Sleeping poorly? Managing back pain could be the key

Physiotherapy for lower back pain

By Geoffrey Mackay, getback Director of Clinical Practice

Lower back pain and poor sleep often go hand in hand, creating a cycle that can significantly impact your quality of life. 

The relationship between the two conditions is complex and multifaceted, and one can exacerbate the other. The good news is that understanding their connection can help you manage and alleviate both.

Pain-induced sleep disturbance

When you’re experiencing lower back pain, it can be challenging to find a comfortable sleeping position. Discomfort and the inability to find a suitable posture can lead to fragmented sleep, reducing the quality of rest.

Stress and anxiety

Prolonged lower back pain can trigger stress and anxiety, making it difficult to fall asleep. Stress activates the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, releasing hormones like cortisol that can interfere with the natural sleep-wake cycle. 

Persistent pain can also lead to anticipatory anxiety about sleep, further disrupting the ability to relax and fall asleep.

Muscle tension and guarding

Lower back pain often causes muscles in the affected area to tighten as a protective mechanism. This muscle tension can make it harder to achieve deep and restful sleep. Tight muscles can even spasm during the night, further interrupting sleep.

Limited mobility

Lower back pain can make it challenging to change positions while sleeping. This limited mobility can result in prolonged periods in one position and increase discomfort.

Medication effects

Pain-relief medications can have side effects that affect sleep. Some can cause drowsiness, while others may disrupt the sleep cycle, leading to a non-restorative sleep pattern.

Lifestyle factors

If lower back pain reduces physical activity and exercise, it can lead to a sedentary lifestyle and weight gain, which is a risk factor for both back pain and sleep apnea, a disorder that disrupts breathing during sleep.

Breaking the cycle 

Breaking the cycle of lower back pain and poor sleep means addresses both issues at the same time.

Pain assessment and treatment

Consult with a physiotherapist to assess and manage your lower back pain. At getback, your initial consultation includes a comprehensive assessment of your back pain to create a personalised treatment plan. 

Treatment may begin with hands-on physiotherapy, osteopathy or movement-based therapies.

Sleep hygiene

Practice good sleep hygiene by establishing a regular sleep schedule – going to bed at the same time, switching off technology 30 minutes before you want to sleep, and aiming for a consistent amount of sleep. 

You can also explore relaxation techniques such as meditation and breathwork before bed to manage stress and anxiety.

Medication management

Work with your healthcare provider to find a balance that provides pain relief without disrupting your sleep.

Movement and strengthening

Incorporate movement and strengthening exercises suitable for your condition to improve mobility and support for your spine. 

The relationship between lower back pain and poor sleep is intricate. By addressing both conditions comprehensively with professional guidance, you can improve your quality of life and regain restful, restorative sleep.

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