The American Chiropractic Association estimates that 31 million Americans experience back pain, and almost all of us will experience it at some point in our lives. Although it's a common condition, chronic back pain can be extremely debilitating and have a huge impact on an individual's mood, health, and overall quality of life.
The back is, at the same time, one of the strongest and most fragile parts of our bodies. It's at the intersection of countless ligaments, muscles, and bones; which is why back pain has so many different causes. Often, it can be hard to pinpoint a single one. From being overweight to medical conditions to a simple awkward movement; back pain can be brought on by a myriad of different factors.
In this article, we'll explore the link between back pain, sleep, and weight. We'll discuss the root causes of back pain, before suggesting some ways to minimize it and ensure you get a good night's sleep.
Sleeping with Back Pain
Have you ever woken up with a sore back? Or perhaps you've had trouble falling asleep because you couldn't find a position that provided enough relief from your nagging backache? Perhaps you push it to the back of your mind and think "it's just my back playing up again, it'll get better one day".
Back pain can have a huge impact on sleep, and a lack of sleep can lead to more serious side effects and complications later in life. If you're suffering from back pain and find that it's affecting your sleep, it's crucial that you get to the bottom of the problem and search for solutions to help keep the pain at bay.
What can cause back pain?
Back pain can vary from being slightly inconvenient to downright impossible to live with. Unfortunately, as we get older we're all more prone to a few more aches and pains as our bodies stop working like they used to.
So what exactly causes back pain? Let's take a look at some of the major factors that can contribute to back pain and other problems like neck pain and joint pain.
Lifestyle is the most important factor when it comes to people who experience lower back pain. In fact, most people who suffer mild back pain can improve symptoms with small lifestyle changes. So what aspects of your lifestyle can cause or exacerbate back pain?
Excess body weight and obesity
Did you know that there's a link between back pain and weight? An unhealthy weight decreases blood flow and is linked to a range of health issues including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. It also increases the chances of a person experiencing joint, neck, and back pain, as well as muscle strain. Extra weight affects the lower back in particular, as it's a part of the body particularly vulnerable to weight-related pressure.
Getting older (it happens to us all!)
According to the National Institutes of Health, the first attack of low back pain usually occurs between the ages of 30 and 50, and then, well... It's all downhill from there. Just kidding, but it is true that back pain (particularly in the lower back ) becomes more common as we continue to get older. This occurs because the intervertebral discs start to lose fluid and flexibility as we get older, which means they don't cushion the vertebrae as they used to. What's more, osteoporosis can result in fractures and a loss of muscle elasticity and tone. We're still looking for the fountain of youth, too.
A lack of exercise can result in the muscles in your back becoming weaker which can lead to worsened back pain. If we lead inactive lifestyles and spend a lot of time working from a computer desk, our backs are more likely to become stiff and painful. Regular exercise can reduce back pain and improve spine health by keeping the muscles strong.
Other common causes of back pain
There are many factors that can lead to back pain. Other common causes include:
- Strain in muscles or ligaments: repeated heavy lifting or sudden, awkward movements can result in back injuries
- Skeletal problems: Bulging or ruptured discs, scoliosis, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, osteoporosis
- Poor posture habits
- Uncomfortable mattresses: poor support can cause pain or existing pain may worsen
Back pain and sleep: What's the connection?
You might not realize it, but poor sleep can exacerbate back pain. People with sleep disorders are much more likely to suffer from back pain as well. In fact, it's reported that 50-70% of people with chronic low back pain have compromised sleep quality.
Sleep abnormalities due to back pain can result in a reduction in sleep time, increased waking throughout the night, as well as difficulty getting to and maintaining sleep. Due to poor sleep quality, individuals who suffer from lower back pain are prone to experiencing poor daytime functioning and are more likely to nap throughout the day. This can seriously impact a person's quality of life.
How does weight affect back pain?
As we mentioned earlier in the article, there is a proven link between obesity and back pain, but how exactly does weight affect back pain?
The American Obesity Association reports that back pain affects nearly one-third of overweight or obese people. Obesity can result in a myriad of other health complications as it puts increased stress on every organ in the body and the skeleton itself.
When your body carries excess weight, particularly belly fat, the weight pulls your pelvis forward, adding strain to the muscles and ligaments in your back. Lower back pain is particularly prevalent, and over time the spine can curve and become unnaturally tilted.
People who are overweight are also more likely to experience sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that causes pauses in breathing or shallow breathing during sleep. An estimated 18 million Americans suffer from the condition daily, and it's often associated with overweight or obese people. Disordered breathing can result in daytime tiredness, which makes it more difficult for people to find the motivation to get active and achieve weight loss goals. Bad sleep can also result in further weight gain due to decreased energy levels and lowered metabolism.
If you're experiencing new pain symptoms, back pain especially, then evaluate whether you can attribute it to weight gain. Weight loss is a method that can reduce spine problems by relieving pressure and reducing stiffness.
How can I reduce back pain?
If you suffer from back pain then you'll be pleased to know that there are some actions you can take to reduce it. Depending on the cause of your pain, these solutions might not eliminate it from your life completely, but they can help to alleviate pressure and make living with back pain much easier. Making general changes to improve your lifestyle, like deciding to lose excess body fat, or improving posture can improve symptoms of chronic pain in the back.
Choose the Right Bed
A good bed can make a huge difference to your back pain. When choosing the best bed for you it all depends on your personal preferences. We've come up with some tips for choosing the right bed to provide the right support for your spine and help relieve your low back pain.
Choosing the right mattress
Many people think that buying the firmest mattress they can find will reduce their lower back pain, but this isn't always the case. The main consideration here is that you need to choose a mattress that keeps your spine aligned. It shouldn't be too soft or too firm, it needs to be just right. It's kind of a Goldilocks and the Three Bears situation. If you're unsure about which kind of mattress to choose, or you're worried about selecting the one that's too firm, it's always best to choose one that's medium-firm or ask your doctor for a more informed recommendation.
It's also worth considering a memory foam mattress that molds to the shape of your body to keep you aligned all night long. What's more, research has shown that a new mattress can make a world of difference to your sleep quality. A good mattress is an important investment, so be sure to take advantage of companies that offer trial periods. This way you can test out whether the mattress was just super comfortable in the showroom, and evaluate if you can spend the next few years sleeping on it or not.
If you suffer from a bad back, choosing a good bed frame can also make a difference. You might want to look into adjustable beds, which allow you to raise the top and bottom parts of your bed to find a position that provides the most relief.
Don't Forget Neck Support
Finding the proper neck support can play a big role in back pain relief. Your pillow's role is to support the upper part of your spine. More often than not people are using too many pillows, or lumpy, misshapen ones that do more harm than good. Here are some tips about how to choose the right pillow to suit your preferred sleeping positions.
Back sleepers may benefit from thinner pillows that fill the space between the neck and the mattress. Side sleepers, on the other hand, should use a thicker pillow that keeps the head aligned with the rest of the body. If you're a stomach sleeper, then it's best to use a thin pillow or no pillow at all to keep your body aligned.
Different types of pillows can support your neck in different ways. Memory foam pillows are a popular choice as they mold to fit the individual's neck to provide support. They also retain their shape overnight, unlike down or feather pillows which can deflate, interrupting your body alignment in the process.
If you experience back pain, you might find that the last thing you want to do is move. You might be surprised when your doctor recommends gentle exercise when the pain is your body's way of telling you not to move! However, movement is the key to recovery, so you should probably listen to your doctor.
If you've had an episode of back pain, make sure you move carefully. Don't lift heavy objects or make sudden movements that are likely to put excess strain on your spine and joints. Instead, make sure you listen to your body and make careful movements to prevent further damage.
The Right Sleeping Position
Finding the right sleep position can make a noticeable difference in lower back pain. Sleeping in a bad position that doesn't provide your spine with the support it needs or puts too much pressure on your lower back can worsen pain and disrupt sleep.
Everyone has their favorite sleeping position. Whether you prefer to nod off on your stomach, side, or back, here are some tips to improve your back pain and keep your spine aligned:
- Back sleepers: Try putting a pillow under your knees to keep your spine neutral. Sleeping on your back can relieve pain as you distribute your weight evenly, putting less strain on your pressure points.
- Side sleepers: Place a pillow between your knees if you're prone to side sleeping. Positioning a pillow between your knees helps to keep your hips, pelvis, and spine aligned.
- Stomach sleepers: Stomach sleeping is commonly referred to as the worst sleep position, as it puts added stress on the neck. If you must sleep on your stomach, try placing a pillow under your abdomen and pelvis to relieve pressure on the lower back. This works well for patients experiencing degenerative disc disease or people with a herniated disc as it opens up spine disc space.
Maintaining a healthy weight or taking steps to lose weight helps to ease or prevent back issues from arising. Shedding just a few pounds can improve your lower back pain as losing excess weight takes the pressure off your back muscles and joints. In fact, for every four pounds you lose, you'll remove 16 pounds of pressure from your spine!
An active lifestyle is crucial to being healthy and avoiding health complications as we get older. When it comes to sleeping better, being active can help to tire us out, meaning our brains and our bodies are ready to switch off when it's time to go to sleep. What's more, exercise improves posture by strengthening our muscles, which helps to combat the possibility of bad posture leading to back pain.
The relationship between sleep, excess weight, and back pain is complicated. Weight gain leads to back pain, back pain leads to bad sleep quality, bad sleep quality leads to fatigue and weight gain - it's a vicious circle!
If you suffer from back problems, a combination of pain management methods and lifestyle changes can improve your condition. If you're carrying excess weight that's putting added pressure on your spice, try to lose weight and you'll likely see back pain results that'll improve your overall quality of life.