Back stiffness in the morning. It is something that is very common but definitely not normal. I often hear patients complain of stiffness in their back, neck, hips and knees when they first wake up in the morning. They are often left wondering what is causing their stiffness, and more importantly what they can do about it. Most people think that they are stiff in the morning because they are getting old, but I can assure you that there is more to it than simply old age. Young people are also susceptible to back pain and stiffness!
First, let’s go over the anatomy of the spine. The spine is made up of vertebrae and discs all stacked on top of other another. The vertebrae are bones that protect your spinal cord. Between each vertebrae is a soft and spongy piece of cartilage called a disc. These discs act as cushions and are shock absorbers when we walk, lift weights, etc. They also protect the vertebrae from rubbing against one another. In addition to vertebrae and discs, there are numerous muscles, ligaments and nerves that attach to the spine. Understanding the complexity of the spine can help you understand why there are many potential causes for back pain and stiffness!
There are many factors that can cause back stiffness first thing in the morning, such as inflammation, arthritis, spinal disc bulges/problems, tight muscles, prolonged resting, immobility and other more rare but serious disorders.
A common cause of morning stiffness is inflammation. A sign that inflammation may be causing some of your stiffness include stiffness that seems to persist throughout the day and doesn’t go away with stretching or light movement. Typically inflammation creates stiffness and/or pain that’s more or less constant and often worse with movement. Inflammation can be caused from arthritis, a poor diet, autoimmune conditions, spinal problems, stress and injury.
Another common cause of back stiffness first thing in the morning can be due to your spinal discs. During the night while you are lying in bed, you are allowing your discs to “drink” or hydrate all night long via osmosis. When morning hits, your discs are the plumpest they will be all day long. Fluid in the disc is naturally squeezed out with standing, walking, sitting and carrying loads, and by the end of the day your spinal discs will have lost approximately 10% in height. You will also be slightly shorter at the end of the day compared to first thing in the morning!
Your back can feel extra stiff in the morning due to worn out discs or disc bulges. When the discs are at their plumpest there is less space for the disc to move around, especially when bending. When you have a disc bulge, some of the disc (which is already its plumpest) is bulging out a little which can press on or irritate the nerve that is right beside it, creating stiffness and pain. The more you can move around, the more fluid escapes from the disc which will eventually get rid of or reduce that stiffness.
Muscles can also be the cause of your morning stiffness. Muscles can become injured from overuse or injury, creating pain and inflammation. When you sleep during the night those muscles are held in the same position, more or less, which makes them stiff when you try to move them again when you get out of bed. Moving around generally helps reduce stiffness caused by muscle strain.
Treatment depends on the cause of your stiffness. Stretching, moving, drinking enough water and heat can help some forms of stiffness. If you have or suspect you have a disc bulge or herniation it is best to get a proper evaluation by a health professional to determine what treatment and exercises are best for you. The majority of disc bulges respond well to extension type exercises, but again these are not for everyone and may make some people worse. Chiropractic care is also very helpful to combat morning stiffness by improving the health of your spine and improving the mobility of your joints.
Author: Dr. Courtenay Schroeder
Owner & Chiropractor @ ProMotion Chiropractic
If you are in Charlotte, NC and need extra help, book an appointment today at our Charlotte chiropractic clinic to learn how to start living a more pain-free and active life. Pain and stiffness are signs that something is going on and needs attention in the body. Also check out our blog and learn some helpful tips to have a healthier back here.
The information and reference guides in this website are intended solely for informational purposes only to promote consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. The contents of this website are not intended to offer personal medical advice, diagnose health problems or for treatment purposes. It is not a substitute for medical care provided by a licensed and qualified health professional. Please consult your health care provider for any questions or advice on any exercise, medication, nutrition or supplementation.