Sciatica is a condition characterized by pain that runs from the lower back down to the buttocks, the legs and down until the “below the knee” area. The pain is caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve (hence the term, sciatica) which is the widest and longest nerve in the body and controls the lower leg muscles.
Because of the concerned nerve, you may not just experience pain—you may suffer from discomfort as well. In fact, a lot of seemingly normal activities such as walking, sitting, standing and most of all—sleeping.
In this article, we will get to know more about this condition and find out the ways on how to sleep with sciatica.
- 1 What Causes Sciatica
- 2 What are the Risk Factors for Sciatica?
- 3 Fast facts About Sciatica
- 4 The Best (and Worst) Sleeping Positions for Sciatica
- 4.1 Best Sleeping Position: Sleeping on Your Side
- 4.2 Best Sleeping Position: Sleeping on Your Back
- 4.3 Worst Sleeping Position: Sleeping on Your Stomach
- 4.4 Take advantage of a body pillow.
- 4.5 Find the best mattress for your needs.
- 4.6 Keep your knees elevated.
- 4.7 Take a bath before going to sleep.
- 4.8 Ice the affected areas of your body.
- 4.9 Buy a good neck pillow.
- 4.10 Enjoy sciatica massages before you go to sleep.
- 4.11 Lie on your best side.
- 4.12 Perform light stretching.
- 4.13 Take pain medications.
- 5 In Summary
What Causes Sciatica
Sciatica is caused by a wide array of conditions. According to studies, 90 percent of sciatica cases are caused by a herniated slipped disc. The spinal column consists of three major parts—vertebra, disks, and nerves. Disks are made of cartilage which cushions each vertebra, allowing the spine to be as flexible as possible. A herniated disk is caused by a disk being pushed out of place, placing unwanted pressure on the sciatic nerve.
Aside from this condition, here are some of the other causes of sciatica:
- Spinal Infection
- Spinal Tumors
- Spinal injuries
- Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
- Cauda Equina Syndrome
- Buttock and Back Muscle Spasms
- Degenerative Disk Disease
What are the Risk Factors for Sciatica?
Below are some of the risk factors of this condition:
Based on statistics, people between their 30’s and ’40s have higher chances of having sciatica.
Physically inactive people who sit for long periods are at more risk of having sciatica as compared to people with active lifestyles.
Workers having to deal with heavy lifting for prolonged periods are also at risk of having this nerve condition.
Fast facts About Sciatica
Here are more facts that you should know about this condition:
- Sciatica is not the condition in itself—it is just a symptom of a bigger sciatic nerve problem.
- The sciatic nerve is made up of five nerve roots in the lower back region. The kind of symptoms you feel will help determine which part of the sciatic nerve is pinched. For example, numbness in your feet may indicate that the pinched part is the nerve root located near your L5 vertebra.
- You may experience multiple symptoms. What you should understand is the fact that many of these nerve roots can be pinched at the same time and because of this, you may feel pain or discomfort in different portions of your lower back.
- Symptoms relief may be experienced in a short amount of time. According to studies, people with sciatica may experience relief from symptoms within 6 to 12 weeks.
The Best (and Worst) Sleeping Positions for Sciatica
One of the biggest challenges you can ever experience is sleeping peacefully. Most people suffering from pinched sciatic nerve feel discomfort when they sleep. The most important thing that you need to understand is that your sleeping position can make a huge difference in the quality of sleep that you will have.
With that in mind, we present to you—the best sleeping positions that can help you with your condition. Oh, we also included the worst sleeping position that you should avoid if you want to enjoy a good night’s sleep.
Best Sleeping Position: Sleeping on Your Side
Aside from other side sleeping benefits, this sleeping position can also alleviate the pain associated with sciatica. There is, however, one issue that you need to deal with. When you lie on your side, your top leg will tend to roll forward and rest on the mattress. This will cause you pain since such a position will put a twisting pressure on your lower back and ultimately, the sciatic nerve.
To address this issue, you can simply place a pillow or two in between your legs. This prevents your body from twisting and at the same time, maintains your leg and spine in a neutral position. This position also delivers extra support to your body and keeps your hips squared and your lower back protected.
Best Sleeping Position: Sleeping on Your Back
This sleeping position can be considered both as best and worst sleeping position, depending on a few little tweaks. To make it more of the former, it is recommended that you place a pillow underneath your knees and a rolled towel under the small curve of your back. This puts you in a supine position which preserves the natural curvature of your spine.
But if you would not follow this simple tip, sleeping on your back can be the worst position of all. In fact, you may even experience greater pain than before because it places your spine in a flexed position which can cause further irritation to your sciatic nerve.
While sleeping on your back (with pillows under your knees, of course) can help with sciatic nerve pain, this sleeping position is not advisable if you have sleep apnea or snoring issues.
Worst Sleeping Position: Sleeping on Your Stomach
This is the worst sleeping position of all—with or without sciatica. This is because it causes the natural spine curvature to flatten. Since your head is turned to one side, it places unnecessary strain on your neck. This will not only worsen your sciatica issues—it may cause back and neck pain in the long run.
If you have been sleeping on your stomach for a long time now, you may want to try out a few tips on how to change your sleeping position. While you are still in the process of doing so, the least that you can do is to place a pillow under your abdomen to correct the curvature of your spine.
How to Sleep with Sciatica: More Tips You Need to Know
Besides choosing the best sleeping position, there are a few other sleeping tips that you should know about. These are as follows:
Take advantage of a body pillow.
If you have noticed, most sleeping positions can be improved by placing pillows either under the knees or at your back. The best pillow that you can use is a body pillow. After all, this pillow is designed to accommodate the different parts of your body. It is considered to be less bulky than standard pillows so it won’t put your spine in an awkward position.
Find the best mattress for your needs.
People with sciatica should have a firmer sleeping mattress, but the type of mattress you should buy will differ based on your sleeping position. With that in mind, here are a few things to think about when buying your mattress:
– Stomach sleepers would benefit from a firmer mattress that aligns and keeps the body afloat.
– Side sleepers would benefit from a soft yet supportive cushion. The mattress must deliver adequate support to the user’s shoulders and hips.
– Back sleepers would benefit from medium-firm mattresses that offer full-body support.
Keep your knees elevated.
It is recommended that you place a pillow or two under your knees for better support. But for some people, this elevation may not be enough to help them sleep comfortably.
If you are one of these people, the best thing that you can do is to bend your knees while you lie on your back. Look for the perfect knee elevation that can keep you pain-free and comfortable. Afterward, add pillows to the mix until you have achieved your desired elevation.
If you have money to splurge, you can also try investing in a mechanical bed. The footrest and headrest of this bed are easily adjusted to suit your liking.
Take a bath before going to sleep.
A warm (not hot) bath is not just useful in alleviating pain associated with sciatica—it is also effective in relieving general pain types as well. This is because a warm bath can stimulate the production of endorphins (hormones that fight off pain) in the body. It also promotes the relaxation of muscles that surround the sciatic nerve.
If you don’t have the time or energy to take a warm bath at night, the best alternative that you have is to place the hot water bottle in your buttocks or back few minutes before you go to bed.
Ice the affected areas of your body.
If you do not like the idea of applying a warm bottle on your body, then the next best option is to ice the sore areas in your body before going to bed. You can do this by placing an ice or cold water pack on your lower back or buttocks for 20 minutes.
Buy a good neck pillow.
Most of us love to lie on fluffy pillows because they feel soft and heaven-like. Sadly, these types of pillow won’t do your sciatic nerve any good. No matter how comfortable they are, you should know that fluffy pillows do not offer any support.
If you want to reduce lower back pain, you should keep your cervical spine properly aligned using a firmer neck pillow. Aside from sciatica relief, this can also prevent neck pain.
Enjoy sciatica massages before you go to sleep.
One of the best pain management techniques for sciatica is massage therapy. It can help bring immediate relief to sciatica pain, allowing you to sleep faster and more comfortably.
The best thing about it is that you do not have to go out of your home to get this type of massage since you can do it on your own.
– Palm and Thumb Sciatica Massage
Place your palms on your lower back. Rub it sidewards towards your spine then downwards to the buttocks. Afterward, put your hands in your waist, wrapping your fingers around your sides. Apply firm yet gentle pressure to your spine.
– Knuckle Sciatic Massage
Lie on your back. Bend your knees and put your feet flat to the floor. Make fists then put them on the sides of your lower back. They must be placed in a way that your knuckles are against your back. Keep this position for one to two minutes.
Roll to your side then assume a fetal position. Keep this position for 5 minutes.
For more information on how to perform sciatica massage, please watch this video:
Lie on your best side.
If you are a side sleeper, make sure to lie on the side that you are most comfortable with. But if you are a combination sleeper, you will tend to shift from one position to another. The movements may worsen your sciatica.
To avoid this, place a tennis ball in your pockets. If you shift from one side to the next, you will feel discomfort that would prevent you from doing so.
Perform light stretching.
Light stretching keeps your muscle relax, reducing the pressure on your sciatic nerve. Some of the best stretching exercises for sciatica include pelvic tilt, figure 4 stretch, knees to chest and many more. The best thing about most of these exercises is they can be performed in the comforts of your own bed.
Make sure that the stretching exercises you will perform are not too strenuous as intensive exercises may cause adrenaline rush, preventing you from falling asleep right away.
Here are a few more light stretching exercises to try:
Take pain medications.
If you have been prescribed with pain medications, take them as prescribed. Keep in mind that you should not take any over-the-counter pain medications without consulting your doctor first.
For most people, pain associated with sciatica may go away for 6 to 12 weeks. That is a short period of time, but still, your health will take its toll when you do not get enough sleep even for just a few days.
That is why it is crucial that you figure out the most effective ways on how to sleep with sciatica. We hope that the information that we have provided in this article can help you to sleep comfortably and pain-free even with your nerve condition. If you have any more questions or issues, please share them with us in the comments section below.