Back pain is one of the most common medical problems, affecting some 8 out of 10 people at some point in their lives according to the National Institutes of Health. If you’re familiar with back pain, you may have found that it makes sex uncomfortable and unenjoyable. But help is on the way, thanks to a study that identifies the best positions for pain-free sex with back pain.

“Disabling back pain after sex may be enough to keep a person celibate for months,” says Stuart McGill, Ph.D., a professor in the Applied Health Sciences department at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. “The recommendation among many doctors has been to use the spooning position.”

However, spooning may not be the ideal position for everyone with back pain: “Sex positions that are suitable for one type of back pain aren’t appropriate for another kind of [back] pain,” notes Natalie Sidorkewicz, lead author of the study and a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo.

About the Research

In the study, infrared and electromagnetic motion capture systems (similar to the ones used to create video games) focused on the movements of participants’ spines as they tried five common sex positions. Ten couples participated in the research study. These investigations led to a set of guidelines for sex positions that employ certain types of spinal movement over others.

The researchers determined that it is very possible to have sex comfortably as long as you use the right position, says Sidorkewicz: “In the literature, we found that the frequency of having sex was going down due to the lack of comfortable positions. But what we found is that depending upon how the spine moves during sex, and what sort of motions and postures trigger the back pain, people with back pain will find that there is a recommendation for a comfortable position.”

How can back pain patients find the right position? “You have to find out the specific pain trigger and match it to a coitus position that’s comfortable,” McGill says. “For instance, one position has the person who has back pain lie on their back in the most comfortable position possible, using pillows or bolsters as needed. The person on the top is responsible for creating movement.”

Tips For Men

Men whose back pain worsens when they touch their toes or sit for extended periods of time should avoid spooning for sex and instead employ “doggy-style sex,” according to McGill. In this position, men use a hip-hinging motion, which is preferable in their case to thrusting with their spines.

Tips For Women

Women whose back pain worsens when they arch their backs or lie on their stomach, should find the missionary position preferable. And, as is the case with men, a woman whose back pain intensifies with toe touching or extended periods of sitting should avoid the spooning position and consider “doggy-style sex,” in which she can support her upper body with her hands, rather than her elbows.

With the study on back pain and best sex positions completed, McGill and Sidorkewicz intend to focus next on which sex positions are most comfortable for individuals who have had a hip or knee replacement. Stay tuned.

Stuart McGill, Ph.D, reviewed this article.


McGill, Stuart. Phone interview with study author. July 6, 2015.

Sidorkewicz, Natalie. Phone interview with study author. July 10, 2015.

“Back Pain.” Medline Plus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Last updated June 29, 2015.

“Groundbreaking Study Reveals Best Positions for Men Who Have Back Pain.” Medical News Today. September 12, 2014.

“Improving the Sex Lives of Women with Back Problems.” Medical News Today. October 28, 2014.

Bezruki, Christine. “Low Back Pain? Waterloo Research Reveals Best Sex Positions.” University of Waterloo. September 9, 2014.