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Best Ways to Sleep to Avoid Back Pain

spinal stenosis back pain sleep positionsAvoiding back pain is no easy feat, but just changing the way you sleep could offer the most significant relief yet! You might be proactive about posture at work, spend time at the gym or outdoors staying fit and healthy, and avoid slouching on the couch in the evenings and at weekends but when you spend a third of your time in bed it may be that your back pain is connected to something you’re doing unconsciously.

The easiest way to tell if your sleeping habits are harmful is to think about whether you feel refreshed, pain-free, and energetic in the morning. If you have to roll out of bed and work out the knots in your back muscles with a long hot shower every morning then it could be that the way you sleep is the real cause of your back pain.

Stomach Sleeping

What’s the best way to sleep to avoid back pain, then? Well, perhaps it’s best to start by stating that the worst way to sleep is on your stomach. This causes compression in the lower back and a twisted head and neck, setting you up for back pain and neck pain during the night and upon waking. If you’re a committed stomach-sleeper then it can take some time to re-educate yourself to avoid this unhealthy sleeping position.


One key way to correct stomach-sleeping is to sleep while wearing a shirt with a front pocket in which you’ve placed a tennis ball or other hard object. This makes it horribly uncomfortable to sleep on your front. You can also try strapping your arms into restraints at either side of the bed, while lying on your back, making it impossible for you to turn onto your front. This isn’t ideal as a long-term strategy but can serve to re-educate sleeping habits.

(More fun things to do with tennis balls to help back pain!)

Sleeping on Your Back

You might think that sleeping on your back is the best way to avoid back pain, and you’d be right, but with some key caveats. Using a head pillow if you sleep on your back can force your head up and strain the cervical spine, for example. This means that it’s usually best to sleep without a pillow under you neck or one that is specially contoured for back-sleepers.

Some people also find that one they lay on their back their legs flop to the sides or one knee ends up tilting up and out. This can cause the pelvis to tilt and place strain the hip joints, so it is a good idea to tie your legs together to stop this happening if you sleep on your back, or to use props to keep your lower legs together.

Sleeping on Your Side

Side-sleeping can also be problematic, especially if done with one leg raised up higher than the other. This causes the pelvis to twist, which can help relieve tense muscles but which isn’t helpful long-term for these muscles or the spine. Again, re-educating yourself may involve using soft restraints, this time to tether your legs so you can’t raise one too much higher than the other.

So, what’s the best way to sleep to avoid back pain? That would be sleeping on your side with your legs together, knees aligned, and with a pillow between your legs to maintain comfort and a little openness in the lower spine, especially if you have a wide pelvis. A pillow beneath the head should equalise extension of the neck, not tilting it upwards and not letting it drop down.

It can take some time to get into a healthy sleeping pattern, with an adjustment period for any new back or neck pain pillow or sleeping style. This means that if you’re already waking up with neck and back pain it’s best to start re-educating yourself now to stave off future pain.

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