Home » The Best and Worst Sleeping Positions for Chronic Pain in the Neck, Shoulders and Back (INFOGRAPHIC)

The Best and Worst Sleeping Positions for Chronic Pain in the Neck, Shoulders and Back (INFOGRAPHIC)

by Melissa Bell
3 minutes read

We spend about a third of our lives asleep. However, the way we sleep can have an incredible impact on back, neck, joint and chronic pain. A good night’s sleep allows your body to repair and rejuvenate as it prepares for another day. If you are waking up tired or with aches and pain, consider changing your sleep position to a one that helps alleviate your chronic pain instead of intensifying it.


Image credits: SheKnows

What if you sleep on your back?

When sleeping on your back, the lower back can arch excessively, increasing pressure on your spine. To alleviate this, try bending your knees slightly upwards. You can maintain this position during the night by using a few pillows underneath your knees. Choose a rounded pillow to support the natural curve of your neck, with a flatter pillow cushioning your head – try tucking a small neck roll into the pillowcase of a flatter, softer pillow, or by using a special pillow that has a built-in neck support with an indentation for the head to rest in.

How about sleeping on the stomach?

Sleep professionals don’t recommend sleeping on your stomach as it causes strain on your lower back and possible neck pain. People who sleep in this position complain about increased restlessness caused by frequent tossing and turning in an effort to get more comfortable. If you tend to sleep on your stomach, it’s best if you use an extremely soft pillow or none at all so as not to put your neck at an awkward angle. If suffering from insomnia or other sleep problems, it’s best to avoid sleeping on your stomach.

What about sleeping on your side?

Sleep specialists recommend sleeping on your side in order to rest more comfortably and decrease the likelihood of interrupted sleep. Furthermore, this sleeping position keeps your spine in the best alignment. Try to maintain a position where you are not overly curled up, keeping the spine in a neutral alignment from the neck all the way down.

A pillow placed between the knees in a side-sleeping position helps keep the spine and pelvis in the best alignment, alleviating any unnecessary pressure, and can also be more comfortable for your knees.

What sleep position is best for neck pain?

For neck pain, it is helpful to use a small rolled up hand towel right under the neck for added support. You can place the towel inside the pillowcase to help it stay in place.

Which sleep position is best for shoulder pain?

If it is difficult for someone to lie directly on their shoulder they can try rotating their shoulder slightly forward or backward. Try using extra pillows for support to help maintain a comfortable position throughout the night.

Some additional tips for side and back sleepers from the Harvard Medical School:

  • Try using a feather pillow, which easily conforms to the shape of the neck. Feather pillows will collapse over time, however, and should be replaced every year or so;
  • Another option is a traditionally shaped pillow with “memory foam” that conforms to the contour of your head and neck. Some cervical pillows are also made with memory foam. Manufacturers of memory-foam pillows claim they help foster proper spinal alignment;
  • Avoid using too high or stiff a pillow, which keeps the neck flexed overnight and can result in morning pain and stiffness;
  • If you sleep on your side, keep your spine straight by using a pillow that is higher under your neck than your head;
  • When you are riding in a plane, train, or car, or even just reclining to watch TV, a horseshoe-shaped pillow can support your neck and prevent your head from dropping to one side if you doze. If the pillow is too large behind the neck, however, it will force your head forward.

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