Bad Sleeping Postures: A source of your Back Problems

Principles of Good Posture
To achieve optimal and pain-free function, body needs to have a balance between flexibility, strength, mobility, relaxation, an uncluttered mind and conscious movement. With all our responsibilities, family, jobs and stress, this natural equilibrium is mostly lost. During our early life, we enjoy a wide range of motion in our joints. We can walk on such uneven surfaces as rocks and mud. And we can sit almost anywhere, on the floor or on a rock. We can float or swim, run, jump, climb, roll, bend down, stretch up, reach sideways and backwards.

Unfortunately, after years of continuous walking and sitting in chairs in poor positions, we are wearing out rapidly. Our lives are geared to mechanical devices that do most activities for us. Then, we go to the gym and exercise by pulling and pushing our arms and legs against an unyielding resistance. We rarely extend our range of movement by using our limbs freely.

Human adaptability has allowed us to adjust to compromised body movement and function. If you allow your bodily health to wear down, you will find that you wind up falling as you get older. Older adults are hospitalized five times more for fall-related injuries than any other group.

Improper Bed Postures
Even in resting positions such us lying on your back or stomach, the body needs to maintain its natural equilibrium. A poor bed surface or sleeping position can give rise to discomfort which may last for more than a day.

Lying on your stomach is generally not advisable even though external supports such as pillows are used. This is due to the duration in which your body needs to assume throughout the night

Refer to the picture below of the front sleeper whose lower back is excessively arched and whose neck is strained as it rotates to one side in order to breathe normally. The position is not restful or recuperative because it compresses certain joints too much.

In this picture below take notice of the effects of low quality mattresses can do to your spine. You will notice excessive curvature in the neck and low back areas even on the sidelying position

Aside from mattresses (which I will discuss on future posts), pillows may also be a potential source for neck aches/stiff necks early in the morning. Always be sure that you are not stacking or lacking pillows at bed time. Be sure that your head is aligned with the rest of your body when lying down at your back or at your side.

Pro Tips in Achieving Good Sleeping Postures
A good sleeping position should keep your spine and joints correctly aligned as in the diagram below. This will help you rest comfortably and allow your musculoskeletal system to restore itself overnight.

Even with just changing your old mattresses may help relieve some of the discomfort you might be experiencing and achieve big differences on how you feel in the morning.

Proper Side lying Position

  1. When lying on your side, take the hand that rests closest to the bed and place it under your neck. Feel for any upward or downward tilt on the pillow. There should be no space or lack of support from the pillow at this junction. A good position allows your neck to lie in a straight line from the rest of your spine.
  2. The shoulder resting on the bed should not be pulled up towards your ear. If it is, slide it slightly downwards. You may need two pillows above your shoulder or one thicker one for proper support.
  3. A rolled-up towel under the top pillow can be helpful to support your neck.
  4. Let your cheek rest on the pillow, facing straight ahead.
  5. Lie with both knees bent and a pillow between them. You can place a pillow in front of you, so your top arm can rest on it and also prevent you from twisting your torso

Proper Supine Lying Position

  1. When lying on your stomach, place a pillow or two under the head to maintain a neutral head position
  2. To prevent your head from rolling to one side at night, place a rolled towel under each side of the pillow to form a trough for the neck
  3. Place a small pillow or rolled towel beneath both knees to maintain proper position of the lumbar spine

Each body is different. Use the amount of pillows you may need to keep you aligned, supported and comfortable.

Your neck and back should feel at ease in the morning if you have followed these instructions. You might notice that there’s no instructions for lying on your stomach– as a PT I advise against it due to the stress it’s giving to your mid and lower back for 6-8 hours straight. For those who insist on lying on their stomach, you may place a small pillow on your lower abdomen to maintain some natural curve on your spine. Study the lines of your neck and back and notice whether they are kinked or unsupported. The aim is to waken in the morning comfortable and refreshed.

I hope these tips would help improve your quality of sleep. Check out my article on Easy stretching exercises for your neck area.
Thank your time and support!

1. Rosalind Ferry. The Posture Pain Fix: How to fix your back, neck, and other Postural problems that cause pain in your body. 2013
2. Fejer R, Kyvik KO, Hartvigsen J. The prevalence of neck pain in the world population: A systematic critical review of the literature. Eur Spine J. 2006;15(6):834–48.

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