Why is my back pain worse in the morning?

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S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
Ask Louise

29 August 2017

4 reasons your back pain is worse when you wake up

1) Fluid in spinal discs
Spinal fluid is necessary to allow for all of our spinal motions; without it the spine would crack and break. The fluid is a shock absorber that circulates nutrients and chemicals filtered from the blood and removes waste products from the brain.  

Our spinal discs constantly fill and empty of this fluid. Our spinal discs are at their fullest in the morning because they fill up with fluid when we lie down at night. This means that when we get up in the morning we will be a little bit taller than usual, but also a little bit stiffer!

This stiffness can cause morning back pain that will ease off as the day goes on. Practicing gentle back exercises such as cat/cow will help to get the spinal fluid moving and alleviate any discomfort caused by it.

2) Sleeping position
Holding one position for 8 hours is bound to cause some stiffness in the spine, particularly if you don’t have a good sleeping posture! Sleeping on your stomach causes unnatural twisting of the cervical spine (the neck and shoulder region) which can cause back and neck pain when you get up in the morning.

Be aware of how your sleeping position can impact your back pain. Consider popping pillows underneath the back of your knees and using two pillows if you sleep on your side to support your neck. Check out our blog on how to sleep better for back pain for more handy tips.

3) Vitamin D deficiency
Vitamin D is essential for strong bones; without it we are unable to effectively absorb calcium. Without this absorption of calcium our bones can become weak which can lead to deformities, rickets and osteomalacia (softening of the bones).

Pain from osteomalacia generally happens in the back, pelvis, hips, and legs and more commonly occurs during the night or from putting weight on the affected areas.  Lying down all night puts weight on the back, which could be why your back pain feels worse getting up in the morning.

Taking a vitamin D supplement can help to protect the bones from developing these conditions and could, potentially, help resolve your morning back pain.

4) Injury and lack of movement
Being stagnant during the day, sitting in the same position (perhaps hunched over a computer all day) and then lying down to sleep all night can result in back pain the next morning. Not moving enough will cause the back muscles to tense up and lose flexibility. This tension can then result in injury from bending down or getting up.

Injury then leads to inflammation and more tightness as the back muscles will automatically tense to prevent you from injuring yourself further. Holding all this tension can be extremely uncomfortable and is often amplified in the morning as we have been lying still in relatively the same position all night.

What else can I do for back pain?

Gently moving and strengthening the back will help to prevent it from seizing up and becoming more prone to injury. Devil’s Claw is an anti-inflammatory herb that helps to maintain the health of muscles and joints and it can be used to help ease pain and discomfort caused by back pain. If your back pain becomes unmanageable, make an appointment with your doctor.

1 http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Symptoms-Diagnosis/Diagnosing-Tools/Cerebrospinal-Fluid-(CSF)
2 https://www.painscience.com/articles/morning-back-pain.php

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