How to Sleep with Lower Back Pain: 3 Easy Steps

As the weather gets colder our beds get warmer and for most people, it’ll be our favorite place for the next few months. Sadly, if you’re struggling with back pain, it might be your least favorite place and you might not be able to get out of your bed fast enough in the mornings.

Because everyone should get to enjoy snuggling under blankets pain-free, we’re sharing with you our expert knowledge of how to sleep comfortably if you’ve got lower back pain.

First: Why me?!

If you’re experiencing lower back pain when you lie down to go to sleep, it’s likely because structures which are used to being held in a certain posture (good or bad) are no longer being supported as your muscles begin to relax and the pull of gravity changes (muscles unwilling to relax could also be the culprit).

It could be that your bed or pillow isn’t providing enough support where you need it or those structures might need their range of mobility restored.

The quickest and easiest thing you can do is to replace active muscle support with passive pillow support to achieve a mid-range posture where nothing is overstretched and nothing is over compressed. No matter what your preferred sleep position is, there’s a universal principle to guide sleep positioning which we’ve outlined below in 3 Easy Steps.

Step 1: Find Your Peaks

These are the natural high points of your body when you’re lying down. In side-lying, it’s your shoulders and hips. On your back, your head and face obviously extend closest to the ceiling but note the curve in your lower back still remains, which means your lower back is a peak compared to your hips and upper back.

Step 2: Find Your Valleys

These are the natural low points of your body when you’re lying down. In side-lying, it’s your neck, waist, and legs. Not only are the structures in the valleys bowing from the pull of gravity (cue neck and lower back pain), but they’re yanking on your body’s peaks from both sides (cue hip and shoulder pain). Luckily, there’s an easy answer to help relieve any pulling sensations.

Step 3: Support Your Valleys

In side-lying, the most important valley to support to ease lower back pain is your waist. Start with a hand towel folded over a few times and ensure it fits between your ribs and your pelvis (if the towel extends under either one, it won’t offer the same level of support). Your waist will never reach the same height as your shoulder but what you are looking for is that your spine becomes more level from your lower back to your upper back. Depending on your mattress and body type, some people may require two towels or even a cushion while others need only fold the towel over once. The towel should never feel “pokey” or painful, just supportive.

On your back, the most important valley to support to ease lower back pain is your legs. Since the goal is to have your lower back and your upper back resting level on the mattress so they are evenly supported, then creating a bit of hip flexion through leg support will eliminate the peak in your lower back. The trick is to ensure the entirety of both legs are supported. Most people make the mistake of simply placing a pillow under their knees but this is insufficient support for your body’s largest limbs. There’s a better way….

Need More Help?

We could write about sleep positioning for days, so we did! Fill out the form below to receive your FREE copy of our digital Sleep E-Book that gives clear instructions for each sleep position, explains why you should never roll a towel support, and details how to ensure both legs are comfortably supported to eliminate lower back pain while lying on your back.

Remember, when you’re ready to change your story and finally eliminate your lower back pain, just click our Free Screen button to discover what Body Gears can do for you.

Written by: Dr. Julia Melanson, PT, DPT

Edited by: April Oury, PT, MSPT, IOC, CFMT, FAAOMPT, Founder

As always, consult with your Licensed Physical Therapist for individualized advice. For those in Illinois, visit your PT immediately without a prescription or referral.

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