• Taruna Rijhwani

Why does my Back feel Stiff in the Mornings?

Updated: Dec 26, 2019

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Consider this:

You wake up with a stiff & achy back in the morning that gets better as you move around and take a few steps? Or


You woke up with a stiff back and then you bend forward to brush your teeth or pick up something from the floor and your back pain gets worse or sometimes even starts to travel down the leg?


Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Why is it that most people who have some issues going on in their back feel it first thing in the morning or even if you pay close attention, morning stiffness is usually a warning sign before your back or leg pain starts or gets worse.

This is not just a sign that you are getting older (I mean ofcourse we all are getting older by the day) but that does not justify morning stiffness. I simply mean that do not accept it as a mere consequence of aging especially when there is something YOU can do about it.


So, lets decode this morning stiffness or pain for you: Your spine as you may know or not know is made up of small units called as vertebrae and jelly like intervertebral disks in between. When you sleep through the night, the laying down is what is called as an unloaded position. In this unloaded position, your disks tend to absorb fluid & get their nutrition.


As a result of absorbing this fluid all night, when you wake up in the morning and put those first few steps on the ground, your disks are maximally inflated and your back could feel stiff & achy especially if there is an underlying problem. Also, most people are even 1-2 inches taller in the morning due to increase in disk height than they are the rest of the day.

After you start to take a few steps and move around due to gravity and load, your disks start to lose this fluid that they gained during the night time sleep and your back now starts to loosen up. As a result, your stiffness and pain tends to fade away and moving around usually feels better than staying still in one position.


So now that we know that our disks are in a “high pressure” state in the mornings, it only takes a small amount of force at this time to throw out your back. This could be anything as small as bending forward to pick up something from the floor or leaning onto the sink to brush your teeth. Hence morning pain & stiffness is one of the very common symptoms of low back pain & sciatica.


So this explains the bout of morning stiffness or pain that you might be experiencing when you first get up. Now let’s talk about some simple tips about what you can do to deal with this early morning stiffness or pain.


1. Wake up a few minutes early than you are supposed to.

Now this might not sound like exciting advice especially if you are not a morning person (like me) but scheduling a few minutes extra in the morning will help you move slower and avoid jerky movements when you are in a hurry that might strain your back first thing in the morning when it is in a vulnerable state.


2. Do your exercises first thing in the morning

Now focus that I said or wrote “your exercises” which means the exercises prescribed to you by your healthcare provider after assessing your unique situation and not some random stuff off the internet or suggested by a friend (with all due respect, they are not the experts and what worked for them may not necessarily work for you).

But if you do experience early morning stiffness or pain this is the best time to do your exercise routine safely & effectively to alleviate your symptoms. Remember, movement is medicine so when you are in pain, now is the time to pop that “movement pill”


3. Use a Moist Heat pack or take a hot water shower

Now this may not do much to address the root cause of your symptoms but it will definitely get some blood flow going and help you move a little better faster especially if you are feeling stiff.

Also, like I mentioned earlier morning stiffness is usually a warning sign to an oncoming episode of back or leg pain. So use it as a sign to start moving in the right way and getting back to your exercise routine if you already have one.


Want to learn more?

If you or someone you know experiences this very familiar early morning stiffness and/or pain, call us or visit our website to talk to your Spine Specialist today or you can even schedule a Free Discovery Session to learn more specifically about your problem and ways in which we can probably help.


We also know not everyone is ready to commit to regular physical therapy appointments, and that’s why we offer our Free Information Guide! This Guide is for people in our community who want really valuable, expert information about their Back Pain or Sciatica problems. We know it’s confusing out there with all of the information floating around on Google and Facebook, and this is a valuable first step towards getting some real answers for your problem.


PS – If you found this information helpful, please share this with a friend or on your Facebook feed.

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Health Watchers Physical Therapy & Wellness

11250 Roger Bacon Dr,

STE 5, Reston, VA 20190

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Monday- Fri 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM
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