Back pain can make it hard to get a good night's sleep. But by experimenting with a few different simple sleep strategies, you can help ease your back pain and prevent future problems.
"First you have to start off with the understanding that there is no perfect position for everybody to sleep in," says Joel M. Press, MD, medical director of the Center for Spine, Sports & Occupational Rehabilitation at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. "Generally you have to listen to your body."
Because there are many causes of back pain, it is important for your doctor to do a thorough history and physical examination to determine if a spinal disk problem is the root of your back pain. A herniated or slipped disk may press on the nerves coming out from the spinal cord, and it may show up in a targeted neurological exam. Your doctor will check your reflexes, muscle strength, and sensation for abnormalities or changes, especially those that involve the lower extremities.
A spinal X-ray may...
Put a pillow between your legs. For people with back and hip related problems, this can help take the tension off the low back and hips.
When choosing a mattress, find the hardest bed in the store and then go down a notch or two. "In general, you want to sleep on a firmer mattress," says Press, "but it doesn't have to be the firmest one."
Keep your neck neutral. Use a pillow that fills in the space between your head and shoulders and allows your neck to lie in a neutral position, not bent in one direction or the other.
Avoid using heating pads in bed. Lying with your body weight against a heating pad, even a non-electric one, increases the risk of burns to the skin.
If a pillow top or egg crate on top of the mattress makes your back feel better, feel free to use it.
Establish a good sleep routine. When you don't get enough sleep, the muscles never get a chance to relax and you won't wake up feeling refreshed.
If your back pain is still keeping you up at night, talk with your doctor about other treatment options, such as medication or physical therapy.