This Trick Can Help You Relieve Lower Back Pain While Sleeping

Here's how to use a pillow to get rid of lower back pain.

Hedy Phillips CNET Contributor
Hedy Phillips is a freelance lifestyle writer based in New York. While she's not writing on topics like living on a budget and tips for city dwelling, she can usually be found at a concert or sightseeing in a new city. Over the past 10 years, her bylines have appeared in a number of publications, including POPSUGAR, Hunker, and more.
Hedy Phillips
4 min read

Back pain can present itself at any given time and be caused by several factors. Back pain is also one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. According to a University of Georgetown study, more than 65 million people complain to their doctors about back pain, and 8% of adults in the study report chronic back pain, or pain that lasts for weeks. To top it off, recent surveys found that participants lost an hour of sleep each night due to pain.

Though you can see a doctor for treatment options relating to your back pain, there are some more-holistic approaches you can take at home, like stretching, using a massage gun or sleeping with a pillow between your legs. For that last one, we'll give you some tips on how this simple solution can provide some relief for back pain. That way, you can increase your chances of falling asleep in no time and staying asleep all night without experiencing any pain.

Read more: Trouble Sleeping? Try These 6 Natural Sleep Aids for Better Rest 

What are the benefits of sleeping with a pillow between your knees?

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When you sleep on your side, your knees naturally fall together, which can cause your spine to misalign. It may be comfortable for a  while, but it can be hard on your back after some time, especially if you aren't sleeping on the right mattress for a side sleeper. With a pillow between your knees you can keep your back in proper alignment.

May help improve your posture

Poor sleeping posture can translate to poor standing posture. Research shows that improving your sleep posture may improve your overall posture, however more research is needed in this area. A pillow helps keep your spine in alignment while you sleep, which can not only relieve lower back pain and pressure, but keep your spine symmetrical. 

May relieve back pain

A pillow between your legs while you sleep may alleviate the pressure on your back by keeping your spine neutral. While some studies have concluded that more research could prove more concrete results, there has been a correlation with this sleep method and reduced pain.

May reduce hip and sciatica pain

You might feel sciatica pain throughout your lower body -- not just in your back -- and the way you sleep can exacerbate it. If you're a side sleeper, a pillow between your knees could keep you from twisting your spine and it helps your hips, pelvis and spine stay in alignment

Close up of hands on lower back
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What are the benefits of sleeping with a pillow under your knees?

For back sleepers, the pillow placement wouldn't be between your knees but instead underneath them. This can still be very beneficial for a few reasons.

Maintain the normal curve of your lower back

When you sleep in a posture that relieves pressure on your spine, it can relieve pain. It can also help maintain the normal curve of your spine to relieve that pressure. One of the ways you can do this is by putting a pillow under your knees to support your back's natural curve.

Help distribute your weight

When you sleep flat on your back with your feet straight in front of you, the weight of your legs may put strain on your lower back. This is because your body isn't flat from your shoulders to your heels. When you raise your knees, you take that pressure off by letting your lower back relax.

What are the benefits of sleeping with a pillow under your stomach?

Stomach sleepers may find that sleeping with a pillow under their pelvis or thighs can also relieve some pressure on the spine. You may have to play around with a pillow size and firmness to suit your body.

Reduce strain on your back

In a similar way to how back sleepers feel that strain when they lay flat on their backs, stomach sleepers will also feel that strain if they sleep in a position that doesn't support the spine's natural curve. Just like your body isn't flat from your shoulders to your heels, it's also not flat from your chest to your toes. If you place a pillow under your stomach and pelvis area to lift it a little bit, you can relieve the tension in your lower back.

Relieve nerve pain

According to the Cleveland Clinic, sleeping on your stomach can actually exacerbate nerve pain because of the way your body is positioned -- it compresses the nerves. For some people, though, this is the most comfortable way to sleep. Adding a pillow under your pelvis can take some of the pressure off your spine and nerves and alleviate that nerve pain you may be feeling. The Cleveland Clinic also suggests a body pillow if you're a stomach sleeper, as this puts you in a more neutral position.

How to sleep with a pillow to relieve back pain

Sleeping with a pillow is all about alignment so you can relieve pressure from your back. The way you do it, though, depends on your sleeping style.

Close up of orthopedic pillow between knees.
Sevda Ercan/Getty Images

How to properly sleep with a pillow between your legs (for side sleepers)

  • While laying on your side, put a thick enough pillow under your head so that your neck is in alignment with your spine.
  • Bend your legs slightly at the knees.
  • Place a firm pillow between your knees. This largely relieves pressure on your lower back.

How to properly sleep with a pillow under your knees (for back sleepers)

  • Lie flat on your back with your legs out straight.
  • Place a pillow under your knees so that your spine is neutral and naturally curved. This relieves pressure on the spine.

How to properly sleep with a pillow under your stomach (for stomach sleepers)

  • Lie on your front with your legs straight out.
  • Place a pillow under your pelvis to lift your hips up and neutralize your spine. This will relieve pressure there.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.