How To Sleep With Upper Back Pain

Written by in Sleep Health

Quick Overview

Back pain is the leading cause of disability in people younger than 45. With the intersecting joints, bones, ligaments, and muscles, back pain is deemed a multifarious condition that is brought about by various causes. Sources of back pain can range from working out too much (or too little), poor posture, genetic disorders, psychological stress, aging, and medical conditions such as arthritis.
Although back pain is common, you should not ignore it or think it insignificant. Back pain can impact productivity, enjoyment of life, yield costs, and affect mood. Also, it can have a very significant impact on the quality of sleep. Pain can be debilitating. Poor sleep quality means less restorative rest which further irritates the back.

Understanding Your Back

The spine (backbone) consists of 33 interlocking bones that run the length of your neck and back. In the center is an opening (spinal canal) through which runs the spinal cord. Between each vertebra is a spongy disc that provides cushioning. Spiky “processes” jut out and attach to ligaments. (The ligaments are tough bands of connective tissue that hold the bones together.) Spinal nerves divide into branches after they exit the spinal cord. Three types of muscles – extensors (back and gluteal muscles), flexors (abdominal and iliopsoas muscles), and oblique (side muscles) support the spine.
The spine itself is divided into 5 sections: cervical (neck), thoracic (upper back), lumbar (lower back), sacral (sacrum), and coccygeal (coccyx). Considering that the spine is entrusted with protecting the spinal cord and proving support for your body, it’s really not that strong. The thoracic region is the most stable thanks to the rib cage. But, that’s not to say we can’t suffer from pain in this area. Because of our need to twist, turn, and bend we put a lot of strain on our back. With constant wear and tear through the years, we should not be surprised when we end up with stiffness and pain symptoms. But, you can develop back pain at any age. Sometimes, all it takes is an unfortunate move.
sleep with upper back pain

Common Spinal Problems

  • Herniated (Slipped) Disc: The soft tissue in the discs has come out. This can be due to wear and tear or injury.
  • Bulging Disc: The soft tissue in the discs are protruding but not as much as with a herniated disc. Pain is felt if a nerve root is touched.
  • Spinal Stenosis: The spinal canal has narrowed adding pressure to the nerves and spine. This condition typically occurs with age. The legs and shoulders may feel numb.
  • Degenerative Disc Disease: The discs between your spine’s vertebrae tear or shrink. Typically, this happens as one gets older.
  • Spondylolisthesis: A bone in the spine slips forward and out of place. With age, the joints and ligaments that help keep the spine aligned, weaken.  When caused by degeneration, this condition is called arthritis.
  • Spinal/Vertebrae Fractures: Injuries, falls, or osteoporosis (bone weakening) are common causes of fractures
  • Sprains/Strains: When the ligaments, tendons, and muscles that support the spine and accompanying joints are injured, the result can be back pain. This can occur if you lift and twist and at the same time. Accidents and sports injuries are also common causes.
  • Spasms: Muscles and tendons in the back can sometimes be torn. This type of injury can occur during sports play, especially weightlifting.
  • Arthritis: Arthritis is a joint disease that causes stiffness, swelling, and inflammation. Osteoarthritis typically makes its appearance during middle age. The cartilage and bones break down. Ankylosing spondylitis affects both the joints and ligaments along the spine.
  • Compression Fractures: These fractures occur in the vertebrae due to the compression of the bone. The bones can be weakened due to disease (cancer), or the aging process. (osteoporosis). These typically occur in the thoracic or upper back of the spine.
  • Scoliosis: Curvature of the spine is a congenital condition that typically requires surgery.

Other Potential Sources of Back Pain

  • Infections: Any infection of the pelvis, nerves, and the spine can cause back pain.
  • Poor sleep hygiene: Those with sleeping disorders are highly prone to getting back pains. A mattress that provides poor back support can also lead to back pain or worsen existing back pain.
  • Poor Lifestyle Habits: Sedentary lifestyles, obesity, poor posture, standing, bending, sitting too long, hunching can result in back pain. Driving for an extended period of time is also a leading precursor for back pain.

Factors That Increase the Risk of Back Pain

Back pain impacts almost everyone at some point in their life. Here are some factors that can increase the risk of back pain.

  • Those aged between 35 to 55 years old
  • Women
  • Mental stress – anxiety, depression
  • Pregnancy
  • Extreme gym workouts
  • Physically demanding occupations

You may be surprised to find that medical studies reveal that smokers are more prone to back pain due to the depleted nutrients.[3] Calcium absorption is inhibited. Blood flow also decreases. Because of these reasons, smokers often recover more slowly from injuries. Also, everyday activities, such as coughing, can pose a heavy strain on the back of the sufferer.

How to Sleep With Upper Back Pain

Your sleep factors a great deal into whether your back pain will worsen or get better. As you age, your sleep quality can change due to natural body changes. Subsequently, your mattress needs may change as you age.
sleep with upper back pain
When you are younger, a firmer mattress may work well. The most important point is that your spine maintains its neutral curve as you experience restorative sleep. But as you age, you may find yourself waking up with morning stiffness. Your body may need a mattress that protects the joints and provides pressure relief. Too much firmness in a mattress may be contraindicated. Instead, a foam mattress or one that offers a comfort layer may be required to avert as much morning back pain and stiffness after long periods of sleep.

Exercise Caution When Getting In and Out of Bed

Several back injuries are due to awkward movements performed at home. One of the best ways to prevent these injuries or aggravate existing ones is to be conscious of your movements. Here are some tips you can follow:

  • Never twist your back
  • Do not make the wrong move of twisting the back of doing rapid jerking movements.
  • When getting into a bed, first sit on the edge of the bed. Support your body weight with your hands, slightly bend your knees, and lay on your side first. You can then adjust your position.
  • Get out of your bed by simply rolling to your side and bending your knees. Support your weight with your hands, and slowly swing your legs over the edge of the bed. Sit upright at the bed’s edge before standing.

Choose the Right Sleeping Positions

Your sleeping position also plays an integral role in helping manage your back pain. Learning how to sleep with upper back pain also requires a sleeping position that will maintain proper spinal alignment. Sleeping on your back and side sleeping with soft pillow support is regarded as the most effective way of sleeping. Cervical pillows or a neck roll can help support your head and neck maintain proper alignment. A foam pillow can also provide gentle support to the upper back. Also, place a soft pillow between your knees to ease pressure on your hips when laying on your side. For optimum support, consider investing in an adjustable bed frame.
Many people find a loose fetal position comfortable for sleeping. However, curled up in a tight fetal position with the knees bent and tucked too close to the chin can create undue stress on your spine.
Sleeping on your stomach is known to be the worst position to sleep and is highly linked to back pain due to the increased risk of spinal misalignment.
yaasa adjustable bed

Lifestyle Changes and Other Factors that Stop Back Pain

As you age, the condition of your body changes. You should not be surprised that lifestyle changes are in order. A combination of lifestyle changes and a dose of prevention may keep the pain at bay.
sleep with upper back pain
Here are some recommendations to help minimize back pain.

  • Improve your posture.
  • Avoid becoming overweight.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Undertake low impact gym exercises to avoid back pain.
  • Warm up first and perform stretching exercises before a workout.
  • Maintain good posture at all times.
  • Practice flexibility and core strengthening exercises. You can do yoga poses such as the child’s pose, pigeon pose, and even the cat cow pose to help you strengthen your core and be flexible.
  • Sit in an ergonomic chair that provides good lumbar support.
  • When working in front of a computer, the keyboard height should be at a 90-degree angle from your elbow.
  • Manage your stress the healthy way. Engaging your stress triggers can heighten your perception of pain and impact the quality of your sleep. Take a moment to relax at night before you head off to sleep.
  • You can use a hot pack or cold pack for the temporary relief of your swelling, deep pain, and even muscle spasms.
  • When you are about to lift something heavy, lift from your legs. You can bend at your knee level, but keep your back straight and your core muscles tight, then make sure the object is very close to your body.
  • When your work requires standing for extended periods of time, you may reduce your back pain by placing one of your feet or the other on a low stool or step.
  • When you are working sitting for an extended amount of time, make sure your hips and knees are on the same level and switch positions from time to time. Take frequent stretching breaks.


Surgical Intervention

There may be times when back pain requires surgical intervention. Upper back pain that radiates into the arms or chest wall may be an indication of structural pinching of the nerves. Chronic neck pain that does not resolve with non-surgical modalities or radiates to the arms may also be an indication for surgery.
Do not ignore back pain. Attempt a small lifestyle and habit changes. Learn how to sleep with upper back pain by being aware of your sleeping position and know what works best for you. Have a mattress that supports your back to keep the pain away at night. Always be always mindful of your posture and body movements to avoid any discomfort. If your pain does not resolve, visit your doctor. Discuss with your health provider when and where you feel the upper back pain. Detail the type of pain you feel. All of this information is essential for your doctor to determine what is causing your symptoms. After all, you don’t want to undergo spinal surgery for a muscle issue.
As you age, the condition of your body changes. You should not be surprised that lifestyle changes are in order. Even those who are in the best of shape can experience changes in their bone or suffer an accident. Once you develop upper back pain, management is a 24/7 endeavor.
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Frequently Asked Questions

What could be the cause of upper back pain?

With the intersecting joints, bones, ligaments, and muscles, there are many potential causes of why you are suffering with back pain. Sources of back pain can range from working out too much (or too little), poor posture, genetic disorders, psychological stress, aging, and medical conditions such as arthritis.

How to avoid back pain?

Taking care of your body and your back is the best preventative measure to avoid back pain. Certain factors increase your risk of back pain, including mental stress, extreme workouts, poor posture, being overweight, working in physically demanding occupations, sitting at a non-ergonomic desk, and smoking. 

What sleep position is best for your back?

Sleeping on your back and side sleeping with soft pillow support are regarded as the most supportive ways of sleeping. Cervical pillows or a neck roll can help your head and neck maintain proper alignment while you sleep. Raising the knees at night will also alleviate strain on the spine.