A Simple Tip for Alleviating Low Back Pain When Sleeping on Your Stomach

Many individuals wake up with low back pain. Sometimes this pain can be prevented. When individuals sleep on their stomach, the lumbar spine can go into excessive hyperextension. This jams the posterior elements of the spine together which can lead to pain.

low back pain

In order to prevent this from happening, perform a posterior pelvic tilting action prior to lying down. Simply lift the body upward and squeeze the glutes as hard as possible, then lay back down. This new position will “grip” and the spine will be in a more neutral position, which will prevent the posterior elements from jamming together.

posterior-pelvic-tilt

I’ve had a few clients over the years inform me that this simple tip was a life-changer for them, so I figured it was worth posting as a blog in case others out there could benefit from it. Here’s a 20-second video showing how it’s done:

There are plenty of other beneficial strategies for alleviating low back pain when sleeping. Placing pillows underneath the abdominals when sleeping on one’s stomach, in between the knees when sleeping on one’s side, and/or underneath the legs when sleeping on one’s back can work miracles too, as can avoiding problematic positions altogether. Finding optimal mattresses and pillows can be life-savers as well.

Don’t just accept low back pain as part of life – be proactive about it and figure out solutions. Sleep should go hand in hand with your strength training endeavors, not work against them!

17 thoughts on “A Simple Tip for Alleviating Low Back Pain When Sleeping on Your Stomach

  1. Raptor

    The pillow thing can work but wouldn’t that compound the issue you already have? I mean wouldn’t it be better to improve the hip flexor flexibility, improve ab strength etc?

    Some people might get the message that using pillows under/between the legs etc is all they need. If you’re in anterior pelvic tilt and you do that… then you’re going to always be in anterior pelvic tilt (like I am).

    And even if you stretch and do all that, sitting for ~8 hours in a anteriorly rotated pelvic position isn’t going to really help.

    Reply
    1. Bret Post author

      Raptor; I don’t have APT but when I lay on my stomach I do (along with lumbar hyperextension). Standing and sitting are fine, but when I lie on my stomach, I can’t help but move into positions that cause pain. So folks don’t have to exhibit APT and lumbar extension to experience back pain when sleeping. If someone does have those issues, I believe that they should attempt to fix it (which I wrote about here: http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/dont_be_like_donald_duck).

      Reply
  2. Andy...

    Or you could just resort to another sleeping position?.

    There seems to be a lot of conflict what the ideal sleeping position is.

    Lying on your right side frees the spinal column of the oppression of gravity and allows it to assume its natural curvature, relieving the spine from stress. Your also going to placing less stress on your heart.

    Heres a good blog from Scott Sonnon on the subject: http://www.rmaxinternational.com/flowcoach/?p=1103

    “Position impacts greatly impacts quality of sleep. Sleeping in fetal position restricts diaphragmatic breathing causing shallow sleep depth (low quality rest and recovery). Sleeping on your back induces severe snoring leading to restless shallow sleep. Sleeping on your stomach prohibits neutral spine, pressures joints and impinges nerves. Sleeping on your side produces optimal biomechanics (especially on your left side) as it increases blood flow, maintains neutral spine, releases pressure from joints and nerves, prevents snoring and releases diaphragmatic breathing; these combine to allow deep, quality sleep.”

    From my research sleeping on your stomach (freefaller) is the worst position you can adopt.

    It just takes some practice to get out of the habit.

    Reply
    1. Omar

      Your comment “simply resort to another position” is a little silly. Do you really think that of we had not tried and thought of that people would be looking for other answers? Ones body has preferred sleeping positions and no matter how some people try (like myself) our body while sleeping goes back to its preferred position.

      Reply
      1. Tricia

        Omar,

        I agree. I have tried new sleeping positions to only end up awake and just as uncomfortable. I tried the recommended exercise and am so happy and comfortable laying on my stomach once again. I wish I new about this 15 years ago. What a life changer.

        I wish you comfortable rest soon.

        Reply
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  4. Patrick

    This may be a weird question but where did you get that photo at the top? The one of the blue guy holding his lower back and the nerves lit up? Please, I’d really appreciate it.

    Thanks,
    Patrick

    Reply
  5. Beth

    This post was extremely helpful. I’d like to recommend a memory foam mattress as it really worked to help relive my mild lower back pain, and woke up in the morning pain free, it also helps to relive it days after, which is great because I travel a lot. however this is only very mild back pain, I don’t have any knowledge surrounding serve back pain or clinical conditions. sorry if this isn’t helpful!

    Reply
    1. Jonathan

      Ditto on the memory foam mattress. As soon as I got a good quality memory foam mattress to sleep on, most of my back issues were addresses. I also spend about 10 minutes on an inversion table before I go to bed. The combination of the inversion table and memory foam mattress have really done wonders in improving my back pain.

      Hope these tips also help other people out there!

      Reply
  6. Miles Austin

    Thanks for the information! I recently saw one of the top specialists for back pain in NJ and he gave me the same tip. He also told me that if I sleep on my side I can put a pillow between my legs and it will have the same effect!

    Reply
  7. chiropractic clinic in chester

    Hey Bret,

    I have used the new sleeping positions mentioned in your blog and it really works. I was having terrible back pain on regular basis and I felt really helpless. I tried the mentioned exercises and now I am happy with my conditions now. Thanks!

    Reply
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