Most adults (around 80%) have experienced lower back pain at some point in their life. Back pain can make it is difficult to get a good nights sleep and also slows us down in our daily lives.
It is the main reason for work disability and a common cause of missed days at work, according to an article by the NHS,
In this article we take an in-depth look at the different kinds of lower back pain and how to use an adjustable bed to reduce your pain.
Types of lower back pain that can be prevented with adjustable beds
Most of us experience lower back pain simply from stress, poor posture, sleeping in strange positions, falling over, being overweight and poor lifestyle habits.
There are also many serious medical conditions that can cause lower back pain, like a broken back, an infection or cancer and doctors have found more common causes to be slipped or prolapsed discs, sciatica, spondylitis and spondylolisthesis.
Adjustable beds when used correctly can reduce lower back pain regardless of the cause because they can be easily adjusted to reduce pressure (often via gravity) on the parts of the body that are experiencing pain.
Through reducing pain users can experience far more restful sleep and therefore recover more quickly.
With a flat mattress pressure is concentrated on the hips and shoulders and the lower back is left unsupported. This adds additional tension to the body and for people who are suffering from lower back pain throughout the day means that they cannot get relief at night either.
The image below shows an adjustable bed in the zero gravity position.
This position has proven very effective at reducing lower back pain because pressure from gravity is perfectly balanced throughout the body and impacts no particular joints, muscles can relax and completely decompress. This greatly reduces pain in people suffering from not only lower back pain but also hip, neck and shoulder problems.
The position was actually discovered by NASA when researching for space travel – more detail below.
We will now look at a few specific health conditions and how adjustable beds can reduce the lower back pain of sufferers of them.
How sleeping position influences lower back pain
The research piece Changes in back pain, sleep quality and perceived stress after introduction of new bedding systems made a thorough comparison between an old bed, which included those over five years old, and a modern bed with a medium firm mattress. This study was with standard beds and not adjustable bed so was just designed to see if the bed slept in makes a difference to sleep quality when you have lower back pain.
The methodology was based on gender-balanced, healthy subjects (30 women and 29 men) who were experiencing minor sleep-related back pain. These people did not have a clinical history of disturbed sleep but pain compromised their rest. After sleeping for 28 consecutive days on their beds, they were asked to sleep for the same period on a new bed with a better quality medium firm mattress and to answer a stress questionnaire afterwards.
The results of the research showed improvements in pre and post-test values in terms of quality and efficiency and, after the four-week data gathering, stress measures provided were consistent. Thus, the researchers concluded that a better quality bed reduces lower back pain and gives a better quality of sleep.
The study Osteoarthritis of the spine: the facet joints explains that each vertebral level of the spine has a complex of three joints with bony surfaces, as well as the cartilage in between and a capsule with fluid that surrounds it. Without this cartilage and fluids, the bones produce friction, they start degenerating and it is really painful.
Even though nowadays there are surgical procedures that can help with osteoarthritis, most doctors still recommend conservative treatments because it maintains motion and relieves the pain effectively, including the use of adjustable beds to sleep to help reduce pain and prevent further damage by relaxing the joint compression.
The North American Spine Society explained in their work on Diagnosis and Treatment of Degenerative Lumbar Spondylolisthesis that there are many ways to treat the condition and alleviate the symptoms, including chiropractic treatment and using adjustable beds so patients can sleep comfortably during the night. If these simple lifestyle changes do not help then surgery may be necessary.
According to the US National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, this medical condition is defined as the narrowing of one or more areas in the spine, such as “the space at the center of the spine, the canals where nerves branch out from the spine or the space between the bones of the spine. This narrowing puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves and can cause pain.”
The document explains that “patients adopt a position with hip and knee slightly flexed” as a way to alleviate the pain caused by the medical condition. Thus, when patients bend forward during sleep it tends to be much more comfortable than sleeping on flat mattresses.
For this reason sufferers should raise the legs and also their head on their adjustable bed.
How to use adjustable beds for lower back pain
The World Health Organization states that there are many causes of back pain and sometimes it is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause, but frequently it is simply the result of poor sleeping habits and positions.
The role of alignment
The University of Rochester stresses the role of alignment as an essential part of a comfortable sleeping position. They recommend to “keep your ears, shoulders and hips aligned when turning as well as when sleeping.”
This is probably the most important yet difficult rule to follow. In many cases, people tend to move during the night and break the pattern. Thus, there are a couple of methods to address this problem.
Elevating the abdomen and head
If you have back pain doctors almost always recommend sleeping on the back to avoid an unnatural position for the neck and also because weight is more evenly distributed, which minimises the pressure points, and aids the alignment of organs.
In a research paper called Anthropometry and Biomechanics NASA found that a neutral body posture (also known as zero gravity position) to be the best position to sleep in to minimise the impact of gravity on our joints. In this position, the body feels weightless, since the force of gravity is falling evenly on every single part of the body whilst allowing for the weight of different body parts.
We talked about that more in our article on how adjustable beds can improve snoring.
Adjustable beds are the best way to place the body in this position and discourage you from moving overnight, allowing great sleep without waking over pain. Cheaper and simpler solutions such as elevating the head and legs with pillows can also work for a short period but it is easy to shift pillows during the night.
Elevating the knees
Elevating the knees is especially good for lower back pain because it takes away the stress from the spine and creates a natural curve in the lower back that provides further support to the head, the curve of the neck and shoulders.
Besides, it alleviates sciatica, which is a pain in the longest nerve of the body that starts in the lower back and continues down the leg. Merck Manual recommends this position to reduce the painful effects of back pain.
In certain cases, some doctors may recommend sleeping on a specific side or even on your stomach.
For those sleeping on their side, the experts recommend placing a firm pillow in-between the legs for better alignment. It reduces the stress on the hips and lower back, so it relieves pain and helps you sleep better.
Sleeping on the stomach puts stress on the back and places the spine out of its normal position. However, if it is strictly necessary, the best possible idea is elevating the hips in such a way that the spine remains neutral.
Even though there are other means to achieve these positions using pillows and other tools, they usually work for a short period during the night after which it starts all over again. To guarantee the body will remain in the best position during the night, we believe adjustable beds to be the best investment.
For more general information about the other health benefits of adjustable beds please read 9 health benefits of sleeping on an adjustable bed.