Preventing back pain when sleeping
Does back pain prevent you from getting the good night’s rest you need? Studies have shown that back pain and poor sleep have a two-way relationship. This means that if you experience chronic back pain, you are more likely to sleep poorly. A 2011 study, for example, found 58.9% of participants reported that their back pain disturbed their sleep.
It also means that poor sleep quality can place you at higher risk of developing back problems. A study published in 2021 – which looked at data on 8601 people over 22 years – found people with long-term poor sleep had nearly twice the risk of back-related disability compared to people with long-term good sleep.
Why do I get back pain when I sleep?
There’s no single reason people experience back pain – which can occur anywhere from the neck to the tailbone – when they’re trying to sleep. However, some factors that can lead to back pain during sleep include:
- Sleeping posture
- Unsupportive bedding
- Some health conditions, such as fibromyalgia
- Recent back injury
Rarely, back pain at night may be a sign of a more serious issue. Your physio can assess your back to determine the cause of your symptoms.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to help prevent back pain when you’re sleeping – whether you experience chronic back pain or are simply having trouble getting comfy at night.
Back pain and sleeping positions
If you wake up with pain, your sleeping posture could be to blame. Certain sleeping positions can put pressure on your neck, shoulders, hips, and lower back, leading to pain.
Recent research found insufficient evidence to identify a direct link between sleeping posture and spinal symptoms. However, frequent stomach sleeping may be a culprit because it tends to flatten the natural spinal curves. Plus, you have to twist your neck to breathe.
Best sleeping positions for your back
Better sleeping positions for spinal health are:
- On your back with a pillow under your knees
- On your side with your knees comfortably bent (with a pillow between them if necessary).
If you’re a resolute stomach sleeper, placing a pillow under your pelvis or lower abdomen can help ease the pressure on your back.
And don’t worry if you change positions throughout the night. Your joints and muscles love to move, so that’s a good thing (provided you’re not tossing and turning, which is a different matter).
What is the best bed for lower back pain?
Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Personal preference plays a role, with some people preferring a firmer mattress than others. Comfort and support are key. If you’re looking to buy a new bed, look for try-before-you-buy deals. If you travel and come across a mattress you love (or hate!), take note of the brand and model.
Spending a bit more to get a quality product can be worthwhile, but don’t get caught up in fancy names and marketing gimmicks. Try as many beds as you can. Mattresses also suffer wear and tear and typically need replacing every 10-15 years.
If you suffer neck pain, a contoured pillow may help. It should be of a size that maintains your neck’s natural curve for back sleeping and fills the gap between your head and shoulder when side sleeping.
If some simple changes to your sleeping position or bedding don’t ease your problems, or you have queries over what’s right for you, The Brisbane Spine Clinic can help. Our experienced team will assess your situation and provide tailored advice (and therapy if needed).