Fetal Position: Does It Cause Back Pain?
Side sleeping can be ideal for most individuals, but curling up too much into fetal position can actually cause back pain or at least contribute to it. Fetal position puts your spine into a forward bent or flexed posture, which is similar to sitting slumped or standing and bending forward. As much as fetal position may be comfortable, it is not healthy for your spine to be in that flexed posture for hours at a time.
Forward vs. Backward Spine Positions and Back Pain:
If you have never had low back pain, you can learn this lesson from those who do: most individuals with low back pain respond best to backwards bending or back extension exercises, not flexion or forward bending. In other words, having your back in a forward bent or flexed position is not very healthy for your spine (low back, mid back or neck).
Neutral Spine Sleeping Posture To Avoid Low Back Pain:
I am not saying you should sleep in a backward bent position either. Simply find a neutral sleeping posture which puts your back into a relatively straight position. This can easily be achieved when sleeping on your side by not bringing your knees up toward your chest. Have your knees slightly bent but do not pull up your legs so that your low back becomes rounded or flexed.
Pillow Between Knees To Prevent Low Back Pain:
To further improve your neutral spine position, sleep with a firm pillow between your knees or use a body pillow. My pillow of choice is a small, firm, rectangular one. I have seen pillows made for this purpose at Bed, Bath and Beyond, but they are more expensive than simple, decorative pillows which are just as effective (check the clearance rack at your favorite discount store).
Prevent Low Back Pain With Good Posture:
While you are looking to achieve a neutral sleeping posture, also work on neutral sitting postures during the day. For example, avoid sitting in a recliner or chair/chaise with your legs extended in front of you because that also puts your low back into a rounded or flexed position. In a desk chair, sit at the back of the chair with a lumbar pillow for added support. Similarly, avoid bending forward when you are standing or sitting; instead, use your legs to squat and maintain your back in a straight position.