Is there an explanation for the onset of back pain as a stomach sleeper?
August 22, 2019 7:57 PM   Subscribe

I've been a stomach sleeper as long as I can remember. However, over the past four weeks I've been waking up with lower back pain. Online searches suggest that is a common side effect for stomach sleepers - your lower back being forced to extend beyond its normal limits. I've been trying to understand a) why has this started happening all of the sudden, and b) what is the solution? Many possibly pertinent details below.

Four weeks ago I started having lower back pain. It's present in the morning and subsides over a few hours, though it's starting to accumulate and I get the sense that this may start causing me problems if I don't solve it.

I've tried sleeping with a pillow under my stomach/hips to reduce the straining on my back, as recommended online, though I'm not always able to keep the pillow in place the entire night. The pillow does seem to help though, so I'm fairly sure my stomach sleeping is the cause of the problem.

Mattress: I purchased a new queen size mattress, box spring, and metal frame in March 2018, and had been sleeping very happily on it. It is a fairly firm mattress. Lower back pain upon waking began in July 2019.

Weight, exercise, and age: I've been a fairly stable weight since I bought the new mattress, though I lost 10lbs earlier this year. I've been working out regularly since last summer, but more actively over the past six months (kickboxing 3-4x/week). The timeline of these factors doesn't seem to coincide with the timeline of the onset of back pain. I'm 34/female.

Experiments: I stomach-slept on a 3" mattress on a friend's floor for two nights and felt fine each morning. This makes me think the mattress's firmness is a factor.

Are there any other factors I'm missing?

Solutions I'm currently considering include: a) buying a bed board to put under my mattress to try to firm it up more, b) buying a new metal bed frame that has additional slats or is more 'heavy duty' (whatever that might mean?), c) sewing some kind of long horizontal 'stomach pillow' that I can strap to the middle of my bed so it won't shift during the night, or d) buying a body pillow or an ergonomic head pillow and try to train myself to be a side sleeper (which seems like an uphill battle).

FYI - I've already booked an appointment with a chiropractor.
posted by offrecord to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a (mostly) ex-stomach sleeper thanks to a body pillow. It is difficult, it does fix the back problem, and some nights I sort of roll over and don't take it with me and end up on my stomach and wake up in pain. But, that still happens infrequently enough that it's been worth it. It's also the easiest/cheapest of your proposed solutions so you might as well give it a shot.
posted by wellifyouinsist at 8:13 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'm a tummy sleeper and I get this too. I bet your new mattress has finally settled enough to start bending your back overnight. I'm trying to train myself to side sleep as well with limited success. I'd try the bed board but honestly it's the tiniest divot in the mattress that's messing you up. Putting a pillow in that divot (or making a bolster, as you suggest) is probably going to be better. You can restuff a bolster as it settles.
posted by Jilder at 8:46 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]

I don’t have a solution for you but I wanted to share that the same thing started happening to me last year (f/36). A physiotherapist recommended learning to sleep on my back, (which I haven’t been able to do) or sleeping on the side with various pillow supports to prevent rolling over. I’ve mostly been sleeping on my side but do tend to wake up several times during the night in order to change position. Perhaps this is age catching up to us? Hoping someone here will have a solution.
posted by piamater at 8:57 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]

Started happening to me in January. Wouldn't go away until I finally went to PT in July. Guess what he found?

One of my legs was shorter. I was compensating, but only after 35 years of life had my back gone from okay to just constant pain if I even tried to sleep on my stomach. A shoe lift and core exercises and I'm mostly better.

You can put a pillow under your crotch and that'll help, but not enough and it won't really solve the problem. Something is up with your back now. You need to see your doctor then probably a PT. Your bed may be sagging in the middle because it's the hyperextending your back, yes. Firmness is good for this. Your hips are heavier than your top part just cause of how bodies work.

Anyway, firm mattress + core work + go get checked by your doctor. I seriously went until I just turned 35 before my apparently 1.5cm (0.6") shorter leg mattered. My PT even looked at my shoe wear and was like "huh, wow, you compensate... somehow... really well." Welcome to us getting old, friend! Mid-30s high five ouch not so hard please. I'm gonna feel that one tomorrow.

Also sleeping on my back is mostly okay, but sleeping on my side is heavenly. Too bad I don't like to sleep there much though I could get used to it. But I think you can treat this. I should probably buy a firmer mattress too.

Oh also (I should reread but I want to beat the edit window) is one of the sides of your lower back extended out and hard? That is what I had. It's much better now. My back (I do have scoliosis too) was compensating and the muscles were pulling out of alignment. My lower back on the left was bulging and what hurt but my right leg is shorter. So you can see how having to be offset down on the right led to the left half having to "pull" against it, basically.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:14 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]

I'm an obese stomach and side sleeper and I can't sleep on any innerspring mattress for more than a couple of nights before morning back pain reaches truly debilitating levels. Futons FTW. Mine has a foam and wool core, it's on a plain slat base, and it stays soft and comfy as long as I manage to roll it up when I'm not sleeping on it at least a couple of times per week.
posted by flabdablet at 10:23 PM on August 22

It's usually a twist in your mid or thoracic back that radiates lower per my PT. And sure enough un-twisting that has made my pain go away. It wasn't just sleeping though, a full lifestyle de-twist of the rib cage was needed. Feels good though, best I've felt in years.
posted by fshgrl at 12:55 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]

When my last matress was on it's last legs and sagging enough to cause problems... I did the princess and the pea thing. I layered flattened cardboard boxes between the mattress and the box springs to "un-sag" it.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:02 AM on August 23

« Older How to eat lettuce in winter   |   Dog questions redux (tiny dog edition) Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments