Woman sleeping facedown on a bed.

Tips and Solutions for Morning Back Pain

One of the most common complaints from chronic back pain sufferers is back pain first thing in the morning.

For some folks, it rears its ugly head on occasion and appears out of nowhere – as if they’ve “thrown their back out”. For others, it’s like Groundhog Day – they go to bed feeling great but wake up every morning feeling stiff and achy.

Why does this happen? Shouldn’t your back feel better after a good night’s sleep?

Back pain impacts people in different ways and at different times of the day. When it comes to morning back pain – while the easiest thing to blame is your mattress – some of the more common causes of morning back pain include poor sleeping position, insufficient exercise, and bulging discs. 

Let’s go through each one and talk about tips to help minimize them.

Poor Sleeping Position

The sleeping position that aggravates you is going to depend on the underlying cause of your back pain. Sometimes sleeping on your back with legs elevated is what makes your back feel worse in the morning – even if it feels amazing while you’re in this position. For others, sleeping on their stomach is the thing that wreaks havoc on their spine. The most back-friendly position is to sleep on your side. Side-sleeping allows you to put your spine in a neutral position – which is where you get in the least amount of trouble. It’s really challenging to achieve a neutral spine when you’re on your back or stomach. If it bothers your hips or shoulders to sleep on your side – I recommend placing a pillow under your waist as well as your head – and if needed – also one between your thighs.

Insufficient Exercise

Another common culprit of morning back pain is insufficient exercise. A lack of regular physical activity can lead to weakened muscles and reduced flexibility, both of which can contribute to back pain. When your muscles are not strong enough to support your spine properly, your back is more susceptible to strain and discomfort. Incorporating regular exercise into your routine, especially exercises that strengthen your core and back muscles, can help reduce morning stiffness and pain. Activities such as yoga, Pilates, and even daily stretching can improve muscle tone and flexibility, thereby offering better support to your spine and reducing pain.

Bulging Discs

This is the most common reason I see for morning back pain. Your vertebral disc has three primary functions: 1) to absorb shock; 2) to help hold the vertebrae of your spine together; and 3) they contribute to the mobility in your spine. The interesting thing about vertebral discs is that they are made up primarily of water. Over the course of a normal day – and over the course of life – your discs will compress and decrease their water content. At night, your disc literally re-hydrates and can gain up to 17-25 mm of height.

While this may be beneficial to someone whose arthritis is to blame for their back pain, it is not beneficial for someone suffering from a bulging disc. Remember when I mentioned that your disc is partially responsible for mobility in your spine? When you have a bulging disc – that bulge restricts your mobility. If it fills up with fluid overnight – you’re going to wake up feeling a lot more restricted and in a lot more pain. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix I can reveal for you on this one. The best advice I can give you is that if you’re waking up every morning in a lot of pain and you’re afraid to move – there’s a good chance you’re suffering from bulging discs, and you should see someone who can help you with this.

If you’re waking up every morning with back pain, then hopefully this information helps you have a better understanding as to why it might be happening. Before you consider spending loads of cash on a new mattress – give one or more of these solutions a try and see if it helps. Because the good news is that 80% of the time there is a natural, movement-based solution that can address your back pain successfully. If you’re not having success with eliminating morning back pain on your own – then consider enlisting the help of a physical therapy specialist who is an expert in these kinds of solutions – and who can properly diagnose your back pain.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapy Specialist and Mechanical Pain expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To get a free copy of her guide to back pain – click here.