Do you ever wake up after a night of sleeping on your back, and your lower back is so tight that you don't even know what to do? You know it’s bad when SLEEPING causes pain.
It does sound kind of funny doesn't it? How can you sleep wrong? It's also very saddening, because usually the individual who finds sleeping painful it's pretty close to the end of their rope. I know the despair that person must feel when they can't even do something as basic as sleeping without lower back pain.
But be assured that there is a specific biomechanical reason why sleeping on your back produces pain or discomfort.
Also be assured that for most people there is a relatively easy fix.
The only muscle you need to know in this particular case, is the psoas. This muscle is so important, yet most people don't even know it exists.
When you lay on your back, you are in a full extension position of the hips. This is a great position for the body, if it's ready for it.
The problem occurs because we spend most of our days in almost a full flexion position, whether we are sitting in the car, sitting at our desk, sitting at a movie, or sitting while we’re eating.
We spend a very large percentage of our time sitting. Because of this, the psoas gets shortened because we are constantly in a flexion position. Now we have a shortened, tightened psoas.
That tight hip tugs the lower back off of the bed and keeps it in a constant arch all night. Then when you wake up, your lower back hurts because it's basically been working all night.
So what do we do about this? What is the answer?
We need to do a few things. You might've guessed it, that we need to stretch the psoas. You would be right, at least partially. We don't necessarily want to stretch the psoas, but we rather would like to think about it as "releasing the tension” of the psoas. This might sound like a subtle difference, or simply semantics, but there is a distinction between stretching and releasing. Releasing a muscle involves no tension. Whereas stretching the muscle actually puts it under tension. Remember those Chinese finger traps? Stretching muscle is kind of like putting your fingers in a Chinese finger trap. There’s still tension, although the muscle is stretching.
So first we need to release the muscle, then we need to strengthen the opposite. Let's actually start by strengthening the opposite, which is the glute muscle. Now the glute muscle is a hip extensor which is the opposite of the hip flexor, or the psoas. But before I get into the glute strengthening exercises, there's one other exercise that there's one other body part that we need to strengthen, which is, in a way, opposite of the psoas as well.
Because the hip flexor or psoas also has another function, which is to extend the lumbar spine, which is what causes you pain while sleeping, we must also address the opposite muscle group of the hip flexor in this regard. The abdominals. So, we need to embark upon a glute and abdominal strengthening program, while releasing the hip flexors.
There are many ways to strengthen the abdominals, but if you are having pain while sleeping because of a hyperextended back, I want to offer this way to you, which is a straight legged pelvic tilt crunch.
Lie on the floor with your legs straight. Notice the arch in your lower back. Now press your lower back into the floor by engaging your abdominals. Hold of this contraction for a few seconds, and then slowly release. If your abs are strong enough, then you will also feel a stretch in the hip flexors. This is good.
So we have strengthened the abs, and by the way you want to do that exercise consistently until your body has started to pick up that pattern. The next exercise in your mini workout is glute bridges.
Glute bridges are fantastic to strengthen the glutes and also the hamstrings. However, the way that you have done glute bridges in the past, probably also includes strengthening or tightening your lower back. So we are going to do them slightly differently today. I want you to think of these glute bridges not so much as lift lifting your hips up to the ceiling, but more like glute contractions.
Lie your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. From here, simply begin to engage your glutes without engaging your lower back. Think less about how high you are lifting, and more about how engaged you are making the glutes. If you engage the glutes enough you will lift up. But don't put the cart in front of the horse, so to speak. If you only think about how high you're lifting, then the only way you will lift that high is to also use your lower back, which we do not want to use in this particular case.
Remember, the back pain is coming from a habit of hyper extending your lower back, so we need to let the back relax and neutralize. We've already done that with the abs, and the glutes, so we have the strength portion taken care of in our little mini workout here. The last thing we want to do is release, remember not stretch, the hip flexor or psoas .
Next we are going to do supine groin stretch. And again, it's not so much a stretch as it is a complete release and relaxation of the hip flexor and lower back. Lie on your back with one leg draped up over a pillow, and the other leg out straight. Prop that straight leg up on the block or against the wall so that the foot stays pointed to the ceiling. From this position, you might notice that your lower back is arched, although not as much as when both legs were out straight. The goal here is to fall asleep, seriously. By falling asleep, and meditating, you are ensuring that your body is relaxed. Ideally, you want to stay in this position for 15 to 30 minutes. Yes, that seems like a lot of time, but you've been sitting a lot today and you need the meditation to relax.
That simple program that I just detailed will steadily begin to change the muscle tension in your hips and lower back so that you are able to lie on your back and sleep without any muscle tension or pain.
Count on this taking several weeks to really make a lasting impact. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that is the truth of any exercise program. It does not happen in one workout. But make a commitment to do these three exercises for 20 to 30 minutes per day for the next month, and you will definitely notice a difference in how easy it is to sleep on your back without back pain.
If you have any more questions, please feel free to email me at Chris@mycorebalance.com. And if you have back pain in addition to only when you sleep on your back, consider purchasing my program Help! I Threw Out My Back for a full body exercise list with multiple workouts of progressive difficulty. The program is designed to help you achieve your goal of a pain-free back.
Don't let back pain stop you!