Hip Pain While Sleeping on Your Side
You’ve drifted off to sleep when it starts— a dull ache or maybe a sharp shooting pain in your hip. The pain may hit as soon as you lie down or build slowly until you wake up partway through the night. Either way, nighttime hip pain keeps you from getting the rest you need. However, you don’t need to suffer indefinitely. There are ways to reduce and eliminate nighttime hip pain. To help you identify where your pain may be coming from, we’re going to cover the most common causes of nighttime hip pain along with ways to reduce and manage it.
Common Causes of Hip Pain
This list is not exhaustive. Temporary changes in your health like pregnancy or a recent surgery could significantly affect your nighttime pain. We will cover these other causes as well in case one of them is behind or contributing to your sleep problems.
It’s also important to remember that hip pain could be due to issues that don’t start in the hips. Pain that manifests itself in one area but begins in another is called referred pain. Lower back pain, abdominal issues, or a pinched nerve could cause referred pain in the hips as well.
Regular nighttime pain and discomfort can easily stem from your sleep position. The three basic sleep positions are stomach, back, and side. Side sleepers put more pressure on their hips, which makes you more likely to develop hip pain if this is your dominant sleeping position— that’s why we recommend medium mattresses for side sleepers. Pain that’s related to sleep position may also be due to a mattress that’s too firm or soft.
Arthritic hip pain most commonly comes from osteoarthritis. This type of arthritis causes the breakdown of the joints. However, if you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis, or septic arthritis, hip pain could be related to an arthritic health issues as well.
If your pain gets worse in poor weather, in the morning, or after sitting, arthritis is a likely culprit. Hip pain that’s related to arthritis may also be accompanied by a grinding sound known as crepitus. Arthritis may also cause the hip to lock or stick in place. Arthritic hip pain isn’t always limited to the hips. You may also feel pain in the groin, buttocks, or knee, too; however, the best mattress for arthritis can ease those pains and prevent future discomforts.
Inflammation of the small fluid-filled sacs, called bursae, in and around the joints is called bursitis. Bursitis may cause the hip to be red and swollen as well as achy and stiff. You’ll feel pain if you press on the affected area.
Rest during the day and a change of sleep position at night often reduce the swelling and inflammation due to bursitis. However, if it persists or gets worse, you may need to talk with your physician about further treatment.
Inflammation or irritation of the tendons can bring on a case of tendinitis, also called overuse tendinopathy. As the latter name implies, overuse is usually behind this condition. Tendinitis causes pain and tenderness around and at the joints. It can also come with a stiffness that makes it difficult to move the hips. You may notice swelling and thickening at the tendon. Most of the time tendinitis goes away when you stop doing the activity or movement that’s irritating the tendon.
However, if the pain continues, gets more severe, or your loss of motion abruptly changes, you should immediately call your physician. These changes could indicate a ruptured tendon, which requires quick intervention.
Muscle Injury or Strain
Tendons aren’t the only tissue around the hip that’s susceptible to an overuse injury and inflammation. Strained and injured muscles in the hips or buttocks can also cause inflammation and pain around the hip. You usually know you’ve injured yourself with this kind of pain because it’s often due to a specific injury.
Muscle strain can also show up if your body is overcompensating for another condition like a knee injury or an ankle sprain.
You’ve probably heard of sciatic pain, but you may not know that you can feel it in your hips. Sciatic-piriformis is when the piriformis, a muscle that crosses over the sciatic nerve and helps the hip move from side to side, spasms and puts pressure on the sciatic nerve. This condition is called piriformis syndrome or sciatic-piriformis syndrome.
It causes typical sciatic nerve pain that extends from the lower back through the hips and legs. You may also feel numbness or tingling in the buttocks or down the back of the legs, sore buttock muscles, pain and discomfort while you sit, and general pain during normal activities.
This syndrome can be developed from both under and overuse. The piriformis weakens if you sit too much. It’s easy to damage if you suddenly go from sedentary to active. On the other hand, any activities that heavily engage the lower body can also cause inflammation that leads to piriformis syndrome. Runners and hikers are especially prone to this condition.
Other causes of hip pain may be more temporary but no less painful. Pregnancy or recent surgery, for example, can come with hip pain that makes it hard to sleep. However, many of the same pain management treatments that work for more permanent issues can help with both of these.
More serious, though less common conditions like cancer, lack of blood flow otherwise known as avascular necrosis, labral tears in the cartilage around the hip, or conditions of the pelvis can also contribute to or cause hip pain. These types of illnesses and injuries usually come with more significant daytime pain as well. Never hesitate to talk to your physician if you suspect a more serious problem may be at work. A phone call or office visit can give you peace of mind and solutions to your pain.
Managing Nighttime Hip Pain
Nighttime pain of any kind interferes with your basic need for sleep. Increasing the amount and depth of your sleep can be a valuable part of managing your pain. Sleep improves your immune system, helps you heal from injury, and reduces your pain perception. Of course, it also stabilizes your moods and appetite, but we’re not listing every sleep benefit simply because there are too many.
However, the importance of sleep can’t be stressed enough. You need it, which makes managing your nighttime hip pain that much more critical.
Change Your Sleep Position
A change or alteration of your sleep position is one of the easiest and most effective ways to treat hip pain. Side sleepers should try back sleeping. Roll to your back every time you become consciously aware of your side sleep position. Unfortunately, you may still end up on your side unconsciously.
If you can’t seem to get rid of side sleeping, put a pillow or bolster between your knees. You can also try resting your top leg on two pillows placed in front of your body. Both of these options offer hip and lower back support while you’re still in a side sleeping position. These positions are also helpful for pregnant women who experience low back and hip pain.
Support pillows may need to be firmer than your head pillows. You can also purchase a foam wedge designed for use between the knees.
Back and stomach sleepers aren’t immune to hip pain. Depending on the source of the pain, back sleepers may get relief by placing a small pillow or bolster under the lower back. They can also try placing a pad under or below the hip joint. Stomach sleepers, too, might need to experiment with support pillows to relieve hip pressure. However, stomach sleeping puts extra pressure on the lower back and should be avoided.
Get a New Mattress
The wrong mattress could put extra pressure on your hips and lower back simply because it’s too firm or soft. Memory foam mattresses have excellent conformability and typically do a good job of cradling the pressure points at the shoulders and hips. However, any comfortable mattress that relieves pressure at your hips and supports a healthy spine could relieve hip pain.
Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin can reduce inflammation and swelling. These drugs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Check any prescription drugs you’re taking before taking an NSAID as they can interact or interfere with other medications.
Hot or Cold Treatments
An ice pack or heating pad before bed can relieve pain before you fall asleep. Cold packs reduce swelling while heat relieves stiffness and aches.
Change Your Activities
Diversifying your workout routine can reduce the chances of overuse injuries. Many devoted runners have turned into triathletes because of these types of injuries. On the other hand, if underuse is at the heart of your injury, it’s time to get moving. Start slow and easy until you build strength and flexibility in your hips.
Stretching the hips increases flexibility and strengthens the muscle and tendons in the hip area. Use stretches in conjunction with a regular exercise routine for the most benefit. Include stretches in your warm-up and cool down as preventative hip protection.
The muscles in your lower back or hips could be weak or out of balance. A physical therapist can identify areas of weakness and develop a treatment program to target your specific pain points. Physical therapists can also suggest the most effective ways to stretch and maintain your hip health long-term.
Treatments You May Discuss with Your Physician
Address your hip pain early. Most conditions are easier to treat in the early stages. Complications and further damage can arise if you’ve been suffering for months or years. However, you may still need a more serious treatment to reduce or manage your hip pain such as:
- Draining the fluid from a bursae
- Steroid injections
- Cortisone injections
- Hyaluronic injections
- Resurfacing and replacement of the hip bone and socket
- Arthroscopic surgery
- Hip replacement surgery
These treatments usually come after you’ve tried less invasive options with the guidance of your physician.
Solidify Your Sleep Habits
All this discussion of the hips has been about helping you get better sleep. Treating your hip pain won’t help you get the rest you need if you’re not also practicing good sleep habits. The length and quality of your sleep cycle heavily relies on sleep-supportive habits on your part.
- Maintain a Regular Bedtime: Your body runs on a regular 24-hour cycle and will adapt that cycle to accommodate your behavioral patterns. A consistent bedtime (and wake-up time) helps your brain know when to start the sleep cycle.
- Start a Bedtime Routine: Bedtime routines function much like a bedtime. They’re a marker or trigger for the start of the sleep cycle. They also provide time for you to unwind and relieve tensions and stress before bed. Start your routine at the same time every day and make sure to do each activity in the same order.
- Avoid Caffeine: Caffeine blocks adenosine. Adenosine is a chemical that slowly builds up throughout the day. Once it reaches a certain level, it signals the brain that it’s time to sleep. While you sleep, your brain clears itself of adenosine, and the process starts over again. Caffeine can stay in your system for hours, so try to avoid it if at all possible.
- Get Outside: Special photoreceptors in the eyes absorb sunlight and send signals to the brain that suppress sleep hormones. Natural light is especially important if you’re suffering from jet lag.
Nighttime hip pain isn’t something you have to suffer from indefinitely. Some conditions may need constant vigilance to keep at bay, while others may disappear with a change in activity or sleep position. Don’t be afraid to talk to your physician about treatment options. They can help you tailor a plan to both treat and prevent your discomfort. No matter your hip or other pain issues, everyone deserves a good night’s rest. Make a plan, get the help you need, and before long, you’ll be sleeping better than ever.