, your lower body feels weakened or numb.
- Infection symptoms include redness, warmth, swelling, and a high temperature (fever).
- You’ve had cancer in the past.
- Unexpected health changes, such as weight loss or urinary issues, may also be present.
Your symptoms can be evaluated by a doctor, who can then decide on the best course of action for further testing, diagnosis, and treatment.
What to look for in a pillow
The upper part of your spine should be supported by your pillow, which should cradle your head and neck.
You should choose a pillow that entirely fills the gap between your neck and the mattress if you sleep on your back. Use a thicker pillow if you sleep on your side to keep your head aligned with the rest of your body.
Don’t put your pillow under your shoulders at all costs.
It is recommended that those who prefer to sleep on their backs use pillows that are thinner and have additional cushioning at the bottom to help support their necks.
Memory foam is an excellent substance because it adapts to the shape of your neck, making it ideal for neck support.
Another option that provides strong, all-over support is a water cushion.
You should use the thinnest pillow possible if you sleep on your stomach. Try sleeping on your side with a body pillow in your arms. Your stomach will feel supported when sleeping using a body pillow, which helps to realign your entire body.
For those who sleep on their side, a firm pillow might be a good option. If you can, look for a hat with an extra-wide gusset to fill in the gap between your ear and shoulder. Put a hard pillow between your knees as well. Even a rolled towel can be used as a substitute.
Remember to change your pillow every 18 months or so while you’re at it. Pillows still contain allergens, such as mold and dust mites, despite the best efforts of pillow protectors.
What to look for in a mattress
The quality of your bed is equally important.
Lower back discomfort sufferers used to be prescribed orthopedic mattresses that were extra firm. Don’t rush to get one just yet. People who sleep on really firm beds, according to recent research, may have the worst sleep quality.
However, a soft mattress won’t do anything to help with alignment.
Choose a firm or medium-firm mattress with high-quality innersprings or foam if you can afford to buy a new one. A memory foam mattress topper can be used to improve an existing innerspring mattress.
This mattress at the store could be tough to identify how it feels after just a few minutes of testing. You may be able to return a mattress after trying it out for a specified length of time with some companies.
Isn’t this the time to buy? Placing a cheap piece of plywood under your current mattress will allow you to determine whether or not a firmer one would be beneficial. Even if your mattress is on the floor, you might try to reduce the movement of the springs to see if that helps alleviate your pain.
In our sleep store, you’ll find all of the Healthline-approved mattresses for those with back problems.
Other sleep hygiene tips
To help you sleep better at night and alleviate your back pain, here are a few further suggestions:
Set a bedtime and stick to it. If you toss and turn in your sleep, it may be difficult to resist the temptation to sleep in. Setting regular bedtimes and waking hours can help your body adapt to a more normal sleep schedule. Get at least eight hours of sleep a night, if not more.
Do you have problems keeping to a regular sleep schedule? Make a bedtime regimen that you stick to every night. The best time to begin this regimen is about 30 to 60 minutes before your regular bedtime. Make a list of two activities that will help you relax your mind and body.
Taking a bath, doing moderate yoga, or participating in calm hobbies like knitting or reading are all good ideas.
Stay away from stimulants like coffee and other caffeinated drinks. If you’re merely going to have a cup of coffee, do so before midday.
The best time to work out hard is in the morning or early afternoon. Exercising vigorously in the hours before going to bed might cause an increase in adrenaline and even a rise in body temperature. As a result, it’s difficult to sleep.
Healthline’s FindCare service can help you locate a primary care physician in your region if you don’t currently have one.
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