Sciatica is an impingement or irritation of the sciatica nerve by structures it passes as it exits your spinal cord as nerve roots and runs down into the legs. The hallmark symptom of sciatica is shooting pain from the lower back down the leg into the calf or foot. Pain can vary from mild to excruciating and typically affects one side. To find out more about what causes sciatica and how it presents you can click here.
Sciatica can be quite debilitating and getting a good night’s sleep with sciatica can be difficult. Lying in certain positions can put pressure on your already irritated nerve and cause a flare-up of symptoms. However, some positions are less likely to cause pain.
Best Positions For Sleeping With Sciatica
Finding the best position to relieve sciatica may be a matter of trial and error and it may differ for everyone. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to try positions that maintain the natural alignment of your spine and reduce any hip rotation. Here are some of our best recommendations to try.
1. Sleeping On Your Side
If left untreated or depending on the underlying cause, sciatica may become chronic or persistent, lasting for two months or more. An estimated 20% to 30% of people may continue to have sciatica for 1 to 2 years.
Chronic sciatica is more difficult to treat than acute sciatica and there may need to be more lifestyle modifications and other treatment options explored, such as therapeutic injections and possibly surgical interventions.
2. Place a pillow between your knees
While sleeping on your side, place a pillow between your knees or between the top leg and the mattress. This helps keep your pelvis and spine in a neutral position and reduces any rotation caused by the top leg/knee moving across the centreline of your body to rest on the mattress or bottom leg. It may also prevent you from rotating during the night.
This can be set up with both knees bent and a pillow between them OR the bottom leg straight and the top leg bent, resting on a pillow.
3. Fetal position
The fetal position is worth trying and it may open up space between your vertebrae and may reduce back pain caused by a herniated disc. However, some people also find it aggravates their pain.
If you experience discomfort in the fetal position, try one of the other positions on this list.
4. Using a body pillow
You may find it helpful to hug a body pillow (longer pillow) while sleeping on your side. This is especially helpful with those that tend to sleep on their stomach. This can also be combined with a pillow between your leg.
5. On your back with a pillow under your knees
Lying on your back helps distribute your weight evenly across your back and hips. Putting a pillow under your knees may help relax tight hip flexors, reduce demand on our lower back to extend and reduce tension on the nerve. You may also find it helpful to place a small pillow or towel under your lower back while laying on your back.
The cause of pain may vary and as does the body type, therefore there is no one size fits all or best position. Try each position or a combination of them. If you are still struggling, being properly assessed by a chiropractor or other medical practitioner may help. You can also read our blog post on treatment for sciatica here.