What is the Best Sleeping Position for Arthritic Knees?

By: Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS®

Getting a good night’s sleep with knee arthritis can be a challenge. This guide shows you how to reduce knee pain before bed and the pros/cons of different sleeping positions for arthritic knees.

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There is nothing quite like an ache in the knee to keep you up all night. What you don’t know is that the lack of sleep is probably making your arthritic knee pain much worse resulting in vicious cycle.

The good news is that there are a some steps you can take to reduce your knee pain at night so that you can get a better night’s rest ending that painful cycle. Better sleep allows your body the time it needs to heal and helps reduce inflammation associated with arthritic knee pain.

How to Sleep Better With Arthritic Knee Pain

Try these steps for better sleep if your knee arthritis wakes you up – or keeps you awake.

1. Preparing For Bed

Reducing knee pain as much as possible before going to bed is critical to falling asleep easily and staying asleep. The Arthritis Foundation suggests taking a warm bath which will reduce inflammation, increase circulation and relax you so that you fall asleep faster. Another reason that a warm bath is a good solution for arthritic knee pain is because it temporarily reduces the effects of gravity on the knees – relieving pain.

Did you know that a water bath is a treatment that is commonly used on elephants who have developed arthritis in their knees. Not that you are an elephant, of course! But, elephants sleep standing and the constant pressure on those knees result in endless sleepless nights. Bathing has been found to be the most effective solution for those big heavy giants and may provide the same solution for you.

Of course it is also important to follow the usual recommendations for a bed time routine to get the body ready for bed.

  • Switch off the TV and electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime and dim the lights. This will tell you body that it is nearly time to sleep.
  • Apply a heat/cold pack treatment for about 20 minutes which also reduces inflammation. Some people respond better to cold treatments and others to warm treatments.
  • Take your pain, inflammation and other medications as prescribed by your doc. If you find the meds are wearing off during the night, speak to your doctor about adjusting the dosage or the time you take your drugs so that they will last through the night. You may also want discuss sleep medications with your doctor.

2. Sleep Positions

There is no specific sleep position that is better for knee pain resulting from arthritis. Everyone is different and experimenting with different positions is going to be the best way to find one that suits you best. For example, if you are experiencing more pain in your left knee, you may find it more comfortable to sleep on your right-side and vice versa. If the pain is bothering you in both knees at night, sleeping on your back may be better.

Whichever way you choose, it is recommended to check into the different pillows and positioners that are available . These cushions are going to help relieve pressure on your knees while you sleep and therefore reduce the pain. Bolster pillow, noodle pillows, round cushions, square cushions and regular pillows can all help support your knees and body to relieve pain while sleeping.

graphic showing how to sleep better on your back
If you sleep on your back, prop your knees up slightly with a pillow.

Sleeping On Your Back

If you are sleeping on your back, place a pillow under your knees so that they are slightly bent and not straight. If you attempt to sleep with your legs as straight as planks, they are going to get just as stiff as those planks and sore pretty fast. Experiment with different cushion heights to find a height at which you are most comfortable. There are triangular pillows that are designed specifically for this purpose.

You can also elevate your feet using pillows to help relieve pressure on those inflamed knees. However, it is not recommended to elevate the feet above knee height when the lower legs are parallel with the bed. The legs can be bent up to a 90 degree angle and supported by large square, rectangular or wedge pillows. Sometimes, stacking pillows can have exactly the same effect as buying a specialized pillow.

Sleeping On Your Side

If you are lying on your side, placing a pillow between your knees is also going to help alleviate pressure and thus pain. You can experiment with a range of different cushions and pillows to find what helps you most. Some people find that one small, round cushion placed directly between the knees is sufficient. However, others find that those long, noodle cushions that can be placed between the knees and extend all the way up to the body are better.

RELATED: Weighted Blankets for Side Sleepers

Other people want additional support behind or in-front of the knees as well as between the knees. Although your bed may start looking like a cushion factory, anyone suffering from pain induced insomnia understands the extent that you are willing to go to to get even some relief. So if a mountain of pillows is what helps, then this is what you need.

graphic showing how to sleep on your side with less arthritic knee pain
Side sleepers should place a knee pillow between their knees to reduce pressure.

3. Change Your Position

Another reason it is recommended to add as many cushions as you need to your collection is to accommodate different sleeping positions. Very few people put their head on the pillow, fall asleep and stay in exactly the same position the entire night. So have a variety of different pillows and cushions available so that you can change position during the night and then adjust your pillows to provide the necessary support.

What To Do If Your Pain Wakes You Up

If you do wake up during the night because of knee pain, get up and get out of bed. Although this may be the last thing you feel like doing, it is probably going to get you to sleep again fastest. Apply a heat pack or take a warm bath exactly as you would’ve before bed to relieve your arthritic knee pain. Pop a pill if your prescription allows for this. Get back into bed, find a comfy position and adjust those supportive pillows accordingly.

If these methods don’t work to help you sleep better, it is recommended to speak with your doctor. Your doctor may recommend additional or alternative therapies, treatments or procedures to help reduce knee pain associated with arthritis.

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