Sleeping and back pain
It is obvious, that there can be no sleep, when your back hurts like hell and you can’t fall asleep without taking painkillers, or drinking a whole bottle of wine, which may ease the pain, but may also help you to become an alcoholic.
If this is your case, refer to my article on Acute Back Pain.
What I would like to discuss with you, is the case where your back is not perfect and you may have occasional back or neck pain.
“Occasional” pain or ache
You may be waking up aching and it takes time to get going or you may have a slight headache in the morning which only eases after a hot shower and a cup of coffee.
You maybe get tired quickly and feel depressed, because of general feeling of weakness and fatigue. You may under-perform at work and can’t wait until the day is over. Add to this, elbow and wrist pains, “pins and needles”, numbness, knee and hip pain and you get a picture of a chronic back pain sufferer.
Chronic back pain?
You may say, that you don’t have chronic back pain, there is only an occasional “twinge” or “pull” or stiffness. This is because your body is a great conspirator and is very good at hiding your problems from you. Remember – good back shouldn’t EVER hurt at all! Therefore, if you have any of these symptoms above – you must be concerned that your body may become tired compensating for back problems and they will get much worse.
Importance of the spine
Let me kindly remind you, that your back is not only a main support for your internal organs and the rest of your body, but also carries and protects the network of nerves, which are the one and only communication system between your central computer (the brain) and your body.
There is nothing happening in your body without command and control from your brain through the nerves.
The reason for concern is only one – if you do not keep your spine in perfect condition, it deteriorates (wear and tear) very quickly, because lack of movement is followed by weakness and insufficient lubrication of the spinal joints. This is The “Scary” Arthritis – the verdict your doctor gave you, when you went to see him with back or neck pain 5 or 10 years ago. If you are reading this now, you still have this problem, because you have already read 5 paragraphs.
How to maintain a healthy back
What your doctor didn’t tell you, is that if you maintain your back’s flexibility and strength, the wear and tear would slow down to the minimum level and your pain would dramatically decrease. All the functions of your body would be at their possible best.
Your car is the best example. You can drive your car without servicing, changing oil or filters for many years, except one day it will give up on you and break down totally. If you service it on time, it will serve you many years without any problems at all.
Variance and probability of back pain
We are often asked: “How come I have so much back pain and my neighbour (or friend) doesn’t have any?”
Depending on your past life trauma, amount and type of exercise, your work conditions and your inherited strength and ability to heal, you may have arrived to the present moment with minimum pain and damage or if you are less fortunate your back took more damage and is not recovered and repaired enough, so you are in a lot of pain.
Diet, nutrition and amount of liquid you consume also plays a major role.
- Just like a better car, your spine may have started out at a better quality from birth and has been able to take more damage, and it may have been driven (used) more carefully and serviced on time. Therefore it’s in a better condition today.
- If your back is not as strong and you abused it a lot in the past, it may suffered more damage and this is why you are in much more pain and are still reading this.
Your back always needs servicing!
A “better” back will need less service and the worse one will need more service and care. If you deny your spine the required service, it will eventually break down and require some major interventions (injections or surgery?), because simple servicing won’t be enough.
Wait! You thought this article was about sleeping, and if you are still on this page, you have probably guessed where I’m going.
The importance of sleeping
When you are asleep, your sleep goes through phases, from shallow to deep. If nothing disturbs your nervous system – you will be falling deeper and deeper into the world of sleep, your body will rest and repair more and more, and you will be most likely to wake up refreshed and rested and a good day at work will follow!
However, if you tend to turn and move during the night many times and if these turns are uncomfortable or painful to your body, your sleep will be superficial, and although you may not wake up in pain, you will feel tired in the morning. Your body will not repair itself as well and the brain won’t rest.
Thus to follow – another tiring and frustrating day at work.
Vicious circle of poor sleep
Imagine sleeping in a noisy environment, or if somebody is constantly poking you with a stick all night. This is how you are going to feel when your brain is being bombarded by the signals of pain coming from your spine and the rest of your body all night long. So, there is a vicious circle, when you can’t rest and heal properly because you are not sleeping well. At the same time, you will not be able to sleep because of back pain!
Chiropractic solution for sleeping
Chiropractors believe, that when your spine is not moving properly, the spinal nerves which manage the body can’t perform very well, this is why you feel worse in the morning. During the day when you are on the move, your spine is moving better and therefore nerves have more space and you feel better. When you in bed, the joints which are “stuck” move even less and may affect nerves even more and that’s when your symptoms get worse. This is why “pins and needles”, numbness and pain may wake you up at night or bother you in the morning.
And of course, when nervous system is not at its best, because the spinal joints are swollen and agitated, most of your body organs and systems will suffer from lack of management and nutrition which supposed to come from perfectly functioning nerves.
Get your back right and you will sleep better, age slower and have a happier life. Wellness chiropractor will show you the way.
We always ask our patients about the quality of their sleep when we examine them on their first visit. We tend to find, that their sleep often improves during the course of treatment, as they regain their spine’s flexibility and strength.
Mattress or pillow may improve sleep
It is difficult to fall asleep when your back is hurting. It is good to have a good mattress and a pillow which supports your head in the midline of your body when you are sleeping on your back or the side. I describe a perfect pillow and a good mattress here.
Some of our patients find that it is easier to fall asleep with the pillow between their knees, that seems to take some pressure off their spinal joints and that speeds up the recovery.
Best sleeping posture!
We are always asked about best sleeping position. Sleeping on the back is the healthiest option as the gravity acts down to flatten your back which is basically the opposite of what you been doing all day long – slouching.
You get taller with sleeping!
If you measure your hight in the evening and after a good night sleep, you will find that you are actually taller in the morning, as your spinal disks are re-hydrated and the spine is stretched. In the evening you will be a little shorter because of the gravity and poor posture increasing the curves of the spine and de-hydrating the discs. Sleeping on the back not only straightening the spine reducing the slouching posture but helps re-alignment as you are not twisting or turning and gravity is evening out the tension around postural muscles.
There are of course, few conditions to better sleep:
1. Good mattress, which is hard enough underneath to provide good support and soft enough on the surface to be comfortable
2. Good pillow wich supports your head and the neck in the midline of your body and is soft enough to enjoy.
3. If your back is hurting you may need to put a pillow or a rolled blanket under your bend knees and if it doesn’t help, find position where it doesn’t hurt.
Sleeping on back for straighter back.
People who suffer with excessive kyphosis (roundback or over-curvature of the thoracic spine) are advised to lie on their backs on the roll of the soft towel to slow down the progression of the curve. The roll is positioned in the middle along the spine and this is advised to be done daily for 5-10 minutes and preferably in the evenings. This sparkled the idea of Posture Pole and other devices to help you to fight rounded shoulders and curved back. Most of them are very useful if used on a regular basis (daily).
Pillows and Mattresses
This is a very sensitive matter, because you may already have paid £2000 or more for your mattress and your back is still hurting, you may also purchased the “best” memory pillow on the market, but you are still waking up with a sore neck or maybe a headache.
Well, a good mattress and a good pillow are not the remedy for back and neck pain, but of course they are very important if you want to maintain good spinal health.
So what is a good pillow from the point of view of a back pain expert? Technically speaking it is a pillow which maintains your head in it’s neutral position and does it softly and comfortably. Imagine yourself standing in normal upright posture – this is when your neck is in the NEUTRAL position, it means all the joints are well aligned, because the neck is not bent or twisted. You need a pillow which provides that when you are resting your head on it!
If your pillow is too high or too low, you neck will be pulled or pushed on one side more than the other. The muscles and other tissues in the neck and shoulders will be weakening when over-stretched on one side, while those on other side will be shortened and that may cause stiffness.
Royal rest was voted “The Best” neck pillow according to a study conducted by JMPT (Journal of Manipulative and Physical Therapies). You can read the article here .
Another thing we liked about Royal Rest pillows, was it’s durability. We had a couple of those in a clinic for over 5 years in use every day, and it is still as new, although used every day.
Sleeping on your stomach
Another common bad sleeping habit is sleeping on your stomach. That keeps your neck twisted to one side all night, weakening the pulled side and stiffening the shortened side. Everything in our body is made for balance and being out of balance for a long time will eventually cause damage. Imagine standing on one leg for 8 hours. You will feel twisted and have pain. Eventually your neck will feel that way if you keep sleeping on your stomach.
There is also a belief that sleeping on your stomach increases risk of stroke and heart attack. Due to lowered blood pressure and heart rate during sleep sleeping on the stomach is thought to cause pooling of blood in major blood vessels sluggish blood flow may increase risk of blood clotting possibly leading to heart attack or stroke if these clots decide to travel to the brain or heart blood vessels. These threats are not confirmed by general medicine and may be more dangerous for people with high cholesterol and other underlying conditions.
However, I’m not going to try to prove or disprove that, using my own example. This is why I sleep on my side or my back on a comfortable pillow, which is firm enough to support my neck and soft enough to make me comfortable and enjoy a good night of sleep. This pillow is not too hot (some memory foam pillows are), not too hard and it is breathable (good air flow between neck and pillow).
It is best when the pillow has a depression for the head and a slightly raised edge to support the neck at the mid-line.
Neck Pillow – best for neck and shoulders
Remember, that the pillow is made for your neck only. It is not for resting your shoulders on it, the reason we say that, because we know, that many people climb onto their pillows with their upper body (shoulder) and sleep that way totally twisting their neck, shoulders and upper body. The main purpose of the pillow is to level out your neck with the rest of the spine, keeping it in neutral position, so all the structures in the neck can comfortably rest and repair during sleep.
We sold five different types of neck pillow at our clinic over the last few years, but the most successful pillow was always the Swedish pillow – “Royal Rest”.
It has all properties described above and is rather affordable compared to it’s much more expensive competitors.
None of these pillows were ever returned, we use them ourselves and have great feedback from our patients.
Everybody loves Royal Rest, because unlike most of the neck pillows it is very soft and comfortable.
You can get one from the clinic, we try to keep our prices cheaper than Amazon.
There is a picture of a section of the pillow, demonstrating the blue core on both sides of the pillow, designed for a gentle support of your neck while you sleep on the back or the side.
Best Mattress for Back Pain
Mattresses need to have similar properties. They have to keep your spine more or less straight in the neutral position. This means they have to be firm enough to provide support, especially for a bigger person. It has to be soft at the same time, to provide comfort for your “protruding” body parts, such as hips, elbows and shoulders. Is this possible? Yes it is!
We recommend a pocket sprung mattress or one with orthopedic support foam base covered with a layer of memory foam. This will provide good support in general, so your body doesn’t “sag” like in a hammock and the memory foam will make you feel soft and comfortable, increasing the surface area and minimising the pressure onto more prominent parts of you body. Mattresses like that may cost between £400 – £700 for a double, but you can always spend more if you can justify it.
Perfect Choice of mattress
It is recommended to visit different showrooms and try different types of mattresses, noting down the quantity of springs per mattress and the thickness of memory foam. Be careful with the memory foam- it may be too hot with thicker layers or too hard with thinner layers. I recommend going with your wife or husband or partner, because you may have different body weights and sensitivities. If you are too busy to go around trying mattresses, get it from Dormeo. They are one of the most experienced mattress retailer online in Europe.