Sleep Ergonomics: How to Sleep with Back Pain

If you have back pain, then you are most certainly not alone. The vast majority of adults experience back pain at some point during their lives. In fact, back pain is the most common culprit of job-related disability in the United States. And, going hand-in-hand with that statistic, back pain is also a leading factor in missed work days. Surveys often show that in the past three months, at least one-quarter of adults have experienced back pain in one form or another.

Both genders are equally affected by back pain. On top of that, the pain can range wildly, from a dull, constant ache, to sudden, incapacitating pain. The pain may have a sudden onset (as a result of some kind of accident or from lifting something too heavy). Or, the pain may creep in over a long period of time because of the way that structures in our spine naturally age. Sedentary lifestyles are another prominent risk factor, especially in patients who do not receive enough exercise each week.

Most back pain is short-term and acute, but some patients also experience chronic back pain that may last for years. With short-term back pain, the issues typically resolve on their own with self-care and without loss of function. The majority of these cases are purely mechanical in nature, meaning that there is some sort of disruption in the way the structures of the spine fit together and move.

A common thread exists among patients with back pain of any kind: insomnia. It is sometimes hard to find just the right sleeping position for patients who suffer from back pain. This blog post will hopefully provide you with some tips and tricks on how to beat back pain at its own game in this regard.

Common Causes of Back Pain

Acute back pain has a sudden onset and lasts no more than six weeks. Usually, this is the result of some kind of fall or a heavy lifting accident. On the other hand, if your back pain lasts longer than three months, then you may have a less common form of the condition: chronic pain.

Back pain seemingly develops without a cause, but your doctor will be able to diagnose your condition with a test or imaging study. Conditions that commonly lead to back pain are as follows:

  • Ligament or Muscle Strain: Repetitive heavy lifting or sudden awkward movements often lead to muscle and spinal ligament strain. If you are in poor physical condition, then this constant strain on your back may lead to painful muscle spasms.
  • Bulging/Ruptured Discs: The discs of the spine act as a shock absorber between the vertebrae in your back. Inside your discs is a soft material that may bulge out or rupture, which leads to pressure on adjacent nerves. This condition may or may not lead to back pain, but in some cases it certainly does.
  • Arthritis: Osteoarthritis may affect multiple levels of the spine. In some cases, spinal arthritis may lead to spinal stenosis (narrowing of the space surrounding the spinal cord). This decreased space often applies pressure to nearby nerves, leading to back pain.
  • Skeletal Deformities: Some conditions cause irregularities in the spine, such as scoliosis (sideways curvature of the spine). These conditions lead to back pain, but generally do not manifest until middle age.
  • Osteoporosis: This condition manifests from age-related wear-and-tear of the spine. Your bones become porous and brittle, which may lead to compression fractures and pain.

Sleeping Tips for Patients with Back Pain

Back pain makes getting through the day hard and getting a good night’s sleep even harder. It may be very tough for you to find a comfortable position that will allow you to get a good night’s rest. That being said, there are some general tips to follow if you have back pain and trouble sleeping.

Find a Good Sleeping Position

This is going to depend on the individual person as well as the specific back problems that you are experiencing. Certain sleeping positions will ease your lower back pain, so you will have to experiment to find one that is right for you. A common tip is to place a pillow between your legs to help give you more adequate support.

If you like to sleep on your side, then try putting a pillow in between your knees while simultaneously drawing them slightly upward toward your chest. Likewise, if you sleep on your back, then try putting the pillow underneath your knees or in the small of your back.

You don’t want to sleep on your stomach as this only adds to the amount of strain that will be on your back. If this is the only sleeping position that works for you, try putting a pillow underneath your stomach for added support.

Buy a Quality Mattress

Again, the right mattress for you is going to heavily depend on your specific needs. A soft mattress might work well for someone if their hips are wider than their waist because it will allow their spine to stay straight while they fall asleep. If your waist and hips align normally, then you may want to try a firmer mattress as it will give you even more support.

Most of the time, doctors recommend firm mattresses for back pain, but it really will depend on you and the nature of your condition. Some people may find that firm mattresses don’t work well for them, whereas others may not get the support they need from soft mattresses.

You are going to want to try different kinds of mattresses. You can do this by spending 10 minutes on mattresses in your price range at respective furniture stores. If you believe that a firmer mattress might be best for you, you can try putting a sheet of plywood between your mattress and box spring. That, or you can try a few nights with your mattress on the floor.

Get In & Out of Bed Carefully

Sure, this tip may seem obvious, but it is too important not to mention. Make sure that when you get out of bed that you are not bending forward at your waist or making quick, jerking motions. This can lead to additional back pain.

Take the time to roll over onto one side and then use your arms to push your way up and out of bed. At this point, you will be able to swing your legs out of bed to stand up slowly. Do these motions in reverse when you get into bed at night.

Do More Core Exercises

Doing core exercises more regularly is a surefire way to better the way you sleep at night. Even more so, performing targeted exercises to strengthen your core will also help to relieve back problems.

Building strength and flexibility in this area will lower the chances of back strain and muscle spasms during the night. You can exercise your core by performing plank exercises and holding the position for 15 to 30 seconds while maintaining proper alignment.

Yoga Stretches

Yoga stretches can alleviate your back pain while also reducing stress and anxiety. And, yoga is a great way to achieve a better night’s sleep.

You should consult your doctor about which stretches are best for your respective needs. Some positions may make your pain worse, so practice with care. It may be a helpful bonus to start out with props like yoga blocks and bolsters for added support. Using these aids, you can hold the poses more comfortably. Additionally, you may want to consider taking a few yoga classes with an instructor to ensure that you are doing the exercises correctly and that you are breathing properly.

Contact Us

If your back problems continue to persist in spite of using the methods listed above, then you should contact us at (973) 538-0900. Our team at the Advanced Spine Center cares about your specific needs as a patient. The experts at our facility will work tirelessly to ensure that you are put on a treatment plan that works right for you. Don’t hesitate, contact our back pain doctors today!