BACK pain can be unbearable at the best of times, never mind when you’re trying to get a decent night’s sleep.
Valentina Roffi is a Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist and Director of Sprint Physiotherapy.
She reveals she has gone through a phase of struggling with back pain at night, yet there are some simple tweaks that can be made to your sleeping habits that can help ease discomfort.
Give the below a try and see how you sleep, tonight…
A word of warning: Valentina adds that if all the above techniques below fail to tackle night time back pain and back pain persists for longer than a few days, it’s important to seek expert care.
She said: “A qualified chartered physiotherapist, osteopath or doctor will be able to screen this and give further advice on treatment.”
Try pre-bed stretches
“With regards to sleep positions for either lower or upper back pain, I’m afraid there is no ‘one size fits all’ advice,” says Valentina.
“As a gross generalisation, upper back pain is often related to postural causes.
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“It can be helpful to go through a little stretch routine before getting into bed,” she advises.
“This can include stretches that get the arms moving above the head, across the chest and even outwards.
“Shoulder rolls are helpful as well as back stretches like cat/cows and rotations.”
She adds that the body likes to move: “Movement allows muscles to contract and pump fresh blood and oxygen around the body as well as keeping joints lubricated and soft tissue flexible.
“During the night we tend to stiffen up as we lie in static positions for longer periods of time, hence getting sorer throughout the night.”
Consider how you move during the day
Valentina explains that exercise is a very important tool to help tackle spinal pain, whether it’s in the neck, upper or lower back.
“Finding the right daytime exercise regime will have an impact on the quality of sleep and reduce long term back pain.
“A physiotherapist can help guide on what the best routine is for specific problems and provide individual advice.”
As a rule of thumb, if a form of movement hurts more or feels particularly uncomfortable, stop, and get professional advice.
Go mattress shopping…
“Having the right mattress can be helpful.
“Unfortunately while there is great marketing for specific memory foam or orthopaedic mattresses out there, even these can be a bit hit and miss for some people,” warns Valentina.
“Everybody is different and what works for you may not work for your next door neighbour, regardless how similar your back pain may seem.”
When mattress shopping, lie on as many display mattresses as possible, before making your final choice.
“Do not rush your decision,” says Valentina.
Or work with what you’ve got…
“Ultimately, it will come down to how firm or how soft one likes it.
“Should changing a mattress not be an option, there are easier ways to change how firm or soft your current one is,” says Valentina.
Try a thick mattress topper to soften the feel, allowing for more comfort when you lie down.
“A firm plank of wood under the mattress will do the opposite, for those bodies that prefer a firmer support,” she adds.
Check your pillow positioning
Pillows can become great allies, according to Valentina.
“Pillow positioning can be a bit trial and error but having an array of pillows to position in different places can be very helpful.”
“Some people find lying on their sides with a pillow between their legs quite helpful.”
You might find a thicker, fluffier pillow is helpful for between the legs or a memory foam which can mould around the position of your body.
“This reduces the stress through the hips and pelvis and can allow the back to relax more,” says Valentina.
Stomach sleeper? Try placing a pillow under your abdomen and/or bending one knee to one side.
“The thinner the pillow, the better for this as it will be enough to provide some pressure relief for the spine,” says Valentina.
However, if the pain is higher in the back, placing a pillow behind the back for support can be of comfort or hugging a pillow to prevent the body from fully rolling too far forwards.
This can be a comfortable position for those who prefer lying on their backs, as Valentina says it allows the weight of the body to be fully distributed amongst some of the widest areas of the body.
“Placing a pillow underneath the knees can reduce pressure through the lower back.
“Thick, fluffy pillows or thin pillows can be appropriate for this, depending on the amount of support one needs.”
Relax before sleep
“Stress can be a significant perpetrator for pain,” says Valentina.
“Going to bed in a stressed state will likely contribute to a poor night sleep paired with discomfort during the night.
“For example, creating a consistent routine 30 minutes before sleep time can help the body relax and settle into a relaxation pattern.”
Try dimming lights and unplugging from electronics 30 to 60 minutes before sleep to decrease mental stimulation, which then helps to increase levels of the sleep hormone, melatonin.
“Slow, deep breathing techniques as well as meditation techniques can be both beneficial for pain management and relaxation.”