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This may seem obvious, but chronic back pain can wreak havoc on your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
Many people turn to medications for the pain, and to sleeping pills for the sleeplessness. But taking sleep and pain medications together can be a recipe for disaster.
“Given the serious risks of combining pain and sleep medications, nonpharmacologic approaches should be considered for these patients,” says Eric Roseen, a doctor of chiropractic and a researcher in the Department of Family Medicine at Boston Medical Center.
“Identifying holistic ways to treat these conditions could help decrease the reliance on these medications as well as keep patients safer and more comfortable.”
The pain-sleep connection
The National Sleep Foundation reports that people with chronic pain accumulate an average of 42 minutes of “sleep debt” per night.
Sleep debt is simply the difference between the amount of sleep you need and the amount you’re getting.
You can see how it would soon become impossible to catch up on that much-accumulated sleep loss. The result: feeling excessively sleepy during the day, which means less physical activity, and, as the pattern continues, a decrease in overall health.
Almost 25 percent of people with chronic pain report being diagnosed with a sleep disorder.
And, as if this weren’t bad enough, the stress of wondering whether you’ll fall asleep tonight, or lie in bed, tossing and turning, just adds to the likelihood that you won’t sleep well.
If you’re living with chronic pain, you may feel less in control of your sleep, and be more sensitive to environmental factors like light and temperature. This makes it even more important to pay close attention to your sleep environment.
And, we’re talking about a vicious cycle here. Since sleep is when the body heals itself, less restful sleep means less healing for the lower back.
Luckily, Dr. Roseen and his colleagues have found the ideal, non-drug treatment for lower back pain. As a bonus, it also helps with sleep…
Yoga and physical therapy are both effective
Adults from Boston Medical Center and surrounding community health centers were the subjects of Dr. Roseen’s study. They all suffered from chronic lower back pain (cLBP).
At the beginning of the study, over 90 percent of participants with cLBP reported suffering from poor sleep.
The 320 participants were randomly assigned to one of three interventions: twelve weekly yoga sessions, fifteen physical therapy sessions, or just reading educational material on how to manage chronic low back pain.
After these interventions, researchers continued following each participant for a year.
They determined that yoga was “statistically as effective” as physical therapy for reducing pain, helping patients become more functional, and reducing their dosages of pain medication.
What’s more encouraging is that these improvements continued beyond the one-year mark, causing the study authors to conclude that yoga is a “reasonable alternative” to physical therapy for alleviating both back pain and sleep disturbances.
Dr. Roseen says that future research could help tailor yoga or physical therapy even more specifically to maximize their effectiveness on both back pain and sleep problems.
For example, they could look at the timing of yoga (is doing it at bedtime better?), and add other non-drug interventions such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for insomnia.
In the meantime, here are the ten best yoga poses for back pain, most of which can be achieved even by a beginner. And here’s a more advanced pose that is a stress-buster and sleep-promoter.
If you’re a beginner, find a local yoga instructor or studio to get you started.
Editor’s note: Doctor’s take an oath to do no harm. But decades of opioid addiction have shown that many, likely with the best of intentions, have not only been unable to stop their patients’ pain, but may have caused them harm. Dr, Mark Wiley is different. After decades seeking relief for his own pain, he’s written the ultimate guide on drug-free pain relief. Click here for a preview!
- Yoga and physical therapy as treatment for chronic lower back pain also improves sleep — EurekAlert
- Yoga and Physical Therapy Improved Sleep in Patients with Chronic Low Back Pain — PainRelief.com
- 10 Yoga Poses to Do in Bed to Ease Pain and Have the Best Sleep of Your Life — First For Women
- Yoga or PT Shown to Improve Back Pain and Sleep — Psych Central
- Pain and Sleep — National Sleep Foundation