New research from the University of Waterloo discovered that certain sex positions can be better for those with bad backs. He and his colleague write in the journal Spine that past research has tied the frequency of sexual activity to quality of life and used it as a marker of health and disability. Other studies have also found that up to 84% of people with lower-back pain report having sex less frequently.
So McGill and PhD student Natalie Sidorkewicz set out to build an evidence-based and practical 'atlas' matching sexual positions and styles with possible back pain triggers.
They recruited 10 healthy couples who were filmed using motion capture and infra-red technology while they had sex. The researchers were in a separate booth where they could hear, but not see, the participants.
Electrodes were used to record muscle activity in certain parts of the body to get an idea of force.
Their results showed that existing advice in favour of the 'spooning' position for sex was actually one of the worst positions for individuals with flexion-intolerant back pain—back pain that is worsened by bending over forward or by sitting for long periods of time.
Researchers identified certain sex positions as less likely to trigger lower-back pain, but said that choosing the best ones depends on the type of pain the men experience.
That position was the most “spine conserving,” meaning it allowed for the least range of motion. When she’s on her elbows, your spine can stay in a more neutral position with little forward flexion, says study author Stuart McGill, Ph.D. And that’s important, because moving your spine can cause the pain.
The second best spine-conserving position was simple missionary, where the man supported his weight on his hands and the woman stretched her legs out flat to the bed. If missionary makes you yawn, the study determined a variation of the doggy-style position that entails the woman supporting herself with her hands rather than her elbows can be used as another back-saving technique. However, it wasn't as protective as the classic version of doggy-style because the angle of penetration slightly changes, which requires more spinal movement.
Contrary to previous orthopedic thinking, the spooning position was actually worst for flexion-intolerant guys. That’s because it greatly stressed the spine, possibly because it’s harder to move the hips from that position with each thrust.
Just one word of caution, though—if you’re suffering from acute back pain, it’s probably best to let it settle down before you add sex to the mix. The study was focusing on episodic, chronic back pain, meaning pain that comes and goes, says McGill.
Having published their data from the male perspective, the researchers are now planning to publish their findings in women, and to look in greater detail at how other factors such as hip replacements or knee replacements might affect individuals.