Waking up from a restless night’s sleep can have a detrimental impact on your day. Sadly, lower back pain is one of the most common causes of sleepless nights and in the UK alone, ⅓ of the adult population suffer from lower back pain.
Whilst we may work on our posture during the day, when it comes to sleeping, considerations of how we sleep i.e. our mattresses, pillows and sleep positions often get neglected.
For the lucky few, after a few movements, stiffness in joints and lower back pain may ease but for others, there may be an underlying cause that needs further investigation.
Why does my lower back hurt when I wake up?
Generally, there can be a few causes of lower back pain when you wake up in the morning. Lack of movement for a prolonged period of time whilst you sleep may cause supporting soft tissues to seize up. Chances are, if lower back pain is a common occurrence then you are probably not benefitting from a decent night’s sleep. Sleep is paramount to our health and if disturbed, can have long term health consequences.
For most, lower back pain is a short term problem, either lasting for a few days or potentially a few weeks without the need to seek medical help. If your back pain lasts longer than 12 weeks then it is deemed chronic and will need medical support.
If your pain has recently started to occur, you may benefit from looking at the below causes:
Sleeping positions – what to aim for and what to avoid
It is widely documented that your sleep position affects your body and your health. Getting your body into a neutral position is key, essentially ensuring your spine remains straight and well-supported.
The best position is a difficult one to answer in that they all have pros and cons. One should aim for the position that gives you the best quality sleep with the smallest reaction in the morning. Typically we all tend to move through the night anyway.
That said, a sleeping position to try first for mechanical support would be to lie flat on your back – on a firm, but comfortable mattress. Using a suitable pillow under your head and placing a second under your knees will encourage healthy spine alignment while sleeping.
Although sleeping on your back is our recommended position, we can’t deny that it is a position that most struggle with. If lying on your back feels unnatural then try sleeping on your side, a firm second favourite. Putting a cushion or pillow between your legs would prevent excessive rotation through your spine that may generate pain.
Sleeping sideways with your legs straight is a close second and helps with snoring and sleep apnea.
Legs bent whilst on your side (referred to as the fetal position) may restrict movement of your diaphragm and affect your breathing.
Mattress – How your mattress affects your lower back pain
We already know the importance of maintaining a straight spine whilst sleeping to ease lower back pain however, the mattress you lay on can either help your sleeping position or it can hinder it. If you’re trying to maintain the correct sleeping position but your mattress is too soft, then all your efforts to correct posture and ease pain will be in vain.
An excessively soft mattress that does not support your body weight will begin to sag. The sagging in your mattress will ultimately lead to your body posture and alignment dipping, usually in larger areas such as your back.
With so many mattress options available, how do you determine the best one for you?
A popular mattress choice to ease muscle aches and back pain is an orthopaedic mattress. They are designed to offer sleepers the best support around joints and the back, helping maintain a natural sleep position and encourage your spine to remain straight and distribute weight evenly.
Ultimately, when looking to update your mattress we always recommend you try the mattress out, check the firmness and speak with an expert.
Pregnancy and sleeping positions
Lower back pain in pregnancy is very common and it’s no surprise why! As your baby grows, your body expands, your centre of gravity changes and your hormones are working on your ligaments, relaxing them and your pelvic floor, getting ready for your baby’s arrival.
There are a few things you can try to ease lower back pain in pregnancy including your posture, your sleep position and your overall approach to lifting and carrying.
Side sleeping is encouraged when you’re pregnant, with most experts recommending sleeping on your right side, although the left side is also acceptable.
Avoid sleeping on your back, especially during the second and third trimester.
Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)
Degenerative disc disease is a term used when referring to neck and back pain caused by wear and tear on a spinal disc. Whilst we normally recommend sleeping on your back to aid lower back pain, if you are suffering from degenerative disc disease then sleeping on your stomach may help to ease that low back pain.
Sleeping on your stomach when suffering from DDD relieves pressure on your discs, making it more comfortable for you to sleep. Using a firm mattress and placing a small pillow under your stomach and hips will further help. Be aware that stomach sleepers do twist their necks and this may cause aching or stiffness in that area.
If sleeping on your stomach is not an option, try sleeping on your back whilst elevating your upper body with a pillow wedge. If you’re sleeping in this position then we highly recommend you support your knees too by bending them slightly.
The best sleep position to prevent lower back pain
Based on our experience and the research conducted by many over the years, sleeping on your back is generally the best sleep position to try first, to prevent lower back pain. This combined with the right mattress, a healthy lifestyle and a calming environment all aid in a restful sleep that allows you to wake up refreshed, revived and most importantly free of pain.
Using our tips to help ease pain and ensure they are in place before the problem starts will help you prevent issues later down the line.
In addition, adding some time to your morning routine to help stretch your back and body after a night’s sleep can add wonders to your day.
Morning stretches to help your lower back pain
There are five recommended stretches practised and advised by many medical experts, all of which can help you ease your lower back pain.
- Supine Twist. Lay on your back, placing your arms on the ground with your palms facing down. Lift your feet until your shins are parallel to the ceiling. With an exhale, lower your legs to the right, keeping your shoulder still and firmly on the ground (if possible). Then, turn your head to look at your left hand and hold for 10 seconds. Return back to the central position slowly and repeat on the opposite side
- Hip Stretch. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Position your right leg ankle on the knee of your left leg. Link your hands below your left thigh or if easier, over your knee and pull your thigh towards your chest. Hold this position for 10 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
- Side Bend. A simple exercise that can be carried out standing up. Place your hands flat to your sides and slide one side down your leg as far as you can go. Expect to experience some discomfort. Hold for 10 seconds, slide back to a straight standing position and repeat on the opposite side.
- Back Flexion Stretch. Whilst lying on your back, bring your knees into your chest and embrace. Slowly move your head towards your knees. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Relax and repeat 3 times.
- Sitting Flexion Stretch. Sit on the edge of your bed or chair to reach down to the floor with your hands. Your goal is to curl your spine into a ball. Maintain this position for 10 seconds before slowly sitting back up. Repeat a minimum of 3 times.
As with all aches and pains, we always recommend seeking medical help and advice if the problem persists.
At Morley Chiropractic Clinic, we have over 20 years of experience helping individuals with their lower back pain and we are registered with the British Chiropractic Association, Royal College of Chiropractors and the General Chiropractic Council.
If you would like further advice and help then please contact us to book an initial consultation and first treatment.