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Sleep with a Pillow Between the Legs for Back Pain Relief


For individuals with back pain, can sleeping with a pillow between or under their knees help bring relief during sleep?

Sleep with a Pillow Between the Legs for Back Pain Relief

Sleep With A Pillow Between The Legs

Healthcare providers may recommend that individuals with back pain due to pregnancy or conditions like a herniated disc and sciatica sleep with a pillow between their legs. Sleeping with a pillow between the legs may help relieve back and hip pain, as the position helps maintain pelvis and spinal alignment. Proper spinal alignment can help relieve back stress and pain.

The Benefits

Some potential benefits of sleeping with a pillow between the knees.

Reduce Back and Hip Pain

When sleeping on the side, the spine, shoulders, and hips may twist to maintain the position because the center of gravity is elevated, causing instability. (Gustavo Desouzart et al., 2015) Placing a pillow between the knees may help maintain stability and reduce back and hip pain. (Gustavo Desouzart et al., 2015) The pillow neutralizes the position of the pelvis by slightly elevating the leg on top. This decreases the pressure on the lower back and hip joints, which may help reduce pain and allow for improved sleep.

Reduce Sciatica Symptoms

Sciatica nerve pain travels from the lower back down one leg due to a compressed spinal nerve root in the lower back. (American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2021) Sleeping with a pillow between the knees may help reduce symptoms and sensations. A pillow between the legs can help prevent twisting the back, rotating the spine, or tilting the pelvis during sleep.

Reduce Herniated Disc Symptoms

A herniated disc can pressure the spinal nerves, leading to pain and numbness. (Penn Medicine. 2024) Sleeping on the side can worsen herniated disc pain; however, placing a pillow between the knees keeps the pelvis in neutral alignment and prevents spinal rotation. Sleeping on the back with a pillow under the knees can also help reduce pressure on the disc. (University of Central Florida. N.D.)

Improve Posture

Maintaining healthy posture while sitting or standing is important to neuromusculoskeletal health and injury prevention. Proper alignment during sleep can help improve posture (Doug Cary et al., 2021). According to one study, individuals spend more than half of their time sleeping in a side-lying posture. (Eivind Schjelderup Skarpsno et al., 2017) Sleeping on the side with the top leg frequently falls forward, bringing the pelvis into a forward tilt that places added pressure on the hips and spine connective tissues. This position disrupts the body’s natural alignment. (Doug Cary et al., 2021) Placing a pillow between the knees improves sleeping posture by lifting the top leg and prevents forward shifting. (University of Rochester Medical Center. 2024)


Pregnancy pain in the back and pelvic girdle is due to: (Danielle Casagrande et al., 2015)

  • Increased weight leads to increased pressure on joints.
  • Significant change in the center of gravity.
  • Hormonal changes make connective tissues more lax.

Pregnant women with hip or back pain are often recommended to sleep with a pillow between their knees to relieve pain and discomfort. Doctors agree that lying on the left side is the best sleep position during the second and third trimesters. This position ensures optimal blood flow for the mother and baby and helps kidney function. (Standford Medicine, 2024) Placing a pillow between the knees can help reduce the pressure on the joints and also help maintain the left-side lying position. (O’Brien LM, Warland J. 2015) (Standford Medicine, 2024) Larger maternity pillows supporting the abdomen and lower back can provide more comfort.

Consult a healthcare provider about sleeping with a pillow between the knees to see if it is right for you.

What Causes Disc Herniation?


Desouzart, G., Matos, R., Melo, F., & Filgueiras, E. (2015). Effects of sleeping position on back pain in physically active seniors: A controlled pilot study. Work (Reading, Mass.), 53(2), 235–240. doi.org/10.3233/WOR-152243

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. (2021). Sciatica. OrthoInfo. orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/sciatica

Penn Medicine. (2024). Herniated disc disorders. Penn Medicine. www.pennmedicine.org/for-patients-and-visitors/patient-information/conditions-treated-a-to-z/herniated-disc-disorders

University of Central Florida. (N.D.). The best sleeping position for lower back pain (and the worst). UFC Health Services. ucfhealth.com/our-services/lifestyle-medicine/best-sleeping-position-for-lower-back-pain/

Cary, D., Jacques, A., & Briffa, K. (2021). Examining relationships between sleep posture, waking spinal symptoms and quality of sleep: A cross sectional study. PloS one, 16(11), e0260582. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0260582

Skarpsno, E. S., Mork, P. J., Nilsen, T. I. L., & Holtermann, A. (2017). Sleep positions and nocturnal body movements based on free-living accelerometer recordings: association with demographics, lifestyle, and insomnia symptoms. Nature and science of sleep, 9, 267–275. doi.org/10.2147/NSS.S145777

University of Rochester Medical Center. (2024). Good sleeping posture helps your back. Health Encyclopedia. www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=4460

Casagrande, D., Gugala, Z., Clark, S. M., & Lindsey, R. W. (2015). Low Back Pain and Pelvic Girdle Pain in Pregnancy. The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 23(9), 539–549. doi.org/10.5435/JAAOS-D-14-00248

Standford Medicine. (2024). Sleeping positions during pregnancy. Standford Medicine Children’s Health. www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=sleeping-positions-during-pregnancy-85-P01238

O’Brien, L.M., Warland, J. (2015). Maternal sleep position: what do we know where do we go? BMC Pregnancy Childbirth, 15, Article A4 (2015). doi.org/doi:10.1186/1471-2393-15-S1-A4

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The information herein on "Sleep with a Pillow Between the Legs for Back Pain Relief" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN*, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, ATN*

email: coach@elpasofunctionalmedicine.com

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