Best Sleep Positions for Arthritis Sufferers

If you suffer from arthritis, you already know that sleeping in certain positions can make your symptoms even worse upon awakening. And while proper sleep positions are important for everyone, they're even more crucial for arthritis patients. That said, what are the best ways to settle down for your nightly slumber when you deal with discomfort on a daily basis?

According to Nathan Wei, MD, Director of The Arthritis and Osteoporosis Center of Maryland in Frederick, Maryland, the answer really depends on where your arthritis manifests itself.  Someone whose knees give him trouble may sleep in a different way from someone who has arthritis of the neck. Here are Dr. Wei's suggestions, based on where you experience the most pain:

Neck. Your first priority is to use some sort of neck-support pillow. It's shaped like an arch and offers more support than a traditional pillow. "Without this support, the muscles in the neck tend to become stressed," Dr. Wei says. "Oftentimes a traditional pillow won't be enough."

Back. Do you turn over and snooze away on your stomach? Bad move. People with arthritis in their backs often find that sleeping in this position makes their pain worse. "Your back has a slight arch," Dr. Wei explains. "[Stomach sleeping] puts a lot of pressure on those areas in the low back that have small nerve fibers." If you must turn over onto your front, minimize the arching your lower back will do by putting some support under your hips to lift them and bring your body back into proper alignment. A pillow will do the trick. A better bet, however, would be to sleep on your side (unless you also have tendinitis or bursitis of the hip, in which case this position may be painful) or your back.

Knees. "One temptation is to put a pillow under the knees, but that's a no-no," says Dr. Wei. The danger? Knees that are slightly bent will begin to stiffen into that curved position over time. "What I usually recommend is icing the knees for 10 to 20 minutes a few times a day to reduce inflammation." Quadricep exercises are also helpful for keeping knees supple and pain free at night.

Hands. Try arthritis compression gloves to reduce swelling and stiffness at night. Another bonus: They'll prevent you from clenching your fists in your sleep.

Other possibilities for your evening rest? Invest in a full-body pillow that you can clutch and mold to your frame, and try to get some shuteye in a recliner if using a bed causes too much discomfort.


Nathan Wei, MD

The Arthritis and Osteoporosis Center of Maryland