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9 Sleeping Positions that Help Prevent Lower Back Pain

by Patty Weasler, RN August 13, 2019 0 Comments

Lower back pain can affect every aspect of your life and can be caused by many factors, including how you sleep. Poor sleeping posture can cause low back pain or make current pain from medical conditions worse by putting additional pressure on your spine, neck, hips and back. Keep readings to learn the best sleeping positions to prevent lower back pain and provide pain relief

The Best Sleeping Positions for Lower Back Pain

Adjusting your favorite sleeping position for a good night's sleep and to prevent lower back pain can be as simple as adding pillows for support along with proper alignment. In this section, we’ll cover how to modify the most common sleeping positions to prevent lower back pain.

Positions for Back Sleepers

Sleeping on your back can be a great position for your shoulders and lower back. It’s an easy position to maintain alignment of your head, shoulders, hips, and knees. Laying on your back also keeps your body weight distributed among a large surface area. Allowing pressure to spread out over your body and reduce the likelihood of low back pain. Here are the best ways to prevent lower back pain for back sleepers:

1. Place a pillow under your knees

  1. Lay on your back.
  2. Place a pillow under your knees to elevate your lower legs.
  3. Keep your spine in a straight line, from your head to your knees.

Depending on the firmness and fullness of your pillows, you may need to use multiple.  

2. Use a leg raise pillow

  1. Lay on your back.
  2. Place the leg raise pillow with the inclined side toward your knees.
  3. Rest both legs on the pillow.

The key here is to raise your knees and lower legs to a 45 degree angle. You can use regular bed pillows instead of a leg raise pillow, but proper positioning will require multiple pillows and they may shift out of place once you fall asleep.

3. In a reclined position using a bed wedge

  1. Sit upright in bed.
  2. Position the bed wedge support behind your back.
  3. Slowly recline your upper body onto the support adjusting your trunk as necessary.

This angle reduces and relieves pressure points on the back, thus reducing the likelihood of pain. If you have an adjustable bed, try positioning yourself at this angle while you sleep for similar results. Others have found pain relief by sleeping in a recliner.

Positions for Side Sleepers

Sleeping on your side places your spine out of alignment. Your top knee will pull down on your back and can cause pain. If you’re a side sleeper, you’ll want to make sure that your hips and waist are properly aligned.

4. Using a pillow between your knees

  1. While laying on your side slightly pull your knees towards your head.
  2. Gently, place a pillow in between your knees.
  3. Ensure your head is properly supported with a pillow.

While your standard bed pillows will work well, a knee pillow is specifically designed to contour and fit comfortably between your top and bottom leg; keeping your spine properly aligned by raising your hips and knees.

5. Placing support under the hollow of your waist

  1. Lay on your side with your head comfortably supported.
  2. Guide a small pillow under your waist, positioning it under the space between you and the bed.
  3. Adjust until you are feeling your waist adequately supported without additional pressure on your hips or rib cage.

Some side sleepers may find that rolling up a small towel or using a small foam pillow placed under their waist adds the necessary support to their spine. The extra support lifts your waist just enough to keep your lower back and spine in line without causing extra stress.

6. In the fetal position

  1. Lay on your side with your head supported with a pillow.
  2. Bring your knees up towards your chest.
  3. Slightly bring your shoulders down to your knees.
  4. Add a pillow in between your knees for additional support and added alignment.

The fetal position may be the best sleep position to reduce or prevent your lower back pain. Lying on your side with your knees pulled up opens the spaces in between the vertebrae. This extra space lessens pain and can help you have a more restful night.

Other Sleeping Positions to Try

7. Wrap Towel or Sheet Around Your Waist

  1. Roll the towel or sheet into a tube.
  2. Wrap the tube around your waist once you are sitting in bed.
  3. Lie down on your side (or back) with a pillow under your head for support.

If you like to sleep on both your side and your back or tend to move around a lot at night then this might be the best solution for you. The sheet or towel will fill in the gap under your back if you are sleeping on your back or will fill the gap under your side if you are sleeping on your slide.

8. On your stomach with a pillow under your stomach and hips

  1. While laying on your stomach, place a pillow under your stomach and hips to elevate your lower trunk and keep the natural curve of your back
  2. If your neck is uncomfortable try removing the pillow from under your head.

Sleeping on your stomach may feel comfortable but it can be particularly harmful to your lower back and neck. However, with the right support (and positioning) you can keep your spine in alignment while sleeping on your stomach.

9. On the floor

  1. Move your mattress onto the floor.
  2. Lay in your desired position with any added support or pillows.

For some people sleeping on an extra hard surface helps to reduce lower back pain. If you aren’t ready to purchase a new type of mattress try putting your existing mattress on the ground or place a sheet of wood between the mattress and box spring for a stiff support.

Tips for Sleeping with Lower Back Pain

Your sleeping position isn’t the only thing that can help prevent lower back pain. In this section, we’ll discuss other variables that can help you get the best night sleep and keep you pain-free.

  • Use Ice Packs or Heating Pads

    Lower back pain can be caused by a slew of conditions. Muscle spasms, pinched nerves, and herniated discs just to name a few. If you are suffering from acute lower back pain, an ice pack can help reduce inflammation and pain. After a couple of days of icing your injury, your back may benefit from the use of a heating pad. In addition to soothing sore muscles, heat will dilate your blood vessels bringing more oxygen and nutrients to your injury.

  • Use Positioning Pillows

    Pillows designed for your head may not be able to support the rest of your body. We’ve found that foam pillows made for body positioning give the best support for knees and hips. If you’re a side sleeper a body pillow will support just about every joint in your body.

  • Check the Condition of Your Mattress

    Your mattress is a vital component of your sleep routine. No longer are extra firm mattresses being recommended for people with low back pain. Typically, a medium to a medium-firm mattress will give the best support.

    You might want to think about buying a new mattress is yours is over eight years old, has squeaky springs, or if you aren’t feeling as rested in the mornings as you used to. A memory foam mattress topper can be used if a new mattress isn’t in your near future.

  • Get In and Out of Bed Carefully

    When you get out of bed, do not bend forward to stand up. The bending motion places stress on the lower back. Instead, roll onto your side, move your legs over the edge of the bed, and guide your arms under your trunk and push your upper body into a sitting position. From there slowly stand up. Reverse this movement when getting into bed.

  • Consider Massage Therapy

    Another tactic to combat lower back pain is massage therapy. A trained therapist will work on your muscles relieving strain and tension that could be causing your pain. Since lower back pain isn’t necessarily produced by the low back muscles your massage can extend down the legs and up to the shoulders.

  • Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

    A restful night of sleep can be affected by many different things. Here are the top causes of restless sleep that you should avoid:

    1. Caffeine or Alcohol

      Avoid both caffeine or alcohol before bed. Both of these drinks will affect your sleep. If you drink coffee make sure your last cup is at lunchtime.

    2. Exercise

      Exercise can be an excellent addition to your sleep hygiene, just as long as you don’t workout before bed. Exercise releases endorphins which will keep you awake longer at night. Instead of exercise try stretching to loosen muscles and get your body relaxed for a peaceful night of sleep.

    3. Routine

      An established sleep routine will help your body get into the habit of relaxing at the same time each night. Try to start your sleep routine 30 to 60 minutes before bed with quiet activities like reading or stretching to unwind.

  • Talk to Your Doctor

    If you have back pain that is not getting better, is worsening, or is accompanied by numbness, tingling, weakness, or fever it means it’s time to call your doctor. He or she will be able to find the cause of your pain and develop an individualized plan for you. Physical therapy is another route that can be used once you have a diagnosis from your doctor to get you back on your feet.

Sleeping Without Pain

With so many different sleeping positions it can be difficult to determine the best one for you. We have covered how to modify just about every sleeping position so you can rest pain-free. Don’t forget that your sleeping position isn’t the only factor in lower back pain. With our other tips, we hope you find that you can get to sleep fast and stay asleep comfortably all night.

Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.

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