Waking up with a painful back can make you quickly forget about your restful night’s sleep. Morning back pain is a common occurrence and can have many causes. Today society is plagued by back problems, often due to poor posture. According to Dr. Devon Rubin from the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, 80% of the population will suffer some type of back pain during their lifetime. (1)
Back pain can range from a muscle aching to a shooting, burning, or stabbing sensation. In addition, the pain may radiate down your leg or worsen with bending, twisting, lifting, standing, or walking.
Common Causes Of Morning Back Pain
Your spinal cord runs through a hollow canal consisting of vertebrae and nerves as they descend from your brain and branch out to all areas of your body. Nerves often become compressed and irritated by a variety of factors, sending pain signals back to your brain. In addition to pain, pressure on the nerves can cause a reduction in range of motion, lack of strength, and accompanying numbness. (2)
Most experts agree that your mattress is rarely the reason your back hurts after sleeping. Most cases of morning back pain are labeled “non-specific” because doctors can find no evidence of any mechanical issues, like a bulging disc or a compressed nerve. (3)
Typical non-specific causes of morning back pain include:
- Chronic inflammation
- Being out of shape
- Low Vitamin D levels
- Chronic Stress
- Myofascial trigger points
- Awkward sleeping posture
- Poor sleep habits
You can read more about these non-specific causes here.
“About 85% to 90% of back pain is mild to moderate and does not need to be treated by a doctor,” said Neel Anand, professor of orthopedic surgery and the director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “It’s often an inflammatory issue that will go away on its own, with an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication.” (4)
Before you reach for that bottle of pills, however, consider doing some simple exercises first. Exercise helps build your strength, endurance, and ability to handle stress. The less stress you have, the more energy you have to use for your day.
Beyond increasing energy and reducing stress, morning exercises also benefit many of the body’s internal and external functions like metabolism. Consistent morning workouts can also enhance your sleeping habits. Research shows that exercising at 7 a.m. may be the most optimal time.
Before doing these stretches, your body needs to warm up first, especially in the morning after laying motionless all night. Start with a quick hot shower to warm up your muscles. Then do a few movements to increase your heart rate to pump more blood to your muscles. These could include some jumping jacks or knee-high running in place. Even jumping rope works.
Six Stretches For Morning Back Pain
Some of these are yoga positions that are meant to not only relieve pain and muscle tightness but also strengthen your back and core muscles to help improve your long-term back health. Use a mat or carpet for more comfort.
- Cat Cow: Start on your hands and knees. Inhale as you arch your back, stomach dropping toward the floor, and gaze up to the ceiling. (This is cow pose.) As you exhale, draw your stomach to your spine and round your back to the ceiling. Your chin and gaze should be pointed down. (This is cat pose.) Repeat 10 times. The up and down motion stretches and mobilizes the spine. It also stretches your torso, shoulders, and neck.
- Foam Roller for Upper Back: Lay on the floor with your knees bent. Place the roller underneath your shoulder blades and interlace your hands behind your head. Using your legs to push you, roll the roller up and down your upper back. Repeat 10 times.
- Seal Pose: Lay flat on your stomach with your palms down underneath your shoulders. Keep your legs and hips on the ground as you press yourself up. Hold for three to five seconds then lower your body to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.
- Spinal Twist: Lay flat on your back and bring your right knee up to your chest then over to the left side as you look over your right shoulder. Hold it for a few seconds. Repeat bringing the left knee up to your chest then over to the right side and you look over your left shoulder. A gentler position is to sit in a chair, hold the arms, and twist first left then right. This promotes movement and mobility in the spine and back by stretching your spine, back, and shoulders. Also good for the back and hips. Do 3 times on each side.
- Hamstring Stretch: Lay on the floor with your butt next to a wall and your legs extended up the wall as straight as possible without overextending the knees. Hold for 10 seconds. This decreases tension across the back and improves your hip mobility.
- Pretzel Stretch: Lay on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Cross your right ankle over the left thigh. Place your hands under your left knee and gently pull toward your chest. Hold for 10 seconds and switch sides, crossing your left ankle over the right thigh. This stretches and stabilizes the pelvis and low back, while helping with hip rotation and overall mobility. This stretch can decrease the tightness in the piriformis muscle that may compress on the sciatic nerve causing back and leg pain. (4)
If any of these exercises cause you more pain, stop, and see your doctor or physical therapist. You may have a more serious back problem that they can help identify. If you are cleared to continue exercising, try to stick to a daily schedule. With morning backaches, warming up and moving through stretches can go a long way to relieving your morning pain. Click here for even more life-changing information on back pain relief.
(1) Rubin D.l. Epidemiology and Risk Factors for Spine Pain. Neurol Clin. 2007; May;25(2):353-71.