There is a complicated relationship between pain and sleep. Being in pain can make it extremely difficult to sleep. Then, as a result of this, having a lack of sleep can make the pain worse. Unfortunately, this cycle will just continue until effective treatment is introduced.
But did you know that there are some things you can do to alleviate lower back pain enough so that you can sleep a bit more comfortably? There are simple techniques you can try based on the type of pain you are having. Below, we will look at these different methods on how to sleep with lower back pain so that you can finally get some shut eye.
What Causes Lower Back Pain?
Lower back pain is a common issue. In fact, studies suggest that millions of people in the United States have struggled with lower back pain at one point in their life. This can include acute pain, which is usually temporary, or chronic pain, which is long-lasting for 6 or more months.
Depending on the cause behind low back pain, it can feel like:
- Sharp pain
- Achy pain
- Deep pain
- Pins and needles
- Burning pain
There are many different reasons behind lower back pain. One common cause is having a herniated disc. The discs in the spine are meant to act as a type of cushion between the vertebrae in the spinal column. Their essential function is to provide space for the vertebrae to move so that someone can perform basic movements, such as bending.
A herniated disc occurs when a disc in the spine slips out of place, usually as a result of an injury or strain. When there’s a herniated disc in the lower back, it can lead to sharp pain that radiates down the leg, throughout your backside, or in the hips. Additionally, it’s common to experience numbness down the legs with a herniated disc.
Similarly, another common cause behind lower back pain would be degenerative disc disease. As with a herniated disc, this condition impacts the discs in the back. However, this does not just occur because of an injury (though that can be one of the triggers for this condition)—rather the discs in the back progressively become weaker. This is actually a type of arthritis that can cause long-lasting damage to the spine as well as chronic pain.
Of course, there are many other causes behind lower back pain as well, such as:
All of these factors and conditions can make the littlest things more difficult, from walking and standing to bending and more. Of course, this also includes sleeping, which is one of the biggest things impacted by lower back pain. So let’s move on to some tips on how to sleep with this type of discomfort.
4 Things You Can Do To
1. Change Sleeping Positions
Sometimes something that seems simple, like changing sleeping positions, can make the biggest difference. Though experts suggest lying flat on your back to allow for the spine to stay in perfectly straight alignment, many people aren’t able to stay in this position all night. It’s important to find a position that feels comfortable but that will also relieve some pressure on your spine. If possible, try to avoid sleeping on your stomach because this can cause more strain throughout the neck, which in turn leads to concerns in the lower back.
2. Put a Pillow Between Your Knees
Along the same lines as the above suggestion, try to put a pillow between your knees if you sleep on your side in a fetal position. This can be a small pillow—just thick enough to allow your spine to follow its natural curve. Not only can this take some pressure off of your lower back to alleviate pain, but it can prevent more pain from happening in the future.
3. Use a Medium Firm Mattress
Having the right type of mattress is essential to knowing how to sleep with back pain. Many people recommend using a medium firm mattress—one that is not so hard that it puts pressure on your back, but also not too soft to where you sink into the mattress.
You could also try an adjustable bed that you can customize to be the right position and firmness that you need. Or, even more simply, if your mattress is too soft, try putting a yoga mat beneath the sheets to make the surface a little firmer.
4. Stretch Before Bed
Finally, another solution to the dilemma on how to sleep with lower back pain is to stretch before bed. Some beneficial stretches for low back pain include:
- Child’s pose
- Knee to chest
- Reclined twist
These stretches are particularly helpful for people who experience worsening back pain at night. Doing gentle stretches can help to alleviate muscle pain and relax both the mind and body, making it a little easier to drift off.
What Do You Do Next?
If you find yourself wondering how to sleep with lower back pain and you can’t find a solution, the first step is figuring out exactly what is causing the discomfort. Having a proper diagnosis will allow you to get effective treatment. Oftentimes, you must speak with a healthcare expert to get this diagnosis. Based on your symptoms and medical history, they might recommend:
- A physical exam
- Imaging (X-ray, MRI, etc.)
- Seeing a specialist
If you are able to get a diagnosis after this, the following steps will be finding appropriate treatment. Treatment depends on the type of problem you are experiencing and can range widely. Interventions such as physical therapy, taking anti-inflammatory medications, or doing daily stretches for your back might be enough to ease the pain so that you can catch some rest.
In other instances, more intensive treatment, such as surgery, could be necessary. For instance, some people with degenerative disc disease may benefit from other types of medication, including steroids or cortisone shots, while others need surgical intervention to return some stability to the spine.
Furthermore, some diagnoses mean a long journey of trying different treatments. On the other hand, chronic lower back pain doesn’t always have a distinct cause or cure. But getting a diagnosis that leads to effective treatment is sometimes easier said than done.
If you are currently feeling stuck in the process of trying to understand where your lower back pain is coming from and how to address it, know that you aren’t in this alone. Hear from the Pain Resource Community to learn tips and tricks on how to sleep with lower back pain, find out what types of treatment could help, and to get the support you need to cope with this pain.
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