Friday, August 23, 2013

Does Sleeping Poorly Worsen Knee Pain?

Variations of this story popped up recently in my Knee Alerts from Google.

In brief, University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers are recruiting patients with knee osteoarthritis for a study looking at how sleep problems may influence knee pain.

“There is growing evidence that poor sleep can itself lead to an increase in pain,” according to Megan Ruiter, who’s involved in the effort.

“Treating sleep to modify pain may allow more options than simply treating pain at the source, which is often extremely difficult,” she said.

Welllll ... I’m not sure that treating knee pain at the source is “often extremely difficult.” There are challenges; it takes a while to achieve real, lasting gains. But what’s that saying about if you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail? Well, whatever the sleep researcher version of that adage is, that may be good to keep in mind here.

Still, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the study finds a link between sleeping issues/disorders and higher levels of knee pain. I think bad knees can be highly sensitive to a whole bunch of things, from approaching storms to not getting a full night’s rest. Plus, remember: our bodies need those hours of sleep to rest and recover when injured anyway.

Which reminds me: Someone once asked me which sleeping position I think is best for bad knees. My answer (from my own experience) is here; this became one of my most popular posts. In short: I found that, at least with my knees, it didn’t matter too much which position I slept in (besides, you can fall asleep on your right side and wake up on your back anyway).

The important thing, to me: Make sure you get enough sleep, whether you prefer sleeping on your side, your back, or upside down on your head. Try to stay well-rested. It may seem like a little thing, but the little things count.


  1. Richard & Racer X

    Do you think your problems could have been Complex Regional Pain Syndrome?

    I'm wondering if that is my issue, as it seems to occur sometimes after arthroscopic surgery, though in my case (and Racer X's) it is strange that is it bilateral after surgery on just one knee. I certainly have some of the symptoms (burning, pain, stiffness, discolouration of kneecaps).

    It can also occur after sports injuries (in Richards case, perhaps he just pushed his knees to hard = cartilage injury leading to CPRS?). The burning sensation & stiffness is a symptom of CPRS.


    1. See above: I decided to do a post on this question. In short, I don't think it was CPRS. But that's not to say there isn't some weird systemic/neural stuff going on for people with knees that suffer for a long time from chronic inflammation.

  2. IMO, yes. Anytime I get reduced or for example one-time I stayed up for college for like 3 days, you know what happened? I hurt my knee. Very weird but anytime I don't sleep or have reduced my joints hurt. Pretty weird correlation and I'm 25. And when I hurt my knee during that event I had never had a knee problem (my knee problems are Lamarckian not genetic--basically I make bad decisions i.e. crawling in an attic without knee pads for multiple days...)

    It was like a strained patellar tendon and went away in like a week or two. I think some of the science of sleeping is that your joints (and perhaps the rest of your body) is like regenerated or lubricated or something during this time period.

    Cool post.


  3. I can only sleep on my side, but had terrible knee and back pain. I tried a pillow between my knees, but the big one woke me up when I tried to turn over, and I lost the small pillow when I turned over.
    So, I developed Sleepy Kneez, an ultra comfortable knee pillow that stays put all night, and doesn't negatively impact the knee cap. Now, I sleep like a baby!