Have you caught onto this sweet sleep hack yet? If not, read on to potentially diminish low back, hip, knee, and foot pain literally overnight simply by placing a pillow in-between your knees!
Due to the modern sedentary lifestyle, working a desk job, driving, injury, anxiety, wacky trips through the birth canal, and so much more; many of us are walking around with an internal rotation in our knees. That is, our knees “fall in” towards the middle of our body. AKA: knock knees, valgus knees, collapsed knees. Opposite of “bow-legged”. Look down. Chances are your knees are hugging each other tight right now as you sit! This common structural misalignment creates lines of tension, typically from the low back through the hips, all the way down to the knees and feet. We might especially feel this pain in the morning right after waking up.
While common, if this misalignment is not addressed it can worsen over time. Physical therapy can make it so much better as PT’s are the ultimate experts on correcting misalignment in the body. But you know what can make knock knees worse? You guessed it – how many of us sleep: on our sides with nothing between the knees. Seems comfortable enough, right? Been doing it for years and you fall asleep okay, right? Regardless, if you’re still waking up with pain in the low back and lower body, hear me out:
If you can imagine yourself sleeping on your side, nothing between the knees, can you visualize how the base of the spine (your lumbar and coccyx area) dips down towards the bed and knees are basically glued in that internal rotation position? Laying on your side, your knees naturally fall in. They cannot be stopped by will alone! That’s gravity for you.
So between the natural misalignment and the sleep misalignment, our bodies are more or less “falling in” 24/7. Wow! And ow! No wonder we can wake up feeling worse than when we went to bed. A better mattress and regular stretching routine may also be key here, but one thing at a time. Let’s talk knee pillow:
By placing a pillow between your knees, especially one thick enough to keep your spine, hips, and knees in as neutral alignment as possible, you’ll find that it’s easier to sleep on your side for longer and you’re not waking up with so much pain. It may take some time getting used to; you may kick it out of bed for a week or two, but eventually your low-back, hips, knees, and feet will all start to feel happier and alleviated of the stress and strain of being forced to fall so far in for 8 hours a night.
A few caveats:
- A physical therapist and your general doctor are the BEST professionals to consult when it comes to modifying your life to improve your anatomical structure. As a licensed massage therapist, I am only qualified to give you the most basic tips and tricks and address the soft tissue aspect of anatomical misalignments
- It may take experimenting with the right pillow thickness. It has to be thick enough that it actually opens your hips and knees a bit, but not so thick it’s unusable.
- If you also sleep on your back, a thick pillow is a great option because you can tuck it under your knees when you roll onto your back for maximum spine support back sleeping.
- Some people take to the pillow between the knees right away and find instant relief. Some people struggle not to kick the pillow out mid-sleep. Just keep practicing and experimenting. It takes time to change habits, especially the ones you do unconsciously.
- I do NOT recommend extending the pillow to your feet. It would make sense that you want to open up the hips all the way down the leg-foot line, but I’ve found a pillow between the feet can press on nerves, ligaments, and tendons and cause foot pain. Try to keep the pillow mostly between the knees.
- As with any change in regimen, if you don’t’ notice improvements or things get worse, stop immediately. I’ll say it again: a physical therapist and your general doctor are the BEST professionals to consult when it comes to modifying your life to improve your anatomical structure.
I personally use a very large bolster “big mama” as my knee pillow so I can switch between sleeping on my side and back and keep my spine as aligned as possible, but that doesn’t work for everyone. I have hypermobile joints so my knees want to bend back and internally rotate especially far so I need the extra-large support for maximum pain relief. I am finding that with extensive use my bolster is deflating and I may need to opt for something sturdier. Even I am still experimenting!
A thick memory foam pillow works great for many people. Here are some recommendations:
They also make between the knee pillows specifically for side-sleeping with. I’ve yet to try them because I prefer a bolster for back and side sleeping, but if I were exclusively a side sleeper, I would try one of these:
As always, contact me if you have any questions. I’d love to hear your success stories with sleeping with a pillow between the knees and your product recommendations.
Looking forward to working with you soon,
Lindsey Frazier, LMT
Kokoro Massage in Bellingham