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Finding Relief: The Best Sleeping Positions for Back Pain

August 28, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Lady stretching in bed as she wakes up

Tossing and turning in the middle of the night? We’ve all been there, but if you suffer from back pain this can become an uncomfortable, and restless, reality.

While there are various causes of back pain, including injury, muscle strain and medical conditions, one often overlooked factor is the way we sleep.

Here are some tips on the best sleeping positions to minimize back pain and sleeping positions you should avoid.

Sleeping on Your Back

Sleeping on your back is generally considered one of the best positions for back pain sufferers, as it helps maintain a neutral spinal alignment. You can enhance this sleeping position by:

  • Pillow support: Place a pillow under your knees to help maintain the natural curve of your lower back and relieve pressure on the spine.
  • Mattress firmness: Opt for a medium-firm mattress that provides adequate support to keep your spine aligned without sinking too much.
  • Proper head support: Use a pillow that supports your neck and head, aligning them with your spine.

Side Sleeping

Side sleeping is another popular position that can alleviate back pain, particularly if you place a pillow between your knees. You can optimize this position by:

  • Pillow selection: Use a firm pillow that fills the gap between your shoulder and neck, promoting spinal alignment.
  • Knee support: Place a pillow or cushion between your knees to prevent your top leg from pulling your spine out of alignment.
  • Mattress selection: Choose a medium-firm mattress that offers sufficient support while contouring to your body’s natural curves.

Fetal Position

Sleeping in a fetal position can also provide relief for those experiencing back pain. Here’s how to do it correctly:

  • Lie on your side and gently pull your knees toward your chest.
  • Avoid curling up too tightly, as it can restrict breathing and strain your neck and back.
  • Use a pillow to support your head and neck, keeping them aligned with your spine.

Avoid Stomach Sleeping

This position strains the neck and lower back because it creates an unnatural spinal curvature. But if you’re a dedicated stomach sleeper, there is a way to make it work by trying the following:

  • Use a thin pillow or no pillow at all to prevent straining your neck.
  • Place a pillow under your pelvis and lower abdomen to help maintain a more neutral spine alignment.
  • Consider gradually transitioning to a more back-friendly position over time.

Experiment with these positions, pillow arrangements and mattress firmness levels to find the combination that provides the most relief for your specific back pain needs.

If back pain is stopping you from catching some zzzzz’s, it may be time to see a neurosurgeon at Huntsville Hospital Spine & Neuro Center. Call (256) 533-1600 to make an appointment.

Dr. Rhett Murray, neurosurgeon

Rhett Murray, MD, is a board-certified neurosurgeon at Huntsville Hospital Spine & Neuro Center. He treats a variety of spine and brain conditions but specializes in skull-based tumors, cerebrovascular surgery, complex spine and peripheral nerve surgery.