I started to suffer from sleepless nights due to pain in the lower back and I wanted to know the best sleeping positions for lower back pain.
I carried out some research and found 5 common sleep positions for lower back pain sufferers: 1) Sleeping in the foetal position, 2) Sleeping on your back facing upwards, 3) Sleeping on your side with a cushion in between your legs, 4) Sleeping on your front with a cushion under your lower tummy and 5) Sleeping in a reclined position on your back.
I found that taking pain killers, having the odd back massage, receiving physiotherapy therapy, visiting an osteopath or performing the many back strengthening exercises do help with lower back pain when mobile during the day.
Unfortunately for me, I needed to focus and manage the pain when less mobile during the night. Let’s not forget that adults are encouraged to sleep for at least 6-8 hours a day, therefore managing back pain appropriately whilst lying in bed may help you get as close to the recommended 8 hours as possible.
Here I have researched and detailed the 5 healthy sleeping positions for lower back pain sufferers:
1) Sleeping in the foetal position
I have always felt at ease when sleeping in the foetal position as it feels quite natural and relaxing.
The foetal position involves sleeping on your side and pulling up both knees closer to your chest so your body is curled. This position is especially helpful if you have suffered from a slipped disc in the spine, which can often result in lower back and nerve pain in the legs.
When in the foetal position your body and spine are curled, which subsequently relieve pressure if you have a slipped disc. The slipped disc is located in between the vertebrae.
Technique for sleeping in the foetal position:
a) Lie on your side and pull your knees closer to your chest ensuring your head and neck are fully supported by your pillow.
b) Switch sides throughout the night to prevent any discomfort associated with lying on one side only.
2) Sleeping on your back facing upwards
There are many benefits with sleeping on your back. Your body weight is distributed evenly across the flat surface you are lying on and your head, spine, neck and legs are aligned allowing you to lie with comfort and ease.
Sleeping on the back also removes any additional strain on sensitive pressure points on the body.
Techniques for sleeping on your back:
a) Lie flat on you back facing upwards. This allows for good alignment of the body and spine. Using a standard sized pillow under your head only and no additional cushioning.
b) Place a cushion under your knees maintaining the natural curve of your spine. Try and experiment with differing thickness of cushion. The size of the cushion under your knees should also be dependent on the firmness of your mattress.
c) Place a small cushion under your lower back for additional lumbar support. This will provide additional lumbar support and is great if lying on a firmer mattress. However the thickness of the cushion needs to be just right otherwise it could have an adverse affect.
3) Sleeping on your side with a cushion in between your legs
Sleeping on your side is probably one of the most popular sleeping positions and a position I tend to end up in, whether I have started the night on my back or my front. I guess you end up in the position you are most comfortable with as this is only natural.
To optimise this sleeping position better you should place a small cushion in between your legs. This results in improved alignment of the back and hips and reduces any strain by shifting your upper leg.
Technique for sleeping on your side with a cushion in between your legs:
a) Lie on your side resting your head on a pillow ensuring your neck is properly supported and you are lying comfortably.
b) Place a cushion in between your legs by first pulling your knees up higher. Your knees don’t need to be too close to your chest as with the foetal position but high enough so you are comfortable.
A firmer cushion between your legs works better as it provides better alignment of the spine and just offers better support.
c) Place a small cushion under your waist if you sleep on a firmer mattress because this will provide further support, if required. Again this does depend on the shape of your body and the firmness of your mattress.
4) Sleeping on your front with a cushion under your lower tummy
They say this sleep position is not good for your neck; however it can work wonders if you sleep with a very thin pillow under your head or alternatively use no pillow at all.
Sleeping on your front may come naturally to some people and if so, then this sleep position could work wonders for your lower back pain.
Techniques for sleeping on your front:
a) Lie on your front with a thin pillow under your head. It may feel more natural to do without a pillow and you will need to experiment to determine what is more comfortable for you. The firmness of your mattress will play a part in your decision making process.
b) Place a thin cushion under the lower part of your tummy as this will shift your torso upwards and can help those who have suffered from arthritis which is a form of wear and tear of the spine.
Arthritis of the spine is more prevalent in elderly people or those who participate in heavy lifting, hence to fully optimise this sleep position you should be relatively agile and be able to get in and out of bed and be able to roll onto your front.
5) Sleeping in a reclined position on your back
If you are lucky enough to own a reclining chair you will no doubt shout about the benefits of owning one, as I do. The fact you can come home from a hard day’s work and recline in your favourite chair and read a book, watch the television or simply have a moment to yourself is pure bliss.
Unsurprisingly there are also added benefits of sitting or lying in a reclined position. One of these benefits being it can actually help with both muscular back pain and spinal back pain.
If you are unfortunate enough to have a spinal condition where one of your discs have slipped out of position, you will find that sleeping in a reclined position actually alleviates any pressure on the spine and lower back.
Technique for sleeping in a reclined position on your back:
a) Lie down and slightly recline your bed/recliner so pressure is alleviated from the spine and lower back.
Alternatively sit in a reclined position using an arm chair recliner with leg support. The recliner must have leg support to substitute the affect of lying on a reclining bed.
The Takeaway points
The list of healthy sleep positions is merely a guide to manage the pain better when asleep. It should not be considered a solution to get rid of the pain completely and it is always advised to seek advice from a medical professional.
After compiling this list, it is evident you should experiment to see what works best for you. ‘One glove doesn’t fit all’ and the firmness of your mattress, thickness of your pillows or cushions, the shape/size of your body and its posture directly impact on how each sleep position works best for you.
Experiment with each position and figure out what works best for you.
Sleep illlustrations sourced from: