Are you annoyed by the irritating neck pain or back pain when you wake up in the morning? To make your day even worst, the pain may last you throughout the day which affects your work and your emotions. Finally, after a tiring day when you dragged yourself back home, you realize that the pain is causing you to toss and turn around throughout the night stopping you from falling asleep!
Many of us are not aware that incorrect sleeping positions can result from the misalignment of the spine which leads to neck and back pain. Though poor sleeping postures are unconsciously developed since we were kids, these can be adjusted in adulthood by understanding the best sleeping positions to avoid neck and back pain.
So what are the bad sleeping postures? What are the causes of stiff neck and back pain? Before we answer these questions, let’s first understand the basics of the spine.
Our spine, also known as backbone or vertebral column is made up of 24 articulating vertebrae and is the most important part of the body. Each of the vertebrae is stack on top of each other and connected by ligaments and muscles to maintain the alignment of the spine. The vertebrae protect the spinal cord and nerves from shocks as well as supporting the weight of the body.
A healthy spine goes down from the skull to pelvis with the alignment of the head, neck and back in a straight line when viewed from the front or back. In between the vertebrae lies the spinal disc that functions primarily as shock absorber and protects the bone from rubbing against each other. It also acts as ligaments that hold the shape of the spine.
When the spine is viewed from the side, 3 natural curves can be noticed which is the cervical curve (neck area), the thoracic curve (upper back), and the lumbar curve (lower back). These curves are maintained by two groups of muscles namely flexors (front and abdominal muscles) and extensors (back muscles). When these curves are put together in a good posture, they give the spine a natural “S” shape.
A good sleeping posture is defined as the position in which the healthy spine alignment is maintained while lying down with the minimal amount of strain being placed on the muscles, tendons and ligaments. On the other hand, bad sleeping posture places strain on the spinal disc, spinal nerves, muscles, tendons and ligaments, pulling the entire body out of the alignment. As such, this explains why poor sleeping posture can results in neck pain, back pain and even sciatica.
Common Bad Sleeping Positions That Causes Neck And Back Pain
- Sleeping on the back
In the back sleeping or starfish position, only the upper back and buttocks are in contact with the mattress. There is minimal support at the lower back. As such, this causes lower back pain. Neck pain or stiffness can occur if the pillow is too high which causes misalignment of the cervical curve.
- Sleeping on the stomach
This is the worst sleeping position. Stomach sleeping usually result in lower back pain as the gravity pull can affect the arch at the base of your spine and placed pressure on the lumbar curve, forcing it down to a flattened position. Besides, a person in this position is difficult to turn his neck freely. Therefore, this leads to pulling strain on the muscles which results in neck pain.
- Sleeping on the side
Side sleeping position is the most popular worldwide and correct way of sleeping. However, inappropriate posture can still leads to discomfort in the shoulder and upper back or arm. If the neck is not supported properly, there can be numbness or tingling from a compressed nerve which runs from the neck to the arm. Besides, the resulting pulling stress on the spine towards the sleeping surface can strain the neck and lower back muscles leading to pain.
In the fetal position, also known as the thinker posture, the person sleeps in a curled up position (the knees are bent) with the arms on top of the pillow and near the chin area. This can causes overall stiffness in the back and neck as the “straight line” of the spine are being bent which put strain on the muscles and bones.
So what are the best sleeping positions to avoid neck and back pain? In fact, the sleeping postures mention earlier on can be adopted. However, it is advisable to place a contour or feather pillow in the appropriate ‘anchor’ points to help in maintaining the correct sleeping posture and relieving anatomical pain.
Tips For Best Sleeping Positions To Avoid Neck And Back Pain
People with shoulder pain and have trouble sleeping favor the back sleeping position. In fact, this is the best position to sleep for most people. However, for this sleeping posture, there are 3 crucial anchor points to take note of which is the neck, the lower back and the knees. Choose a good pillow preferably with a contour side (neck support pillow) that allows the neck to rest on or turn around easily. When you rest your head on the pillow, you should not feel that your head is tilting backwards or being lifted too high up.
Next, place softer support pillows under the lower back as well as the knees. A pillow at the lower back is very important as it helps to maximize support and reduces the strain on the lumbar curve. The combination of these 3 pillows helps to maintain the normal spine curvature, thereby reducing the strain on the neck or sciatic nerve in the lower back while sleeping.
The starfish position is when the person lies on their backs with their legs sprawled and arms out-stretched near their head just like a starfish. Just like the back sleepers, you should place the pillows under the neck, lower hips and the knees to provide additional support.
As for those people who like to sleep on the side, good news to you because this is the next best position to sleep after the back sleepers. As a general rule of thumb, check that the pillow supporting your head is able to keep your nose in line with your breastbone. If not, then it is time to change a new pillow.
The anchor points for the side sleepers are at the neck, waist and the knee area. It is recommended to use a neck support pillow to support the head and the neck in order to achieve a parallel alignment to the mattress. In addition, a support pillow should be placed under the waist and in-between the knees. The purpose of placing a pillow between the knees is to prevent the spine from side-bending or rotating too much which may strain your lower back. With this adjustment of the anatomical position, it will be a perfect side sleeping posture.
There are some people who sleep on their sides with their back and legs straightened with both arms resting parallel along the sides. This group is known as the log sleepers and has the same anchor points as the side sleeping position. Fetal position is favorable for people who are experiencing lumbar spinal stenosis or osteoarthritis in the spine and have trouble getting to sleep. Therefore, it is recommended to tuck a full-length pillow or even bolster between your legs which helps to alleviate the stress off from the lower back.
The freefall position is when the person sleep on his stomach with their arms curled up at the pillow and their head turn to one side. Generally, this is not a proper sleeping posture as it places the greatest intensity of strain on the spine. Still, this posture may benefit those people who have degenerative disease or “slipped” disk in their neck or lower back. As such, the correct sleeping posture must be attained in order to prevent unnecessary stress on the spine.
It is advisable to place a back support pillow under your pelvis to maintain the lumbar curvature to reduce the effect of lower back pain. If you are experiencing neck pain, consider placing a soft and low pillow to support the shoulder where your head will be resting on.
Other than the above tips on the correct sleeping postures, you should also invest in a good mattress like Bundle-62 Slumber Express Orthopedic Back Aid Firm Mattress Size: Queen which you can sleep comfortably and wake up without any neck or back pain. Ideally, a medium firm mattress is the best mattress for preventing lower back pain. Besides, pillow plays an important role in your sleep as it determines how well does your head rest on it and the support it provides for the neck.
Therefore, getting a pillow that suits you is a sound investment though it may costs you more as compare to the traditional pillows. Generally, a good pillow should provide support and conforms to the shape of your skull and neck without applying undue pressure. This helps to spread the pressure evenly across the vertebrae thereby preventing neck pain. One good recommendation is the Arc4life Cervical Linear Traction Neck Pillow, the No.1 America’s neck support pillow that is filled with top quality polyester fiber. It provides neck traction and superior comfort for good sleep without neck pain.
Sleep is an essential and basic need of life that plays a crucial role in our overall physical and mental health. Adopting correct sleeping posture and maintain appropriate spine alignment is a natural approach to relieve neck and back pain. Pain is a signal that something is wrong and you should find out and rectify the roots of the problems. By ignoring it, the minor pain symptoms that you are experiencing right now could snowball into major complications as old age sips in.
Remember, none of us like to wake up with pain or stiffness that can spoil our entire day. No doubt pain medications can work wonders at times, it is still more practical to adopt the tips on the best sleeping positions to avoid neck and back pain. Otherwise, you can consult your doctor who can provide good advice on your existing condition.