Back Pain and Sleeping Positions

Getting a good night’s sleep is important for one’s health. However, back pain can make finding a comfortable sleeping position challenging. Below are some common conditions that cause back pain as well as the best way to get some zzz’s with them.


Osteoarthritis is the breakdown and eventual loss of cartilage between the bones in the joints. Patients with osteoarthritis may prefer to sleep on their side with their legs curled up (the fetal position). This alleviates pressure and opens up the spine.

Degenerative Disc Disease

As we age, our spinal discs break down, or degenerate, leading to loss of fluid in the discs, which reduces the ability of the discs to act as shock absorbers. Patients with degenerative disc disease often prefer to sleep on their stomachs to relieve pressure on the disc space. Usually, a firmer mattress is best for patients with degenerative disc disease.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis occurs when the space around the spinal cord narrows, which puts pressure on the spinal cord and the spinal nerve roots. This can lead to pain or even numbness in the legs. People with spinal stenosis ideally should sleep in the fetal position or in an adjustable bed that allows the head and knees to be elevated. This relieves the pressure on the spinal nerves.

Hip Pain

When patients have hip pain, the best sleeping position is on their sides with a pillow between their knees. This decreases the stress across the hip area.

Herniated Lumbar Disc

Depending on which disc is herniated, patients with herniated lumbar discs are recommended to lie on their stomachs or sleep in the fetal position.

Generally speaking, to help alleviate pain and pressure on the back while sleeping, place pillows under the knees or the lower back. For more information about back pain, contact our physical medicine and rehabilitation expert or one of our spine specialists at Flagstaff Bone & Joint at (928) 773-2280 or request an appointment online.