Referring to pain traveling along the body’s single longest nerve, sciatica is often caused by either a herniated disc in the lower back or age-related spine changes. The resulting discomfort can range from a mild and occasional inconvenience to a persistent annoyance. If symptoms such as tingling sensations and numbness extending into your hips, thighs, buttock, and legs are also keeping you up at night, you’re not alone. Many sciatica patients have difficulty getting a good night’s rest. Finding the right pillow and pillow arrangement may make it easier to get some sleep while living with sciatica. Here are 7 tips to keep in mind to achieve this goal.
Before you focus on a pillow, start by choosing the right surface to put it on. Most people with sciatica prefer mattresses that range from medium-firm to firm. If you’re a side sleeper, you may benefit from something with a little less firmness to ease stress on your shoulders and hips. This can be beneficial since the sciatic nerve passes right through the middle of the hip rotators. Firmer is better for stomach sleepers with the type of lower back pain often associated with sciatica. The recommendation for back sleepers is medium-firmness to avoid excessive stress on the spine. Some sciatica patients prefer to ditch the mattress altogether and sleep on the floor on a yoga mat or similar supportive surface.
People with lower back pain and sciatica often experience relief when in a reclining position since pressure is taken of nerve roots this way. Create a similar position while sleeping with either two separate wedge pillows or a single wedge system that has the two wedges built in as one piece. One of the wedges will raise your legs. The other one will prop up your spine at the same time to provide relief from nerve pressure.
If you don’t want to invest in wedge pillows or a wedge system, create the same effect with spare pillows you have around your home. This is also a good option if you’re limited on space. Start by using a few thicker pillows underneath your shoulders and upper spine and a few flat ones just under your knees by your upper calves to prop up your legs.
Very few people stay in one position while sleeping. However, rolling onto the side of the body sometimes triggers nerve-related pain that’s severe enough to interrupt a sound sleep. One possible solution is to strategically place pillows on either side of your body to minimize the risk of accidentally rolling onto your side while sleeping.
It’s not always easy to change sleep patterns. If you are a diehard side sleeper, one way to ease your sciatica discomfort is to place a contoured pillow between your knees. Pillows of this type provide therapeutic support by adapting to unique characteristics, which may ease stress on the lower back enough to maintain alignment.
If you’re a side sleeper, a larger pillow may give you enough surface area under your chest and head to maintain your alignment and minimize nerve compression. Another option is to use a full body pillow. Many users report improvements with sleep on body pillows because of the added support. Pillows like this can be larger versions of a standard pillow or shaped like a U or a candy cane.
Stomach sleeping isn’t generally recommended for people with back pain. However, if this is your preferred position, ease stress around your sciatic nerve by placing a pillow under your hips. Remember to use a thin pillow or no pillow at all underneath your head so you don’t wake up with neck pain.
If these recommendations aren’t effectively managing your sciatica pain, talk to your doctor or a Los Angeles spine surgeon. You may get a better night’s sleep with treatments that include epidural injections directly into the affected area, anti-inflammatory drugs or muscle relaxants, physical therapy exercises, or alternative remedies like acupuncture, chiropractic care, or mindful meditation techniques.
You might also want to consider minimally invasive spine surgery. Los Angeles residents can turn to Dr. Hyun Bae and his team of expert surgeons at The Spine Institute. Give us a call today at 310-828-7757 to schedule an appointment.