Treating Sleep Ailments With Physical Therapy

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Nothing’s better than a good night’s sleep, and nothing’s worse than waking up tired, achy and stiff.

In fact, according to the National Sleep Foundation, 50 percent of people with chronic pain say sleep difficulties interfere with work. A loss of sleep can also impact mood, relationships and a person’s ability to perform daily activities.

But what causes some of those sleep issues? The foundation also reports that chronic pain (21 percent of all Americans experience chronic pain with 36 percent reporting acute pain in the last week) accounts for 42 minutes of lost sleep. That’s significant especially when you consider that many Americans already fall short of the recommended seven to nine hours of shuteye
a night.

“Who can sleep well when they’re hurting?” says Renee Midgett, PT, DPT, the clinical director of the Tidewater Physical Therapy Chesapeake location in the Battlefield Boulevard region of the city. “Throbbing hips, sore knees and chronic neck and back pain are some of the ailments that can make it hard to fall asleep or create sleep disturbances throughout the night. Utilizing physical therapy along with good sleep hygiene can make a difference when tackling sleep deprivation.”

For patients who visit Midgett, she often starts with
a musculoskeletal assessment, looking less for what hurts on a patient and more for what may be causing the pain. For patients with a chronic injury or condition such as arthritis, knee pain from overuse or recurring back pain, more targeted assessments evaluating gait, posture and form could be a good first step to finding relief.

Once evaluated, a combination of targeted exercises and education can be the next steps in easing discomfort, Midgett said. If specific exercises are prescribed, not only will a patient’s specific ailment be relieved, but other benefits of exercise also include helping patients use energy more efficiently throughout the day, boosting metabolism as well as enabling them to think more clearly throughout the day.

“Often, functional mobility can be restored,” Midgett adds.

For patients considering visiting a physical therapist for sleep issues, Midgett advises having them also talk with their clinician on the ergonomics of sleeping. How a person positions their body in bed—and the type of mattress and pillows they use—can correlate to more or less pain.

Many myths exist about avoiding sleeping on your stomach. This is not always a bad position but consideration does need to be taken to avoid aggravation to other joints such as the neck.  Laying on your back is often a preferred choice. For side sleepers, a large pillow between the legs can help keep the spine in proper neutral alignment.

The size and depth of a pillow can matter, too, when trying to combat neck and shoulder pain. And pillows should be positioned so that your head, neck, and shoulders are properly supported. Side sleepers tend to need a thicker pillow to fill the gap between the head and mattress for optimal support. A firm mattress is always better, especially for back pain where a supportive mattress can make a difference.

Remember that a lack of sleep can exacerbate aches and pains, so having good sleeping habits is also important. Patients trying to overcome chronic pain and insomnia should strive to keep a regular bedtime, avoid watching television or using electronics like a laptop or smart phone in bed and make sure their room is dark, quiet and cool.

Pain is a fact of life, but no one should have to live every waking hour—let alone those when asleep—in a state of constant discomfort. With the proper medical care, and physical therapy, there’s no reason pain should keep anyone up at night.

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