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5 Reasons Why Your Lower Back Pain Is Always Worse In The Morning

Morning back pain is a common problem but there are reasons for it and learning how to avoid them could help you stamp it out for good.

morning back pain

There's nothing worse than waking up in the morning feeling stiff and sore is there?

With that familiar nagging ache in your back as you roll over and try and get yourself out of the bed.

It's just not the way you want to start your day.

And it's a weird thing too because you probably felt fine when you went to bed the night before.

So what the hell happened overnight that left you feeling like you've been run over by a bus?

Isn't sleep supposed to be peaceful, comforting and restorative?

Well for most people it is.

But if you're one of the unlucky few that struggle then fear not, as the good news is that it doesn't have to be this way forever.

As by making a few minor adjustments to your sleeping habits and ergonomics you can greatly reduce the chance of waking up with the dreaded morning back pain.

So I'll take you through 5 common causes of morning back pain now.

And more importantly, what you can do to try and fix them.

1. Sleeping In The Wrong Position Or With A Poor Posture

Sleep with a healthy posture

Keep that spine nicely aligned.

Sitting, standing, moving or lying down in an awkward posture has been shown to be a major cause of episodes of acute back pain.

Especially in the mornings.

So it makes sense that sleeping with an awkward posture could also cause morning back pain for someone with persistent chronic back pain.

Because when you sleep with an awkward posture it throws your neck and spine out of alignment.

And this imbalance in the body causes pressure and strain to build on your back throughout the night.

This means you don't get the deep and restorative sleep you need and your muscles feel sore and stiff when you wake up because of it.

So you need to train yourself to maintain a healthy sleeping posture as you sleep.

And the position you sleep in is also important.

So sleeping on your back or in the foetal position on your side is generally preferable as the former keeps your spine straight while the latter reduces the strain on your body.

However, sleeping on your stomach isn't great as it causes your back to flatten and it's nigh on impossible to keep your neck and spine in alignment.

But even if you adopt the ideal sleeping position you can still get into a poor posture that puts pressure on your body.

So try using the appropriate head and body pillows that will help you to stay in alignment and wake up feeling comfortable and refreshed the following day.

These pillows are also great at training you to maintain a healthy sleeping posture as well.

How To Maintain A Healthy Sleeping Posture

  • Try not to sleep face down on your stomach if you can help it.
  • Use the correct sized head pillows to keep your body aligned depending on your sleeping position.
  • So back sleepers need a medium loft pillow, side sleepers need a higher loft pillow, and stomach sleepers need a flatter pillow.
  • Also use body pillows to keep you aligned such as a knee pillow for side sleepers, a wedge pillow under the knees for back sleepers, and a flat pillow under the pelvis for stomach sleepers.
  • You can also use a full body pillow to stop you from tossing and turning so much during the night.

2. Sleeping On An Inadequate Mattress

mattress and morning back pain

Make sure you're sleeping on the right mattress to avoid morning back pain.

The mattress you sleep on is so important for the health of your back and for avoiding morning back pain.

So much so that in a survey of orthopaedic surgeons, 95% of them believed that the type of mattress people used played a part in how well they could manage their lower back pain.

Because if you use one that is too soft your body will sink too far into it, which throws your spine out of alignment and puts your back under constant strain.

While if you use one that is too firm it will put too much pressure on your pressure points causing pain, especially in the hips, shoulders and lower back.

So you need to find a mattress that is supportive, cushioning, pressure-relieving, comfortable and keeps you nicely aligned throughout the night.

As this will greatly reduce the chances of waking up in pain each morning and help you to get the deep and restorative sleep your body needs to heal and repair.

And while choosing the best mattress for your back can be a challenge and everyone will have slightly different preferences.

There are certain things to look for that will point you in the right direction.

How To Choose A Good Mattress For Your Back

  • Aim to get a medium-firm mattress as this has been shown to be the best option for people with chronic back pain.
  • Choose a mattress that has a good mixture of comfort and support.
  • Get the mattress type that suits your needs best, so memory foam for cushioning and comfort, latex for more support, pocket springs for pressure relief, or a hybrid mattress that incorporates all three.
  • Order your mattress from a company that offer a 100-night free trial so you can really road test it and make sure it's right for you before committing to buying it.
  • Replace your mattress every 7-8 years as even the best one will lose its supportive qualities after this time.

3. Not Getting A Good Night's Sleep

Sleep well to avoid morning back pain

A lack of good quality sleep can lead to morning back pain.

The importance of getting a good night's sleep cannot be overestimated.

In fact, it's one of the best things you can do for your well-being as it's crucial for your physical, mental and emotional health.

And being able to get a good quality restorative sleep has also been found to reduce chronic widespread pain in people.

Because it's during sleep that your body can heal and repair itself from the previous days stresses.

So, when you sleep well your tired and aching back muscles get the rest they crave.

While at the same time the body can circulate and deliver the blood, oxygen and nutrients they need to regenerate and stay healthy.

However, the problem is a good night's sleep can be hard to come by for people with back pain.

For instance, one study of people with chronic lower back pain found that a huge 78% of them said they were suffering from some kind of sleep disorder.

Which is seriously bad news.

Because when you struggle to get good quality sleep it can cause you a multitude of issues such as mental and physical fatigue, as well as problems with your moods and emotions.

And it takes it's toll on your body and can be a major cause of morning back pain.

So you need to make sleeping well a priority if you want want to get rid of the morning aches and pains for good.

How To Improve Your Sleep Quality

  • Optimise your bedroom for sleep by removing all electronic devices, buying some blackout curtains, keeping the room temperature slightly cool, and only using it for sleeping not hanging out in.
  • Learn to relax your body and mind in the hours leading up to sleep with things like reading, gentle stretches, taking a bath, or meditating. 
  • Limit the amount of caffeine you drink during the day, especially from the afternoon onwards.
  • Improve your sleep hygiene with things like keeping regular sleeping hours, only going to bed when sleepy, and not checking your phone in the middle of the night. 
  • Try not to stress out about your inability to sleep and instead stay positive and hopeful.

4. Age-Related Inflammation

Inflammaging and morning back pain

Take steps to avoid inflammation as you get older.

As we get older (40s and up) our bodies naturally encounter some low-grade inflammation.

This has been termed inflammaging (a combination of inflammation and aging) and this inflammation is typically worse at the beginning of the day.

Which means that waking up with morning back pain gets more common the older we get.

Also this inflammation is most likely to start in the lower back area and can cause both joint and nerve pain as well as stiffness.

And it's not just aging that causes it.

As there are other things that can make inflammation even worse such as being stressed out, anxious, overweight, and unhealthy.

So, if you're advancing in age and starting to feel every one of your years when you wake up in the mornings, there are a few things you can do to slow down the process.

How To Minimise The Damage Of Inflammaging

  • Learn some relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises or meditation that you can do before bed to lower your stress levels.
  • Eating a healthy and balanced diet can help to reduce inflammation in the body.
  • Keep your weight at healthy level to avoid any metabolic inflammation.
  • Staying active is great but don't overdo things when exercising as this can cause swelling and inflammation in the body.

5. Tissue Stagnation

Tissue stagnation and morning back pain

Lying still for hours could be causing your morning back pain.

Have you ever felt stiff and sore after being sat down for ages or after a long car journey?

This happens among other reasons because our bodies were designed to move and we need to stay active to remain fit and healthy.

So, when you are stuck in the same position for a long time your muscles remain inactive and weaken while also shortening, meaning you lose support and flexibility.

Both of which are likely to leave you feeling stiff and uncomfortable.

And while we can avoid these issues during sleep by making sure we remain active enough during the day to keep our muscles strong, healthy and flexible.

There is one problem that occurs that can also cause morning back pain from this stillness which is tissue stagnation.

Because we are in a mostly still position for an average of 8 hours per night while sleeping.

And while mattresses can be comfortable, cushioning and supportive, this stillness can still cause stiffness and pain by irritating trigger points in the back and decreasing circulation.

Now this is more of a problem among older people but there are a couple of things you can do to limit the effects of tissue stagnation.

One of these is quite easy whereas the other is a bit more extreme!

How To Fix Tissue Stagnation

  • Make sure you have a nice stretch of your body before getting into bed as this will release any lingering muscle tension and put you into a relaxed state.
  • Now for the extreme. Consider splitting up your sleep into two halves.
  • So set your alarm for the mid-point of your sleep so you can get up to have a stretch and move around for 5 minutes before getting back into bed.
  • This will re-awaken your dormant tissues and means you will only have two 4 hour periods of stagnation rather than one 8 hour period.
  • As I say this is an extreme measure but one that may be worth trying if you suspect you may be suffering from morning back pain resulting from tissue stagnation.

When Your Morning Back Pain Might Be Serious

When is morning back pain serious?

Morning back pain is a common ailment and very rarely is it anything to be too concerned about (other than being a general annoyance!).

However, there is one cause of morning back pain that is serious and that is inflammatory back pain (IBP).

Inflammatory back pain is a sign of spondyloarthritis and typically gets worse throughout the night.

And this is different to the mild age-related inflammation that I spoke about before.

As this pain is more severe to the point where it will most likely wake you up.

So, if you have intense morning back pain and get woken up in the night due to the pain, it's worth going to see a doctor or rheumatology expert and checking out whether you are suffering from inflammatory back pain.

That way you can get the medical advice and medication you need to treat it and try and reduce your nocturnal pain.

Rounding Up

Waking up each morning with an aching back is no-ones idea of fun.

This can happen for a variety of reasons such as a poor sleeping posture, bad sleeping habit, or using the wrong mattress or pillows.

However, the good news is that by making a few improvements in these areas you can go a long way towards getting rid of it.

So have a try at a few of the suggestions here and see how you get on.

After all, we all deserve a restful night's sleep followed by a relaxed feeling when awakening.


Resources used in researching this article:

https://thesleepdoctor.com/2017/09/07/why-you-wake-sore-stiff-and-unrested/?cn-reloaded=1

https://www.painscience.com/articles/morning-back-pain.php

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4963991/

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Daniel

I'm a psychology graduate and a veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help people learn how to fight back against persistent back pain just like I have.

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