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Often wake up with a bad back? Try these tips and stretches for a pain-free start to the day

Woman stretching in the morning

The one thing that we all do, irrespective of whether we are rich or poor, thin or fat, male or female, young or old, is sleep. But few among us really pay attention to how we sleep, which is why many of us wake up with back pain. Spine specialists attribute this early morning pain to poor posture while sleeping.

Back pain interferes with the normal rhythm of sleep. It leads to disruption of the pattern of sleep waves in the brain. Such disturbed sleep waves are usually found in painful conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia.

With disturbed sleep, we become sensitive to pain and thus fall in a vicious cycle of disturbed sleep and back pain. Wrong sleeping posture is where it all starts.

Pain givers

  1. An awkward position doesn’t just disturb the spinal column but also affects back muscles, which results in pain.
  2. Sleeping late, sleeping immediately after meals or eating a heavy dinner causes bloating and acidity, which contributes to back pain.
  3. Disturbed sleep due to various reasons such as noise, stress, snoring, an uncomfortable mattress/pillow or position, tightens the back muscles and leads to pain.
  4. Nursing mothers and their husbands often complain of back pain as they have to sleep in an awkward posture while nursing babies. And having to share the same bed, often leaves little space for the parents, which adds to the problem.
  5. An improper mattress disturbs the spine’s alignment, causing back pain. A mattress can get depressed on one end and elevated on another, if one of the persons sleeping on it is heavy. This too contributes to pain.

Change the mattress if…

  • It is too soft or too hard.
  • It is deformed; for instance, it has a depression in the middle.
  • If it is over- or under-sized compared to your bed.
  • If it is older than 5 – 7 years, depending on how its shape has held.
  • If it is soiled or stinky.

Sleeping positions and spine

The sleeping position you adopt every day may seem normal to you. But it may be far from being ideal and may not maintain your body’s natural curves. Besides, the changes in sleeping positions are imperceptible and subtle.

According to an old proverb, ‘The King sleeps on his stomach, a farmer sleeps on his back but the wise man always sleeps on his side’. It is wise to sleep on the side as sleeping on the back as well as on the stomach strains the back and neck. However, if you have to sleep on the back, ensure that your head and neck are supported with a good pillow. You might want to use a cervical contour pillow, which is shaped like your neck and gives relaxing sleep. You might also benefit by taking a pillow [or bolster] under your knees for more comfort.

However, if you are habituated to sleeping on your stomach, it’s better to change your sleeping style as this position is perilious for your spine.

Even when you sleep on your side, you need to use a pillow for maintaining the spine’s natural curvature.The pillow should fill the spaces between your ear andthe mattress. If your head or neck remains tilted and is not in line with the rest of the spine, you could suffer from Pillow Syndrome! Also, keep a pillow between your knees to prevent the spine from twisting. For further comfort, you can even keep a bolster or pillow under your arms like hugging a teddy!

Dos and don’ts

When sleeping on the side…

  • Keep the spine straight and untwisted
  • Never place a pillow under the shoulder
  • Always keep the neck and head straight-aligned with the rest of the spine
  • Use a pillow between the knees, under the side or hips
  • Wrap the arms around a large pillow
  • Never put the arms overhead.

When sleeping on your back…

  • Keep the spine straight and untwisted
  • Always keep pillows or cushions under the knees and lower legs
  • Never keep your arms overhead
  • Use a pillow under the neck rather than the back of the head.

When lying down…

  • First, sit and take support of your hand to lie down on one side
  • Take your feet up on bed
  • Turn and lie down straight.

When getting up from the bed…

  • Roll onto your side and bend both knees.
  • Drop your feet over the side of the bed as you push with both arms to sit up.
  • Scoot to the edge of the bed and position your feet under your buttocks.
  • Stand up, keeping your back in the neutral position.

Stretches for morning back pain

Do you feel back pain first thing in the morning? Is getting to sleep difficult because of back pain? Does your back feel stiff for first few hours in morning?

The reason could be spasm or cramping in back muscles or compression of disc spaces. Doing these simple decompression techniques and gentle stretches should take care of simple back pain. But for persistent and severe back pain, a visit to a specialist is a must.

A round of these stretches before going to sleep and after getting up is recommended for getting rid of morning pain.

Single knee to chest: Lying on the back, bend one knee and pull it up towards your chest gently. Count to five and relax. Repeat it 5 – 10 times. Remember to keep the other leg straight.

Double knee to chest: Lying on the back, bend both knees and take them towards the chest as far as comfortable. Count to five and relax. Repeat it 5 – 10 times.

Crucifix stretch: Lying on the back, bend both knees and straighten hands like Christ. Now, twist both knees together first to your left and then to your right. Repeat five times on each side.

Lion stretch: Bend your knees and sit on your heels [like in vajrasana]. Now, bend forward with hands outstretched in front of you. You’ll feel a gentle stretch at the back. Do this stretch only if you don’t have a knee problem.

Cross body stretch: Cross one arm and push it at the elbow by the other arm. Keep the neck straight and body erect.

Side stretch: Pull both arms upwards and interlace fingers. Now, stretch them to one side and pull the side of your trunk.

Neck stretch: Keep one hand on the shoulder and hold your neck with the other hand. Gently pull on the neck and feel a stretch on side of neck. Repeat five times on both sides.

Decompression exercises to reduce pressure on discs:

  1. Sleep on your stomach and put a flat pillow or towel under your chest such that it allows your head and neck to relax on the bed. You can turn your head to one side. If you need support for your lower back, place a pillow under your abdomen. Lie in the position for a while.
  2. Sleep on your tummy with your legs outstretched and soles of the feet facing the ceiling. Gently raise your upper body with the help of your hands keeping your hips on the bed.

Should you sleep on the floor?

Many people think that sleeping on the floor or a hard bed helps alleviate back pain. However, our spine is not straight like a rod; it has curves. And a hard surface such as the floor does not support them. So, sleep on a mattress that provides the required support.

This was first published in the April 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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