Best Sleeping Positions: How to Sleep with a Thoracic Herniated Disc

Managing pain and enhancing sleep quality with a thoracic herniated disc can be challenging, but adopting the proper sleeping position can significantly alleviate discomfort. This article will guide you on optimal sleeping postures for those suffering from a thoracic herniated disc to help secure a peaceful night’s rest.

Understanding a thoracic herniated disc

A herniated disc often produces no symptoms, and many hernias heal on their own and do not need surgery or other treatment.

However, sometimes the disc can press on the spinal nerves, or the gel-like center of the disc can irritate the nerves. This can trigger widespread pain sensations throughout your body along with numbness or weakness1.

How to improve sleep with a thoracic herniated disc

For individuals with a thoracic herniated disc, the desire for a peaceful night’s sleep often clashes with reality. While sleep plays an important role in healing a herniated disc, it can be hard to find the best position to sleep in without eliciting pain.

Here are some tips to improve your sleep and overall health:

  • Try to stick to a regular sleep schedule.
  • Aim for eight hours of sleep and keep your bedtime and wake-up time consistent.
  • Keep naps short so they don't interfere with your nighttime sleep.
  • Stay active during the day to help you fall asleep more easily at night.
  • Develop a bedtime routine that doesn't involve screens. This helps your mind relax before sleep.
  • Keep it dark and quiet.
  • Avoid heavy meals and alcohol before bedtime. They can disrupt your sleep.

What are the best sleeping positions?

If you have a thoracic herniated disc, the key to the best sleeping positions does not come from laying motionless but rather in synchronizing with your body in the most natural positions.

If you work with a physical therapist, they may make specific recommendations that can alleviate your specific discomfort associated with disc herniation. This might enable you to sleep better with pain.

Side sleeping with a pillow between your knees

If you prefer to sleep on your side, try gently pulling your knees toward your chest. This can help to maintain the spine in its natural curve – similar to a fetal position – which is relieving for some people. Next, enhance this posture by sliding a pillow between your knees. This creates an important barrier that stops the top leg from descending and twisting the spine away from its ideal state of minimal tension.

Back sleeping with a pillow under your knees

Lying flat on your back is often a good way to equally distribute your body weight. This can granting your spine respite from gravity at the end of a day.

Try putting a pillow beneath your knees to relieve any strain in your lower back. This can help to support the natural arch of your spine and promote an even dispersion of body weight throughout the mattress.

Keep your head neutral

Maintaining a neutral position for your head during sleep can also be comfortable. If you use a pillow that’s either too thin or excessively thick, it can disrupt the natural angle of your neck, initiating misalignments throughout your spine.

Your pillow needs to embrace both head and neck so they align directly over your shoulders. The pillow should offer just enough lift to prevent any sinking, without pushing your head forward of your body.

What helps herniated disc pain at night?

In addition to your sleeping position, paying attention to things like the type of mattress you sleep on can make a difference. This isn’t simply about securing a plush resting spot for your head. Rather, it involves seeking out the right equipment that upholds the innate arch of your back while affording you comfort sufficient to lighten daily loads.

Choosing the right mattress

A mattress with a medium-firm feel provides an ideal combination of support and cushioning, creating a haven for your spine that doesn’t let it excessively sag nor does it subject it to a hard, unyielding plane. The design of memory foam mattresses is especially advantageous due to their ability to mold to the shape of your body and reduce pressure spots.

Alternatively, hybrid mattresses combine the sturdy reinforcement found in spring coils with layers of soft foam comfort, delivering an equilibrium between embrace and support for your back. If you prefer bedding that quickly adapts to movement and changing position throughout the night, consider latex options as they provide immediate adjustments ensuring consistent backing for your back all night long.

Selecting an appropriate pillow

An ideal pillow can provide support and maintain your posture throughout the night. When a pillow is either too high or too low, it can cause discomfort and disrupt your sleep.

Consider not only its comfort but also how well it meets the needs of your neck and spine. It ought to bridge the space between your head, neck, and mattress so that your cervical spine maintains its neutral position. For side sleepers, this kind of alignment is especially important because if your head sinks or rises excessively you might wake up with discomfort and soreness. Having a pillow to place between or under your knees is also something to consider when sleeping with a thoracic herniated disc.

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What might be causing your back pain at night?

Occasionally, the real cause of your nighttime back pain might disguise itself as something other than a thoracic herniated disc. Even if an MRI shows a herniated disc, it’s not definitive proof that this is what’s causing your discomfort. Instead, the disc may just be incidentally captured during an imaging session of your spine.

It is essential to delve deeper and accurately identify the actual root of your suffering. This could involve distinguishing whether you’re dealing with referred pain or confronting central sensitization, a condition that can amplify even minor annoyances into severe bouts of pain.

Central sensitization

Central sensitization amplifies the reactivity of your nervous system, causing it to be overly sensitive to minimal disturbances. This amplified sensitivity can cause pain sensations to be felt more acutely, turning minor irritations into significant discomfort.

It's quite common for people who have ongoing back pain to also have central sensitization2.

How can I treat my thoracic herniated disc to sleep better?

Conquering the discomfort that comes with a thoracic herniated disc and securing a night of restful sleep necessitates an intricate plan, mirroring the complexity of the condition.

The key elements involve:

  • reconditioning both your physical body and mental outlook to alter your pain perception
  • having an active lifestyle and using exercise to strengthen your body and reduce your pain
  • taking medication when necessary as an adjunct to facilitate other therapeutic activities.

Retraining your pain

It is important to note that pain is not just a physical sensation. It is also a complex experience that is influenced by your mental state, cognitive processes, and surroundings.

The initial step is to pinpoint the factors that exacerbate your pain. These could range from stress and negative thinking to certain activities. Once you identify these triggers, you can begin to modify them. This might involve adopting a healthier diet, enhancing your sleep quality, staying physically active, or developing new ways to think about and react to these triggers. With consistent effort and practice, you can train your brain to manage pain differently, making it less intense and less disruptive to your life.

Exercise

Engaging in light exercise can be highly beneficial for those experiencing back pain, even if it might seem counterintuitive. Regular physical activity is advisable and advantageous for people with a thoracic herniated disc. Gentle exercises tailored to your condition not only keep the spine limber but also help maintain muscle strength, alleviating stiffness associated with excessive rest.

Any exercise that enhances your cardiovascular health, strengthens the muscles supporting your thoracic spine and improves your flexibility can help alleviate discomfort associated with a thoracic herniated disc. The best part is that any movement is beneficial, so choose activities that you enjoy and can consistently incorporate into your routine.

Medication as an enabler

Medication can be effective when you're trying to sleep with pain. Some commonly prescribed medications to combat the inflammation and pain associated with a herniated disc include:

  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen
  • muscle relaxants
  • narcotics
  • antidepressants
  • steroid injections.

These medications can help relieve pain, making it easier to engage in physical therapy exercises and sleep more comfortably.

However, it’s important to remember that medication should not be the lone soldier in the fight against back pain. It works best when combined with other forms of treatment like exercise and stress management, creating a holistic approach to treating chronic pain.

Stress management

While stress is an unavoidable aspect of life, it often manifests as physical tension and discomfort. Research indicates that stress negatively impacts the regeneration of intervertebral disc cells and can amplify our perception of pain3.

Effective strategies to reduce stress include engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and practicing mindfulness, which can sharpen your cognitive processes, anchor you in the present, and foster relaxation. Additionally, it's beneficial to seek out social support, whether through conversations with friends, counseling sessions, or participation in support groups where you can express your emotions and receive encouragement.

More information

At MoreGoodDays®, we've crafted a program grounded in scientific research to support you in dealing with chronic back pain. Our approach helps dispel common myths about back pain, focusing on understanding its root causes, identifying triggers, and learning to alter your body's reaction to pain using neuroplasticity principles.

We provide tailored coaching and a range of tools to guide you in managing pain, supporting mental health, and enhancing your overall quality of life.

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