Quite a number of people suffer from low back pain and sciatica. A recent study carried out by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) revealed that over the past decade, the number of reported cases of these ailments rose exponentially.
These two complaints can have debilitating effects on the quality of life of people who suffer from them. Being in constant, severe pain is no picnic.
Apart from that, sciatica and lower back pain can make even the most mundane of daily activities such as sitting, bending over and even standing for sustained periods really painful to achieve. Needless to say, several aspects of the person’s life will take a hit, including productivity and general enjoyment of living.
Sometimes the pain associated with lower back pain and sciatica can be so unrelenting and overwhelming that you may be forced to manage it with pain relief medication. However, for several reasons, that is not often the best solution.
Those drugs are very addictive and excessive ingestion of drugs can have harmful side effects, including organ damage. Not to mention that the pain returns just as soon as the masking effects of the drugs wear off. The best way to approach the treatment of lower back pain and sciatica remains natural.
The paradox of lower back pain and sciatica is that both can be treated by sufficient amounts of restful, uninterrupted sleep, but sufferers of these ailments find it almost impossible to get a good night’s sleep. Studies reveal that an inability to sleep is one of the most reported symptoms of lower back pain and sciatica.
In this post, we’ll take an in-depth look at lower back pain and sciatica and outline several tips that will help you sleep better and by extension, help you get rid of lower back pain and sciatica completely.
Lower Back Pain And Its Causes
Lower back pain is a very common complaint, with about eighty percent of the population projected to experience it at one time or another. As we grow older, several changes in our bodies make us more vulnerable to lower back pain. Lower back pain may be acute, which usually lasts between a few days to a few weeks, or chronic, which may last longer than three months.
A lot of things can lead to lower back pain, such as illness (cancer and arthritis) and spinal injuries. The most common causes of lower back pain, however, are awkward sleeping positions, bad posture and lifestyle habits such as smoking. Symptoms of lower back pain and sciatica include:
- Sudden shooting pain
- Pain that becomes more prominent when you bend, walk, stand or lift heavy objects
- Pain that seems to move down your legs
- Muscle aches and stiffness
- Pain that only lets up when you recline
Fortunately, lower back pain requires minimal medical assistance and can be effectively managed from the home (some of the times). However, if it doesn’t improve with sufficient rest, or if it leads to weight loss, seek medical advice. Here are a few tips that can help prevent lower back pain:
- Exercise: Build up the muscles in your back and abdomen by consistently engaging in low impact aerobic exercises.
- Maintain correct posture: Avoid slouching or positions that put pressure on your back and spine. Also, when sitting, choose seats that offer ample lower back support, and avoid sitting for long periods.
- Get in shape: Being overweight can put unnecessary strain on your back muscles and overload your spinal discs and joints.
- Avoid heavy lifting: Lifting heavy objects puts a lot of strain on your back. However, if you have to, then ensure that your legs do most of the work.
- Quit smoking: Smoking negatively impacts blood flow to the lower spine, which can result in the degeneration of your spinal discs.
- Sleep on a level and firm surface.
Sciatica And Its Causes
According to research, about 40% of people experience sciatica at some point in their lives. Sciatica refers to pain resulting from the irritation of the sciatic nerve, caused by a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, infection, trauma injury to the lumbar spine, degeneration of tissues, etc.
The sciatic nerve is the largest and thickest nerve in the body, beginning at the lower lumbar regions and culminating in both legs. The most distinctive feature of sciatica is that in addition to causing pain in the lower back regions, it also affects the lower limbs. Sometimes, sciatica can cause pain in both legs.
The pain caused by sciatica can be pretty severe. In some cases, sciatica can impede mobility, to the point where it becomes extremely difficult to walk. Several patients have reported sharp, electric jolts of pain while attempting to carry out the most mundane of tasks, such as bending over and standing up. Other symptoms of sciatica are:
- Numbness of the lower extremities including leg, buttocks and lower back.
- Severe pain aggravated by any kind of movement.
- Pain in the lower extremities.
- Loss of the ability to control bowel movements.
If diagnosed early, sciatica can be treated fairly easily. Thorough and sufficient rest is usually enough to lessen the effects of sciatica and potentially rid yourself completely of the ailment.
It’s a sad fact of life that as we get older, we become more susceptible to sciatica, but these steps can be taken to reduce your vulnerability:
- Shed excess weight: Excess weight heaps additional workload on your spine.
- Build up your muscles: Having solid muscles in your back and abdomen can greatly minimize the risk of sciatica.
- Adopt correct bearing and posture: A bad posture puts enormous strain on your back.
- Be active: Sitting idle for prolonged periods can make you more vulnerable to sciatica.
- Quit Smoking: Smoking impacts your bones and spinal tissue negatively, which can lead to increased vulnerability to sciatica.
- Be careful with heavy weights: Lifting heavy loads may require straining your back, which can cause sciatica in the long run.
Best Sleeping Position For Lower Back Pain
If you’re suffering from lower back pain, having consistently good night rests can take care of the issue in record time. There’s no bad way to sleep; you just need to find out what works best for you, and the best way to arrive at a true conclusion is by experimenting.
Before that, however, you may need to make some lifestyle changes, and invest in good mattresses and extra pillows. Whether you prefer to sleep on your back, on your stomach or on your sides, here are the best sleeping positions for lower back pain:
- On Your Back With A Pillow Under Your Knees
Most people prefer to sleep on their backs and there certainly are arguments in favour of this particular method. Sleeping on your back encourages correct alignment of your spine, with your body weight distributed uniformly across your whole body. This position further offers support for your back and reduces pressure on it.
For the best results, place a pillow under your knees. This pillow helps to keep your back in a level position, easing the tension in irritated nerves. If you find this position uncomfortable, then place a small, rolled-up towel under the small of your back. This will help maintain your body’s natural shape at night.
- On Your Back In A Reclined Position
If you’ve noticed that you fall asleep faster and sleep better in recliners, then this position might just be the best for you. Ordinarily, sleeping reclined, or on recliners is not recommended (because recliners do not lend themselves well to comfort), but in certain situations, it might actually work.
Sleeping in recliners creates an intersect between your trunk and thighs, which serves to ease the pressure on your spine.
When sleeping on recliners or in reclined positions, remember to place a pillow under your back, to maximize comfort and offer support to your back. Alternatively, you may enjoy the full benefits of this position by purchasing an adjustable bed.
- On Your Side With A Pillow Between Your Knees
Do you prefer sleeping on your side? This position is also great at managing and treating lower back pain. It doesn’t make much difference whether you prefer to sleep on the right or left side of the bed, or on your left or right side. However, try as much as possible to mix it up.
The idea behind putting a pillow between your knees is to help your body attain a natural alignment that can rid you of pain. Ensure that the shoulder closest to the mattress makes actual contact with it. You can also draw up your knees slightly or place an extra pillow between your ribs and pelvis.
- On Your Side, In The Fetal Position
The fetal position is the position commonly associated with babies in their mother’s womb. This position helps to stretch out your spine, easing tension in it. It is particularly beneficial to people with herniated discs: it opens up the space between the vertebral bones. Again, you can choose to sleep on your left or right side, as long as you don’t maintain the position for too long.
You don’t need pillows here. Simply lie on your back, tuck your knees towards your chest, then gently ease your body towards your knees.
- On Your Stomach, With A Pillow Under Your Abdomen
This might look like a strange choice, considering all the not so positive things you’ve heard about sleeping on your stomach. But as we said earlier, if it works for you, go for it.
Sleeping on your stomach can actually help reduce low back pain because it puts your lower back in an extended position. It is, however, severely taxing on your back and neck.
If this position becomes uncomfortable, we recommend using a small pillow under your abdomen to help ease the pressure on your lower back.
Lower Back Pain In The Morning After Sleeping
Sometimes we go to bed in really high spirits and wake up fully optimistic about the day, only to be hit with lower back pain. Despite the fact that this situation is very common (we’ve all experienced it at some point), it’s still pretty uncomfortable and may put a dampener on the whole day.
Thankfully, the symptoms are pretty mild and you’ll be as good as new when you move around a bit, usually. If the symptoms do not leave after some time, or they even get worse, you may consider using pain relief medication or consulting your doctor.
Early morning body pain can sometimes be caused by underlying health issues. Nevertheless, the cure to most morning back pain conditions is just a new mattress or a few stretches away. Let’s examine the causes of lower back pain in the morning after sleeping, and how to relieve it:
- Bad Sleeping Position
Most instances of morning back pain can be attributed to defective sleeping posture. Bad sleeping posture flattens the natural curve of your body, placing a great deal of pressure on your spine and leading to back pain.
This problem can be fixed by making simple adjustments to your sleeping posture. Alternatively, a few strategically placed pillows will also do the trick. Back sleepers should put a pillow under their knees to help with spine alignment.
If side sleeping is more to your liking, place a pillow between your legs. If you enjoy sleeping on your stomach, place a pillow underneath your abdomen.
- Degenerative Disc Disease
This is a natural process, caused by ageing. The lumbar spinal canal narrows as a result of the weathering of discs in the spinal cord. The symptoms of this disease include reduced mobility as a result of severe pain in the lower extremities.
If you experience the symptoms of degenerative disc disease, you can treat it with pain relievers. You can also try wearing a back brace, or physical or alternative therapies like chiropractic care.
- Unsuitable Mattress
This is another cause of early morning back pain. If your mattress struggles to support your weight, chances are you’ll wake up feeling pain all over. That’s probably why experts recommend that a bed should be changed after ten years.
How to know when your mattress is no longer up to the task? If you notice clear indentations or impressions on it after sleeping on it. A good mattress can improve the quality of your sleep by up to 94%, so make sure you choose one that offers the right blend of support and comfort.
This ailment causes pain all over the body and joints. Fibromyalgia is an incurable disorder which amplifies the brain’s pain processing, and women are more susceptible to it. It can also cause depression, anxiety, fatigue and a whole host of other issues.
It can be managed with medication for pain relief or therapy. Making certain lifestyle adjustments can also help sufferers of this disorder cope better.
- How You Get Out Of Bed
There’s such a thing as getting out of bed the wrong way. Standing up too abruptly or using your back muscles to get up will definitely put pressure on your back. Instead, roll gently to the edge of your bed.
Then, with your arms, push yourself up to a sitting position, with your legs dangling off the bed. Take a few moments to get adjusted to this position, then place your feet slowly on the ground and get up.
Best Sleep Positions For Sciatica Pains
Many people who suffer from sciatica rarely have reason to look forward to sleeping at night, because very little actual sleeping is done. Most of the night they spend sighing, tossing and turning, trying to find the position that’ll offer a reprieve.
Here we’ve listed the best sleep positions for sciatica pains. These recommendations are backed by scientific research. You’ll fall asleep faster and easier in any of these positions and wake up refreshed and recharged.
- On Your Back, With Elevated Knees
Patients report remarkable improvements in their sleep when they sleep in this position, that’s why it’s so highly recommended. This position is ideal because it takes pressure away from the lumbar back and discs areas where the sciatic nerve is situated.
If you want to try out this position, simply lie fully on your back, ensuring that your whole body is in full contact with the bed. Next, raise your legs slightly and place pillows under them.
You can please as many pillows as you feel comfortable with. If you’re not fully comfortable with this position, place other pillows under your arms and neck, and on the side of the bed.
- On Your Side, With Pillows Between Your Knees
This is another popular position. This position is great because it doesn’t put any pressure on your back, and by extension, the sciatic nerve and other inflamed areas. Sleeping on your side can help reduce pain greatly, leading to better sleep.
Try out this position by lying flat on your bed, then gently rolling on your side. Preferably, choose the side where you feel the least pain, or no pain at all.
Next, clasp your knees and push them a little towards your chest, then place your pillow between your knees. For better support, place additional pillows under your arms and neck.
- On Your Side, In A Fetal Position
The fetal position is really great at easing pressure and pent-up tension in your back and spine. It stretches your spine, while simultaneously helping your spine maintain it’s natural curve.
To achieve this position, lie on your side. Again, make sure you lie on the side where the pain is less. Then, bend your knees and curve your spine. You can also ease your body gently towards your knees.
Put a pillow between your knees to ensure that your spine is in alignment. Do not, however, curl yourself too tightly.
Tips For Sleeping With Sciatica Pain
- Don’t sleep on your stomach: Sleeping on your stomach is one of the things you should avoid if you’re managing the symptoms of sciatica. This sleeping position puts enormous pressure on your back, causes further irritation of the sciatic nerve and flattens your natural curve. However, if you find that you cannot sleep in any other position apart from this, place a pillow under your abdomen.
- Lie On The Floor Sometimes: This is not strictly recommended by experts, but several patients report that sleeping on the floor has helped relieve them of pain at several points. If you cannot ascertain the cleanliness of the floor, spread a towel before you lie down, or simply make use of a yoga mat. You can also make use of pillows to maintain proper alignment of your body. If it doesn’t work for you; if you don’t notice any appreciable change or you simply miss your bed, resume the use of your bed immediately.
- Take Warm Baths Before Bed: Taking a warm bath before going to bed can relax your muscles and ease tension in your nerves, which can leave you sufficiently relaxed to make the transition to sleep smooth and easier. Ensure that your bath water is the right temperature: neither hot nor cold. Alternatively, you can apply a little heat to the areas around your lower back.
- Perform Simple Exercises Before Bed: Doing mild exercises before hitting the sack can help you fall asleep faster and generally relieve you of pain. However, take care not to do anything too heavy, as that will flood your body with adrenaline, which will make it nearly impossible for you to fall asleep. Simple light yoga stretches are perfect in this regard.
- Get A Good Mattress: Mattresses that struggle to support your weight could be contributing to your pain. If you notice indentations of your shape on it after use, you probably should start thinking about getting a new one. Whether you’re a stomach, back or side sleeper, finding the right mattress for you can go a long way towards managing sciatica.
- Good Pillows Matter: Pillows are very essential to the management of sciatica. If you choose the right ones, you’ll be taking a giant step towards consigning sciatica to long-past, painful history. However, finding the perfect pillows for you can be easier said than done, so you need to take your preferences and circumstances into consideration before making a choice.