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Positions for sleeping with arthritis of the spine

Arthritis of the spine — also known as spinal osteoarthritis — is a deterioration of the facet joints that connect the vertebrae and make motion in the spine possible. These structures are surrounded by cartilage that allows them to move smoothly against one another. If this protection wears away, then facet joints can become stiff and inflamed, causing neck or back pain.

Getting a good night’s sleep if you have arthritis of the spine may be a challenge, but it isn’t impossible. Since pain associated with this condition can manifest anywhere along the spine, finding the best position for sleeping will depend on which facet joints are causing your discomfort. As a general rule, a good sleeping position is one that keeps your spine in proper alignment, from head to pelvis. That’s why sleeping on your stomach is not advisable. Not only does it twist the cervical spine, but it also over-elevates the head if it’s resting on a plush pillow. Better sleeping positions include:

  • On your back. Most experts agree that sleeping on your back is the best way to put your spine in neutral alignment. A small pillow under your head and a larger one under your knees will help to keep your spine straight. You can also position a folded towel under the small of your back for added support.
  • On your side with legs straight. This position is a good alternative to sleeping on your back, especially if you’re prone to sleep apnea. In order to keep the spine, hips and pelvis aligned, tuck a pillow between your legs. And, your head pillow should be small enough to prevent your head from angling above your shoulder.
  • On your side with bent legs. This position can be particularly beneficial for those with osteoarthritis because it opens up the facet joints and relieves corresponding pressure. Just don’t curl too tightly into a fetal position, as it can strain muscles and ligaments. Again, keep a pillow between your knees and make sure you switch sides from time to time to prevent musculoskeletal imbalances.
  • In a reclined position. Elevating your upper back by sleeping in a recliner or adjustable bed can create an angle between your thighs and trunk while keeping the rest of your spine in alignment. This can reduce pressure on both your neck and your back.

If you have been diagnosed with spinal arthritis and are experiencing pain that is not well-managed through conservative treatment options, such as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs or physical therapy, then you may be a candidate for one of the minimally invasive surgeries performed at USA Spine Care. To find out, contact a member of our team for more information on how to receive a free MRI review* as the first step in the screening process.

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