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."
When you've got back pain, one of the best questions you can ask is, "Why is it happening?" That can be the first step to helping the problem.
Common causes for back pain include:
Muscle and ligament injuries. These are the most common causes of back pain. Shoveling snow or helping a friend move her couch can sometimes overstretch the muscles or ligaments. You can wind up with strains or sprains. Most of these injuries heal in a few days to weeks.
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.