It’s hard enough experiencing back pain as you go through your day, but back pain at night when you want to sleep is especially grueling. Many patients experiencing nighttime back pain aren’t even especially uncomfortable during the day, but find that once they climb into bed, the pain may be too much to bear. These people find themselves in a nasty cycle: insufficient or interrupted sleep can exacerbate the very same pain that keeps them up each night.
Nighttime back pain can be caused by a number of issues. Disc degeneration and arthritic changes as the result of aging may be to blame for some patients. A bulging or herniated disk putting pressure on a nerve can cause back and leg pain when lying flat. Sprains or fractures and conditions such as scoliosis, spinal stenosis, or even endometriosis may also cause pain at night. It’s possible that nighttime back pain may be an indicator of spinal tumors, though this is quite rare. Typically, mechanical causes of lower back pain will get better once you are in a comfortable position, but when you roll over in bed, may wake you up. Also they are often accompanied by morning pain or stiffness.
Before turning in, try these tips for better rest.
- Use a body pillow. While there’s no perfect position for everyone, sleeping with a body pillow can ease after-dark pain. Lie on your side with the pillow between your knees to take pressure off your back and hips. A normal bed pillow used in this way may also help.
- Change how you use your usual pillow. Remember, a pillow should support just your neck and head. Your shoulders shouldn’t rest on the pillow. You may also want to consider switching to a water pillow. Water pillows provide additional support to the head and neck, reducing stiffness and discomfort.
- Consider a new mattress. Your back pain at night may be a direct result of your mattress. Most mattresses last through their ten year warranty, but if you’re experiencing pain or restlessness, it may be a good idea to change your mattress within five to seven years. A helpful trick for picking out your next bed: find the hardest mattress in the store, then go down a level or two in firmness. The National Sleep Foundation advises that firmer isn’t always better. Seek out a store with a 30-day money back guarantee; this gives you time to rule out other causes.
- If using heating pads, exercise caution. Heating pads are great for easing muscle aches, but sleeping with one puts you at risk for burns. Be sure to use a heating pad only when you’re awake and only on its lowest effective setting.
If, after trying these tips, your pain persists or your nighttime back pain radiates to other parts of the body, I recommend seeing your doctor immediately.
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