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Best Sleeping Positions For Back Pain & Sciatica


Posted by Dr. Scott Wilson | 01-Feb-2023

  • Sleeping positions can have a significant impact on the development and severity of back pain and sciatica. 
  • Sleeping in a position that provides proper support and alignment of your spine is crucial in preventing back pain & sciatica. 
  • While changing the sleeping position is helpful, it’s not the only solution, physiotherapy, exercise, and self-care techniques can also be effective in managing and preventing back pain and sciatica.

If you’re suffering from lower back pain and sciatica, you know that getting a good night’s sleep can be a real challenge. Sleep is essential to our overall well-being. However, for those struggling with lower back pain and sciatica, certain sleeping positions can exacerbate pain and discomfort, making it difficult to get the restful sleep we need to function properly. Conversely, other sleeping positions help to reduce the level of pain and sciatica symptoms experienced. Here’s a quick overview of the best sleeping positions for reducing back pain and sciatica along with some tips and advice on how to sleep comfortably.

How Your Sleeping Position Affects Back Pain & Sciatica 

For those suffering from lower back pain and sciatica, the wrong sleeping position can cause the spine to become misaligned, leading to increased pressure on certain areas of the spine and on certain muscles, which can cause pain, discomfort and reduced mobility.  For example, stomach sleeping can cause the lower back to arch, which can lead to increased pain and discomfort. The wrong sleep position also leads to poor sleep quality, which adversely affects overall health and well-being.

On the other hand, a more supportive sleeping position helps to maintain spinal health. It reduces muscle tension, promotes muscle relaxation and prevents the onset or exacerbation of back pain and sciatica symptoms. It also helps to promote healthy circulation and oxygen flow throughout the body, which can lead to a more restful and rejuvenating sleep – which is essential for overall physical and mental well-being. 

Recommended Sleeping Positions for Sciatica Sufferers

Here are a couple of options to consider and one to avoid if you’re suffering with back pain & sciatica. Of course, it’s important to note that individual comfort may vary, so you should experiment with different positions to find the one that provides the most relief. That said, if you find it difficult to change your sleep position, \speak with your healthcare provider or a physical therapist to get personalized recommendations and guidance.

1. Back Sleeping with a Pillow

Sleeping on your back with pillows placed for support is recommended for lower back pain and sciatica sufferers. The first pillow should be placed under your head and neck. This supports the natural curve of the cervical spine. Your pillow should be just high enough to avoid causing your head to tilt forward or backwards. This tilting can lead to a misalignment of your spine. Place the smaller pillow or towel roll under your knees to keep your lower back in a neutral position. This also alleviates pressure on the lumbar region.

This position helps to maintain the natural alignment of your spine and reduces pressure on your lower back. It can also help to reduce muscle tension and improve circulation, which promotes overall spinal health and alleviates pain and discomfort. 

2. Side Sleeping with a Pillow

Side sleeping with pillows placed specifically for support is also recommended for lower back pain and sciatica sufferers. As above, the first pillow is placed under your head and neck. This supports the natural curve of the cervical spine. Your pillow should be just high enough to avoid causing your head to tilt forward or backwards. This tilting can lead to a misalignment of your spine. Place the second pillow between your knees to keep your hips and pelvis level. It also helps to prevent your lower back from twisting. You could also consider placing a body pillow or a towel roll behind your back. This will help support the natural curve of your lower back.

This can help to alleviate pressure on your lower back by maintaining the natural alignment of the spine. It can also help to reduce muscle tension and improve circulation, which can promote overall spinal health and alleviate pain and discomfort. You may need to experiment with different pillows in order to find the one that provides the most support and greatest comfort. 

3. Stomach Sleeping

Sleeping on your stomach is discouraged for those with lower back pain and sciatica. When you sleep on your stomach, your spine is forced into an unnatural position. This can cause your lower back to arch excessively. This excessive arching leads to increased pressure on the discs and nerves of the lumbar region. It can cause pain, discomfort, muscle tension and strain. Sleeping on your stomach also forces your head to one side. This can put stress on your cervical spine and lead to neck pain.

Managing Back Pain & Sciatica: Other Considerations

Optimizing your sleep position can certainly make a significant difference when suffering from back pain and sciatica. However, your mattress and pillow quality also have an impact. A mattress that is too soft or too hard can cause improper alignment and pressure on sensitive areas. Similarly, using a pillow that is not supportive can cause your neck to bend unnaturally.

Aside from sleep related considerations, other treatment options, such as physiotherapy, can also make a difference, as does altering certain behaviours. Physiotherapy can help to improve muscle strength, flexibility, and range of motion. These are all important factors in preventing and managing back pain. Avoiding prolonged sitting or standing, improving your posture and increasing your exercise level, can also make a difference. 

FAQs on Relieving Sciatic Pain

Q1: What sleep position best relieves sciatica pain?

Answer: Sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees is considered the best position for alleviating sciatic pain. It keeps your spine in a neutral position which reduces pressure on the sciatic nerve and promotes proper spinal alignment. 

Q2: How do I get my sciatic nerve to stop hurting?

Answer: There are several ways to alleviate sciatic nerve pain:

  • Stretching & Exercises: Stretching and exercise can help to strengthen the muscles that support your lower back and reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve.
  • Physiotherapy: A Physiotherapist can develop a personalized stretching & exercise program to alleviate your sciatic pain.
  • Chiropractic Care: A Chiropractor can help to alleviate sciatic pain by performing  adjustments to your spine that reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve.
  • Massage Therapy: A Massage Therapist can help to alleviate sciatic pain by reducing muscle tension and improving circulation.
  • Acupuncture: An Acupuncturist can help to alleviate sciatic pain by promoting the release of endorphins and improving circulation.
  • Hot & Cold Therapy: Applying heat or cold packs to the affected area can help to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Medication: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help to temporarily alleviate pain and inflammation.

Taking Control of Your Lower Back Pain & Sciatica 

Finding the right sleeping position is crucial in managing back pain and sciatica. Sleeping on your back or side with pillows placed for support can make a significant difference to your sleep quality. It can also positively affect your symptoms and your overall quality of life. It’s also important to consider other factors. The quality of your mattress and pillow also has an impact. So does your posture, exercise level and other daily habits. 

If you need help with addressing your lower back pain & sciatica, contact us today and let our team of highly skilled Physiotherapist, Chiropractors and Massage Therapists show you why, at Physiomed, Healthier Starts Here.

Dr. Scott Wilson

Dr. Scott Wilson is the Founder & Chairman of Physiomed; one of Canada’s largest franchised networks of inter-disciplinary healthcare clinics. A graduate of Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, Dr. Wilson founded Physiomed in 1994 and has since grown Physiomed to over 30 clinics in Southern Ontario and British Columbia. With hundreds of practitioners from over a dozen disciplines, Dr. Wilson and Physiomed have helped over 100,000 Canadians with physiotherapy, chiropractic, massage therapy, orthotic therapy, compression therapy and clinical conditioning as part of a program of rehabilitation and health optimization. In addition to helping patients improve their physical and mental well-being, Dr. Wilson has also mentored hundreds of practitioners to provide better care while enjoying more fulfilling careers. He is also a keynote speaker on many health related topics including how physiotherapy, chiropractic and health & wellness treatment can help with stress, weight loss, and unlocking the true potential within to achieve lasting physical well-being.

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