Supine Position to Relieve Back Pain

Supine describes the position of your body when you are lying on your back with your face up. Your ventral (stomach) side is facing up, while your dorsal (back) side is facing down. In the strictest definition, you are flat on your back with no incline, arms at your sides or bent at a 90-degree angle. The term is also used as a modifier for exercises and stretches that begin with you on your back, such as supine spinal twist.

Woman near windows in a bright yoga studio in the Supine position
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The opposite of supine is prone, which is the stomach-lying position. You may also see the term side-lying to describe positioning for therapy or exercises.

Clinical Uses of Supine Position

Your physical therapist, trainer, or clinician may use supine to describe positions used for manual therapy, or when having you do stretching and back exercises that comprise your home exercise program. The supine position is also used by healthcare providers for physical examination or surgical procedures.

If your therapist or personal trainer is giving you core stabilization exercises for the first time, most likely they will start you in the supine position. This is because when you are supine, your muscles have the least amount of work to do to maintain your posture and position against the force of gravity. For rehabilitation, many bed exercises begin in a supine position.

Care for Your Back in the Supine Position

Here's are a few things you can do to relieve low back pain from the supine position.

First, you can release the tension out of your back by assuming the hook-lying position, which is a modification of the supine position where your knees are bent and your feet are resting flat on the floor. Start with breathing and relaxing, allowing the tension to drain out of your muscles.

You can also work in supine to activate your deep core muscles, which are key for a healthy back. With core muscles, it's important to skillfully access them before using them full out. So spending a bit of time learning how to ignite them may go a long way towards developing low back support. In hook-lying position with your fingertips on your lower belly, inhale deeply, then exhale naturally and give a final puff out of the remaining air. At that point, your fingertips should feel your transverse abdominal muscle engage. Release and repeat 10 times.

After you've warmed up with the muscle tension release described above, as well as the core activation exercise, you might want to move on to actual exercise. For example, you may be given beginner's hip stretches to help relieve your back pain. These might be done for maintenance or for prevention of back pain.prevention. 

Yoga is another thing you can do for your back while in supine position. As with any exercise program, not all yoga poses take place with you lying on your back, but many of the beginner's and restorative ones do.

For example, the supine spinal twist involves lying on your back, bending your knees and then gently placing them to one side. The idea is to stay in that position for a few moments—and breathe—to allow your oblique abdominal muscles as well as your back muscles to release.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does supine mean?

    Supine is defined as lying on your back with your face upwards.

  • What is the difference between supine and prone positions?

    Supine and prone are antonyms—supine means to lie on your back, and prone means to lie on your stomach.

  • Is sleeping in the supine position good for your?

    It depends. Some people who have lower back pain find sleeping on their back is the most comfortable position. Back sleeping also can help you wake up without bed wrinkles on your face—a common issue with side or stomach sleeping.

    However, back sleeping is not advised for people with obstructive sleep apnea. Sleeping in the supine position can worsen snoring and apnea symptoms.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Aurora BayCare Medical Center. Lumbar stabilization hooklying position.

  2. Merriam-Webster. Supine.

  3. Merriam-Webster. Prone.

  4. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Choosing the best sleep position.

By Anne Asher, CPT
Anne Asher, ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, and orthopedic exercise specialist, is a back and neck pain expert.