Today’s Solutions: January 19, 2022

Do you find yourself struggling with chronic aches and pains? There are a lot of contributing factors to any bodily discomfort we may feel during the day—for instance, whatever you do for work, whether it’s hours of manual labor or sitting hunched over a screen for extended periods will result in stiff limbs and sore muscles. However, something else may be adding to it: your sleeping position.

We spend around 50 hours per week sleeping (if we’re getting the recommended seven to eight hours a night), which is a long time for our bodies to spend in any given position. If you’re experiencing chronic pain, it may be that you’re putting yourself in the wrong position for hours on end, which exacerbates the pain you feel during the day.

According to rheumatologist and internist Jonathan M. Greer, MD., the best sleeping positions for distinct types of pain usually stem from aligning your body in a way that removes undue pressure from any associated nerves and joints.

A common way people worsen back or neck pain is by sleeping on their stomachs. “Sleeping on the stomach is a big culprit when it comes to exacerbating neck and back pain,” Greer says, “as it causes an unnatural extension of the spine.” It can also trigger numbness or tingling in the arms due to nerve compression, adds physical-medicine and rehabilitation doctor Jaspal R. Singh, MD.

Read on for more sleeping position recommendations for different aches and pains, according to both Dr. Greer and Dr. Singh.

For back pain: Lie on your side with a pillow between your knees

Like lying on your stomach, lying flat on your back with your legs outstretched can also cause your spine to extend unnaturally, which often leads to pain. Both Dr. Greer and Dr. Singh suggest lying on your side with your legs bent (think fetal position) with a pillow placed between your knees.

If you really want to lie on your back, you can prop a pillow beneath your lower legs to support your spine. You can also consider investing in an adjustable bed that bends upwards, so that you’re not lying fully flat, but are approaching a more upright position. “Elevating the head above the feet, similar to how you would in a recliner, can remove some pressure from the lower part of the back, and help with snoring, too,” says Dr. Singh.

For hip pain: Lie on your back with a pillow beneath your knees or lower legs

Lying on your side might make hip pain worse, so your best bet is to sleep on your back with your legs propped up by a pillow under the knees. “The bony prominence that sticks out of the hip called the greater trochanter has a sack of fluid on top called a burse,” says Dr. Greer, “which can often get aggravated when you lie on one side all night, especially if you’re on a hard mattress—and that can cause inflammation called bursitis.”

For neck pain: Lie on your side or back using a contour pillow

Back or side, it doesn’t matter in this case, but the game-changer here is your pillow. A pillow that is made to conform to the neck’s natural shape is the best way to mitigate neck pain. “You don’t want to go with multiple pillows under the neck or no pillow at all, as either option can cause unnatural extension,” says Dr. Singh.

So, now you know what the ideal sleeping position for you is based on the kind of discomfort you experience during the day, however, the magic isn’t all in the sleeping position. Both experts recommend a medium-soft mattress for people suffering from back pain, contrary to the belief that super firm mattresses are the best.

They also say that you should pay attention to your daytime posture and alignment, too. According to Dr. Singh, “it’s essential to maintain a good, ergonomic workstation and a highly mobile lifestyle, frequently changing positions, rather than sitting in one spot all day, in order to bring blood flow and nutrients to the spine.”

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