Is Your Sleep Position Causing You Back Pain?

Is Your Sleep Position Causing You Back Pain?

5 tips for a healthier spine and back

We don’t often think about our spines when we’re lying in bed. But our sleep posture can help determine whether or not we experience back pain. So when you turn in for the night, remember these tips from physical therapist Marleen Caldwell, PT, MS, Cred MDT:

1. Keep your spine in a neutral position

1. Keep your spine in a neutral position

Choose a well-made innerspring or foam mattress, or add a foam mattress topper to your innerspring mattress for additional support. You can also alter your sleep position or use pillows to keep your spine neutral.

2. Sleep on your back

The best position for sleeping is on your back. The worst position for sleeping is on your stomach due to the unnatural position of your neck. Sleeping on your back evenly distributes weight across the widest surface of your body, minimizing pressure points and ensuring proper alignment of your internal organs.

3. Alternate sides if you’re a side sleeper

3. Alternate sides if you’re a side sleeper

Some evidence suggests that habitually sleeping on one side on an ill-fitting mattress may contribute to muscle imbalance, pain, and in some cases, scoliosis. Always sleeping on the same side suspends the middle of your body between your hips and shoulders, the broadest parts of the trunk. Place a pillow between your knees as shown below to keep hips, pelvis and spine aligned.

4. Use a pillow

4. Use a pillow

Whichever sleep position you choose, position your pillow beneath your head and neck, and not your shoulders. If you sleep on your back, make sure the pillow fills the space between your neck and the mattress to maintain your head in neutral position, as illustrated below. If you sleep on your side, use a thicker pillow, also shown below.

When sleeping on your back, keep your neck properly aligned by filling the space between your neck and the mattress with a pillow. When lying on your side, use a thicker pillow and place it under your ear.

5. Your body type dictates the type of support you need

5. Your body type dictates the type of support you need

If your hips are wider than your waist, a softer mattress can accommodate the width of your pelvis and allow your spine to remain neutral, as shown below. If your hips and waist are in a relatively straight line, a more rigid surface offers better support.

Sleeping on a rigid surface (top) versus a softer surface (bottom) affects the position of the pelvis and lower spine.