Is My Sleep Position Hurting My Back?


If you wake up with pain or stiffness in your back, neck, shoulders or arms, chances are your sleeping position is to blame. While most of us change position multiple times during the night, we tend to keep returning to our favorite: back, front or side.

According to Iman Abou-Chakra, M.D., the healthiest sleep positions are those that keep the neck and spine in proper alignment, which avoids putting excess pressure on the neck, shoulders and lower back.

Related Video: All About Back Pain 

Popular Sleep Positions and Tips to Improve Them

  • If you sleep on your back: This position may be the best for your spine and joints. Dr. Abou-Chakra suggests placing a pillow under your knees to improve spinal alignment. Avoid back sleeping, however, if you snore or have sleep apnea. Back sleeping can also worsen acid reflux, but you can decrease this by elevating the head of the bed.
  • If you sleep on your side: Another good position for the spine, and good to decrease snoring, side sleeping is healthiest when your back is kept relatively straight. Try placing a pillow between your knees to improve alignment and ease hip pressure. Avoid curling into a fetal position with chin tucked down. In addition, you should rotate sides periodically to avoid causing shoulder pain. If you have heart failure you may do better sleeping mostly on your right side.
  • If you sleep on your stomach: Sleeping on your front, with your head turned to one side, puts added stress on your neck, shoulders and back. Try lying face-down with a soft pillow propped below your forehead to keep your neck and spine in alignment. A thin pillow placed below your stomach might also be helpful.

While your sleep position is important, a good, supportive mattress also makes a big difference. You should replace your mattress every seven to ten years. Signs that it’s time for a change include sagging, impressions that don’t bounce back and lumpiness.

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To find a doctor or make an appointment with a back pain specialist or a sleep specialist, visit or call 1-800-436-7936 in southeast Michigan or 1-888-862-DOCS in the Jackson area. 

Dr. Iman Abou-Chakra is board certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation with a focus on back pain and sports medicine. He sees patients at the Henry Ford Allegiance Orthopedic & Neuroscience Center in Jackson, Mich.

Categories: FeelWell