Best Sleeping Position for Lower Back Pain

Written by Mohammed Aftab

Last Updated March 13, 2024

Kristi Van Winkle Fact checked by Kristi Van Winkle

Is that pesky little pain in your lower back bothering you? Are you seeking the best sleeping position for lower back pain? You’ve come to the right place! The lower back, also known as the lumbar region, is in charge of supporting the weight of your upper body. In this handy guide, we'll go over the three common sleeping positions in detail and decide which is ideal for your lower back pain relief!

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Key Takeaways:

  • Sleeping position affects the alignment of your spine, which in turn affects lower back pain.
  • The three main sleeping positions are back sleeping, side sleeping, and stomach sleeping. Side sleeping is often considered the best position overall, followed by back sleeping and stomach sleeping.
  • Sleeping on your left side, with a thin pillow between your knees, is generally considered the ideal sleep posture for lower back pain relief.
  • Besides changing your sleeping position, you can also try stretching, using heat/ice therapy, and taking medication to alleviate lower back pain.

best sleeping position for lower back pain

Why does your sleeping position matter for lower back pain relief?

Sleep is an important activity that can take up at least 7-9 hours of a person's day. In these hours, your body seeks proper comfort to be able to rest and rejuvenate. The right sleeping position is a core part of attaining this comfort.

Your body finds comfort in a particular sleeping position. Sometimes it's on your side; other times, it's on your back. Some people even enjoy stomach-sleeping. Eventually, the most comfortable sleeping position is what you practice and get used to. But this could turn out to be the very reason why you have recurring back pain. You see, your sleep posture determines your spinal alignment.

Obtain a neutral spinal alignment, where the natural curve of the spine is maintained, and you have yourself a good night's rest that involves your pain being healed. Now take the opposite, where the spine's all misaligned and strained. This situation is where your lower back pain exacerbates out of proportion.

As per everything we've discussed, the general guidelines for the ideal sleeping posture include the following:

  • Keeping proper alignment of the spine
  • Avoiding excessive pressure on the spine and back

The 3 main sleeping positions

Our body can twist and turn itself into three unique sleep positions - side sleeping, stomach sleeping, and back sleeping. Let's familiarize ourselves with each one before we delve into which is best for lower back pain.

  1. Back sleeping

Back sleepers lie on their backs with their faces and torsos pointed toward the ceiling. This position is also referred to as the supine position.

PROS

CONS

  1. Side sleeping

Side sleeping is considered one of the best sleep postures for most sleepers. Side sleepers sleep on either their left or right side, with their torso and legs aligned horizontally.

PROS

  • Promotes proper spinal alignment
  • Alleviates pressure on the lower back
  • Alleviate symptoms of acid reflux and heartburn
  • Easier breathing leads to a reduced risk of sleep apnea or snoring
  • Improves circulation and reduces pressure on the uterus (for pregnant women)

CONS

  • Pressing the face against pillow may lead to wrinkles
  • An unsupportive mattress can cause spinal misalignment
  • An overly firm mattress can cause pressure sores on the side of the body
  • An uncomfortable pillow can cause/worsen neck pain and shoulder pain
  1. Stomach sleeping

Stomach sleeping is the least recommended position by health experts. Stomach sleepers place their faces, chests, abdomens, and legs facing down onto the mattress surface.

PROS

CONS

  • Gravity can put pressure on the spine and back, causing spinal misalignment and back pain
  • Stretching of the neck to either side can strain it
  • Facial aging and wrinkles may develop
  • It may worsen symptoms of acid reflux or heartburn.
  • Overly firm bedding can lead to pressure sores on the chest and face

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What is the best sleeping position for lower back pain?

best sleeping position for lower back pain

The best, most supportive sleeping position for lower back pain relief is side sleeping in the fetal position. Adding a thin pillow between your knees can further reduce pressure on the body and promote spinal alignment, allowing your pain to heal more comfortably.

Why is this position considered ideal? Side sleeping is generally considered the best, as it promotes neutral spine alignment and reduces pressure on the back. Over other sleep postures, this provides the most perfect environment for your lower back pain to heal without any disruptions.

To make this position more comfortable and effective, practice it on a mattress that can support your spine without hindering any cushioning for your hips and shoulders. A good, firm pillow is also essential. A thicker pillow can keep your neck, head, and shoulder in proper alignment with the body.

Can other sleeping positions be as effective as the best one?

Based on our observations, back sleeping can be put second on the list of the best sleeping positions for lower back pain relief. Though it may put pressure on the back, it is far better than stomach sleeping.

Lying flat on your back with a supportive pillow keeps your head and neck aligned with the spine. A thin pillow beneath your knees may also provide better spinal alignment. Additionally, a medium-firm mattress should be able to provide enough support for the body without blocking comfort.

Stomach sleeping is considered the least effective sleeping position for lower back pain. Gravity can place a bit of pressure on your exposed back, which worsens the pain. If you have to stomach sleep, then do so with a pillow underneath the pelvis/abdomen region, as it can reduce a bit of the pressure put on your back. A firm mattress (with a very thin pillow for the head) is recommended so that you can avoid spinal misalignment.

What type of lower back pain do you have?

Broadly speaking, there are two prominent types of back pain that affect your lumbar spine region. One is acute, and the other is chronic.

Acute back pain is short-term and often caused by injuries. Chronic back pain is long-term and often a byproduct of an underlying medical condition.

But there are other types of lower back pain as well, which are more specific. Knowing these will help you identify whether shifting to the best sleeping positions would be enough to alleviate them or whether you'd need to do something more.

Bone Back Pain

If your bones in the spine have been damaged through issues like osteoporosis, degenerative disc disease, spinal fractures, or even cancer, then there's a good chance that your lower back pain is bone-related. The chances of bone back pain being chronic can be high, and you will require medical intervention.

Muscular Back Pain

When you stress your muscles in the back, either through overuse or injury, then your lower back pain will become muscle-related. Muscular back pain can often be reduced by resting, practicing good posture, and taking medication.

Nerve Back Pain

The nerves in your back, when compressed or irritated by issues like sciatica or a herniated disc, become the source of your lower back pain. In this case, a combination of rest, medical intervention, and good sleep posture may help relieve some pain.

Referred Back Pain

Pain that occurs first in a different part of your body, such as the pelvis and lower abdomen, and then affects your lower back is called referred back pain. Just practicing a good sleep posture may not be enough in this case. You will also need to deal with the pain that occurs in the other part of your body.

Postural Back Pain

Poor posture is something everyone deals with at least once in their lifetimes, either during daily activities or through muscle imbalances. Once they realize its negative effects, such as neck and back pain, they start practicing good posture. Proper ergonomics and exercise, along with good sleep posture, are the best ways to go about dealing with postural back pain.

Psychological Back Pain

Psychological issues, such as depression, stress, and anxiety, can sometimes cause lower back pain. The clear reason behind this is still murky, but a general idea is that such issues increase our sensitivity to pain or cause issues in our body that lead to pain. To combat this type of back pain, you may need therapy. A good sleeping position can help you get a comfortable sleep, improving your mood.

These are a few of the most common types of lower back pain. If you've identified your back pain as one of these, and if it cannot be treated by merely shifting your sleep posture, then you need to visit a medical professional to get proper treatment on time.

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Other tips for managing lower back pain during sleep

yoga/stretching to manage lower back pain

Some additional tips and strategies for lower back pain relief include -

    Lower back pain is often manageable through lifestyle changes such as the ones listed above. Combining these with a good sleeping posture is often the best course of action.

    So there you have it! We’ve been able to determine that side sleeping is the best sleeping position for lower back pain relief. If you are unable to maintain this position, you can always try lying on your back with a pillow between your knees. However, if your pain lasts for an extended period of time and worsens, you should see a doctor. We hope you found this guide useful, and best of luck in eliminating your back pain!

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    Disclaimer: What is said in this article has been referenced from multiple sources and is intended only for educational and informational purposes. Please note that no content in this article is a substitute for professional advice from a qualified doctor or healthcare provider. Always consult an experienced doctor with any concerns you may have regarding a health condition or treatment, and never disregard any medical suggestions or delay in seeking treatment because of something you read here.

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