How does a sleep position affect joint pain?

Last Updated on March 15, 2022

Quality sleep is essential for almost every aspect of your health, including managing your pain and arthritis. Yet joint pain can make it difficult for you to sleep and stay asleep. Therefore, you need to find ways to ease the pressure on your painful joints and try to get a good’s night sleep.

People who suffer from chronic pain know firsthand how hard it can be to get a good night’s rest. Many people in the UK suffer from chronic pain, and the majority reports substandard sleep quality.

Sleep and pain can go hand in hand. For instance, many report that some of their symptoms can be alleviated after they’ve had a good night’s sleep. For those living with joint pain, prioritizing sleep may be a key component in their path to recovery.

That’s why in today’s article, we’ll discuss how does sleep position affect joint pain and what can you do to alleviate some of it.

How does a sleep position affect joint pain?

How does a sleep position affect joint pain?

You have to understand that the position someone sleeps in could either reduce or contribute to their pain. Like any other condition that causes discomfort or pain, arthritis can make it difficult to get restful sleep.

People’s pain is their own, and depending on it, they might prefer a specific sleeping position. The truth, however, is that you shouldn’t be sleeping on your stomach. In most cases, experts recommend back or side sleeping, but if you are continually struggling, we highly recommend that you talk to a professional.

But for starters, you can pick a suitable mattress for arthritis as it can help with some of the pain and allow you to get some quality rest.

What you can do next, is looking for ways to soothe those sore joints. For some people, topical analgesics or microwavable hot packs can get the job done. However, if your joints are inflamed, a freezable gel pack wrapped in a towel provides cooling relief.

Let’s take a closer look at our joint-by-joint guide, which can help us with what sleeping position we need to avoid depending on the placement of our body aches. 


You can start aligning the normal curves of your back with a thin pillow underneath your head. For example, back sleepers can add a cushion beneath the small of their back and another one under their knees for ultimate comfort. 

In comparison, side sleepers should try to add a small pillow under the curve of their waist and one between their knees. Lastly, stomach sleepers don’t need to add any pads, but if you need one to feel more comfortable, try putting it under your pelvis.  


When it comes down to your neck, the goal is to keep it in a neutral position. For back sleepers, that means using a thin pillow that will keep their spine aligned while they sleep. 

In comparison, side sleepers should pick a taller option to put under their necks so they are aligned with their head. And if you have neck pans, we recommend you avoid sleeping on your stomach.


Hip pain can bring a lot of discomforts, but if you are a side sleeper, you should lie on the hip that isn’t causing your pain. You can also place a pad between the legs. 

When lying on your back, the way to go is by placing a rolled-up blanket beneath your knees. If you are experiencing joint pains in the hip area, we don’t advise you to sleep on your stomach as it may worsen your aches.

Affect on sleeping position and joint pain


If you are experiencing unwanted pressure around your knees when sleeping on your back, you can try and put a pillow beneath them to ease it down. 

Whereas placing one or more pillows between your knees is the way to go if you are a side sleeper. You can always experiment with one or two pillows in order to find what works for you and what doesn’t.


If you are a side sleeper that’s experiencing shoulder pains, you should lie on the side that’s not painful and position a thick pillow under your aching arm to keep it elevated.

In contrast, a back sleeper should place a cushion under each arm which can also be beneficial if you are suffering from elbow pains.

Bottom line

There is an unquestionable link between sleep and pain. However, emerging evidence suggests that the impact of sleep on pain might be even stronger than the effect of pain on rest.

That’s because it’s harder to drift off when dealing with joint pain. People who are perpetually sleep-deprived due to body aches and pains might develop an unhealthy relationship with rest.

Thus techniques like deep breathing and mindfulness might allow you to reconceptualize the pain in an easier way to deal with. Also, following some fundamental sleep hygiene strategies can help prepare your body for the rest it needs.

Generally speaking, good sleep habits start in the morning and end up when you go to bed, so make sure you get enough exposure to sunlight, exercise early in the day (sports like swimming are ideal for people with arthritis), and follow a healthy diet.

We hope we were able to answer the how and why when it comes down to ‘How does a sleeping position affect joint pain?’ and now it’s our turn to hear from you if any questions regarding the subject were left unanswered. If you want to share some information, we would gladly hear about it in the comments below.

Isabelle Harris
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