Back pain is a common complaint for adults. About 80 percent of adults will experience lower back pain at some point in their life. More than a quarter of adults report experiencing low back pain within the last three months. Low back pain is the most common cause of job-related disability and a major contributor to missed work days.
If you’re waking up with back pain, chances are you’re not getting the restorative sleep you need at night. Common causes of back pain include getting into an accident and lifting something heavy. Sometimes back pain can develop over time with age. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to low back pain, especially if you have a burst of activity your body isn’t prepared for.
Most low back pain is short-term, lasting just a few days to a few weeks. Often, it resolves on its own or with a treatment of the underlying cause. However, chronic back pain persists for 12 weeks or longer. Sometimes, a medical or surgical procedure can relieve the pain, but sometimes, pain persists despite treatment.
(This article was written for Pure Family Chiropractic by authors at SleepHelp.org)
How Sleep Can Contribute to Back Pain
Although there are many potential sources of lower back pain, how you’re sleeping can be a factor. When you’re sleep deprived, your tolerance for pain is lower than it would be if you slept well. Studies have shown that losing sleep can heighten sensitivity to painful stimuli. In theory, sleep loss increases painful inflammation — and getting enough sleep may reduce inflammation.
Another factor that can increase back pain is your response to pain medication when you’re sleep deprived. In a study of healthy normal adults, the analgesic effects of codeine are diminished in sleep-deprived individuals versus non-sleepy individuals. Sleeping well may help your pain medications work better.
Why Your Mattress Matters for Back Pain
If you’re waking up with back pain, you may be sleeping on the wrong mattress. However, your bed is typically not the cause of back pain. In any case, a good mattress can help relieve issues that cause back pain.
A good mattress that is well suited to your needs will help to align your spine. This alignment can alleviate aches and pains. People who suffer from lower back pain should look for a mattress that doesn’t put pressure on pain points, particularly the shoulders and sacrum. These beds are typically firm enough that your shoulders don’t sink, but soft enough to feel comfortable. Look for 5-7 rating on the mattress firmness scale (1-10).
Choosing a Mattress That Can Help With Back Pain
With the right mattress, you can align your spine and relieve pressure points, which can alleviate or eliminate back pain. That’s why it’s important to choose a mattress that meets your needs for firmness, comfort, and support. When you’re shopping for a bed that can relieve your back pain, consider these points:
Don’t buy a new mattress. It’s true; you may need a new mattress. But if you are overall happy with the bed you have and just want to make a slight adjustment, you don’t need to get a brand new model. Instead, consider your needs and try out a mattress topper instead. A soft mattress topper can make a firm mattress more comfortable, or a foam mattress topper can add firmness.
Dial in firmness and support. It’s important to choose a mattress that is neither too firm or too soft. Many people think an extra firm mattress is the best choice for back pain sufferers. However, that’s not always the case. A medium firm mattress typically offers universal comfort, or a firm mattress with a soft pillow top may be a good choice. A bed that is too soft will not provide enough support, and you’ll sink down too far into it to feel comfortable.
Seek out a sleep trial. Many online mattress companies offer sleep trials of 100 nights or more. These trials are typically risk-free and allow you to purchase the mattress and keep it for up to 100 days, returning it at any point during the trial if you feel you’re not happy with it for any reason. This type of sleep trial can allow you to try out a mattress for an extended period and determine whether it is well suited for your needs in relieving back pain. If you don’t like it, you can return it for your money back and try a different mattress that may be better for your back.
Sleep Tips for Back Pain Relief
Your mattress isn’t the only factor in relieving back pain while you sleep. How you sleep matters, too. Your sleeping position, sleep quality, and more can make a difference in back pain when you wake up. Consider these tips for improving the way you sleep:
Change the way you sleep. Your sleeping position can make your back pain better or worse. If you sleep on your stomach, you may be straining your back muscles, and rotating your neck to the side can cause neck or back pain between your shoulders. It’s best for people with back pain to sleep on their back or side, changing positions throughout the night to ease the pressure that can come with sleeping in a single position all night.
Align your spine with a pillow. Ideally, your spine will maintain alignment all night as you sleep. This alignment isn’t always possible to achieve with a mattress alone, but you can use a pillow to improve spinal alignment. If you’re sleeping on your back, place a pillow under your knees to help your spine maintain its natural curve. Side sleepers should squeeze a pillow between their knees. If you’re sleeping on your stomach, you can relieve some pressure by placing a pillow under your lower abdomen and pelvis.
Get treatment for sleep disorders. Serious sleep disorders including insomnia and sleep apnea can rob you of the restorative sleep you need to feel your best. Talk to your doctor about treatment for sleep disorders, such as using a CPAP machine at night for sleep apnea.
Get help from a chiropractor. If you’re sleeping fine but still have back pain, talk to a chiropractor. A chiropractor can help you identify the cause of your back pain and adjust your back so that you can get some relief.