Morning Back Pain: Common Causes And Treatments

Last updated on : June 26 2021

Girl with morning back pain

Back Pain In The Morning

How often do you find yourself waking up in pain? 

If you dread mornings because of an ache in your back, you're not alone. According to statistical data, about 65 million Americans report episodes of back pain every year, with 8% of all adults deal with the problem chronically. Even more worrying is that those who put up with recurring discomfort regularly do so for longer than five years

And the problem doesn't discriminate by age or income. What it does, however, is that it forces people to miss work. It causes general dissatisfaction and often prevents physical activity, which, in turn, leads to poor overall health.

With all this in mind, it's safe to say that all back pain, especially in the morning without apparent cause, should be treated. If nothing else, to improve life quality.

But what is it that you can do to ease the symptoms? And why do they appear in the first place?  

If you're determined to beat morning back pain once and for all, here's everything you need to know.

Morning Back Pain Causes & Treatment

There are various reasons why you may be experiencing discomfort in your spine after waking up. Sometimes, they're the result of a poor night's sleep and will go away without any specific treatment plan. But, they may also mean that something more serious is amiss. 

It is for this reason that any chronic condition needs to be examined by a doctor. No matter how benign it may seem. 

(Keep in mind that what classifies as a chronic condition is any disease or pain that lasts one year or more and requires ongoing medical attention or lifestyle limitations.)

Nonetheless, if you're just wondering about the thing that's causing your back to hurt after waking up, here are the most common causes of morning back pain.

1. Uncomfortable Sleeping Position

If you're following doctor's orders, you're most likely spending 7-9 hours in bed each day. When you add up the numbers, you'll find that's more than one-third of your life. 

But the thing about those long periods spent in bed is that you're most likely to be unconscious. Meaning, you may not be aware of doing things that are bad for your health. And that's how sleeping positions start to affect your well-being seriously.

According to research, people spend most of their sleep in the side position (54.1%). We spend about 37.5% of our sleep time on our backs and 7.3% on the front. Moreover, preference for side-sleeping seems to be determined by age and BMI. 

You may be wondering what's so interesting about people's preferred sleeping positions. Well, it turns out that they can point to the possible causes of morning back pain. 

Side-sleeping, for example, puts extraordinary amounts of pressure on the lower part of the body. More precisely, on the hips and lower back. Lying on your stomach can be equally problematic, straining the spine and neck. And back-sleeping also comes with a few challenges. This position prevents the natural curving of the spine, placing pressure on the lumbar region.

So what can you do to prevent those pesky morning aches?

Possible Solution: Sleep Retraining

Well, one thing you can easily do is make adjustments to your sleeping posture so that it's less detrimental to your spinal health. 

For example, if you like to sleep in the fetal position, it may be a good idea to place a pillow between your legs to ease the pressure on your hips and lower back. Or, if you tend to sleep in the supine position, roll up a towel and place it underneath your knees. The towel will encourage a more natural curvature, preventing lumbar pain in the morning.

Finally, if you're one of the few prone sleepers, it may be time to retrain yourself. Try changing to a more spine-friendly position to save your neck and back from unnecessary strain. 

If you decide to change sleeping habits, however, be prepared. The entire process may take a few months. You might have to go through several sleepless nights before finding a position that works for you.

2. Lack of Mattress Support

Of course, the cause of your morning back pain may not necessarily be your sleeping position.

study published in 2003 examined the relation between mattress firmness and chronic non-specific low-back pain. It found that people who slept on a firm mattress often complained of discomfort, both while lying down and throughout the day.

There are two possible reasons for such findings. The first is that a hard mattress causes pressure points on the shoulders and hips, forcing the spine to dip unnaturally. Alternatively, it may prevent the back from curving, keeping it in an unnaturally straight position for prolonged periods.

These reasons don't mean that the solution to morning back pain comes from an overly-soft bed.

People with higher body weight or muscle mass might find themselves sinking too much into modern foam mattresses. Naturally, such a position leads to misalignment and muscle strain, which may manifest as pain on waking up.

Read more - 10 Benefits Of Organic Mattresses

Possible Solution: Choosing a Hybrid Bed

Although memory foam mattresses tend to be popular nowadays, seeing how they're soft, lightweight, and affordable, they're not the best option for most people.

Generally, anyone weighing over 130 lbs will need to go with a medium to firm option. But, the thing is, many traditional firm mattresses lack the luxurious comfort of foam. 

You could find a potential middle ground in a hybrid mattress (one that combines foam with a coil core support). As it distributes your weight dynamically, regardless of sleeping position, it's an excellent solution for couples, as well as anyone looking for durable comfort. 

The one big downside is that it will weigh and cost considerably more than traditional options - but could have other benefits.

3. Insufficient Physical Exercise

Interestingly, one of the most common causes of morning back pain doesn't have anything to do with sleeping at all. It's the result of what we do (or don't do) during the day.

According to the CDC, one-quarter of Americans spend more than 8 hours per day in a sitting position. Even more worryingly, 44% lead sedentary lifestyles, skipping moderate and vigorous exercise altogether.  

And the thing is, these tendencies cause problems far worse than morning back pain. They can lead to conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, and, in some cases, even certain kinds of cancer.

Recommended Treatment: Core-Strengthening Exercises

Fortunately, the solution to spinal discomfort caused by insufficient physical activity comes in a simple form: core-strengthening exercises.

Seeing how abdominal and back muscles hold the spine in the proper upright position, strengthening these areas can prevent posture issues, passive pressure points, and back injuries that occur during everyday activity. 

A general fitness regime can be just as beneficial, especially seeing how paying proper attention to all body parts prevents injury and over-straining certain areas.

4. Injury or Tissue Degeneration

For some people, back pain is the result of a pulled muscle. For others, it happens because of a herniated disc or simply due to age-related tissue degeneration. 

And often, this pain manifests the strongest in the morning, when the body temperature and blood flow tend to be lower than during the day.

In these cases, self-treatment may not be the best option. Yes, some over-the-counter remedies may help take the edge off. But leaving the injury untreated could lead to complications down the road.

Recommended Treatment: A Visit to the Doctor

Seeing how a back injury or spinal tissue damage puts you at risk of long-term consequences, the best possible thing you can do if you suspect any of these causes is to seek out the opinion of your doctor.

Depending on your symptoms' severity, your physician will order some scans and prescribe the appropriate therapy. This treatment may include facet joint injections, NSAIDs, physical or occupational therapy, and, in some cases, surgery.

Furthermore, a physical therapist will instruct you on the best sitting, standing, and sleeping positions for your condition. And they might suggest that you wear a back brace, which could offer some additional support, keeping the uncomfortable pressure to a minimum.

5. Vitamin D Deficiency

Though not often mentioned as the cause of morning back pain, vitamin D deficiency, otherwise known as hypovitaminosis D, could contribute if you find yourself in discomfort at night or right after waking up

The condition has symptoms similar to fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. It is, fortunately, relatively easy to detect with a simple blood test. Even more importantly, you can successfully treat it without invasive procedures.

Treatment: Lifestyle Changes and Supplementation

The easiest way to treat this deficiency is through supplementation. A doctor can prescribe an affordable vitamin D and calcium supplement, which should get your levels up within a few months.

Of course, supplement pills are not the only viable source of vitamin D. You can get the compound naturally through everyday sun exposure and food like oily fish and egg yolk.

6. Some Health Conditions

Finally, back pain that's more pronounced in the morning, that gets worse over time, or has an irregular pattern of appearing, could sometimes indicate more complicated medical issues. These include:

● ankylosing spondylitis

● spondylolisthesis

● chronic inflammation

● fibromyalgia

● autoimmune conditions

● some forms of cancer

If you find that your pain isn't going away with the proper care, and your doctor has ruled out less serious causes, it's best to do further testing.

Further testing will help you eliminate any serious causes and give you the right treatment plan for your condition. 

Final Thoughts

Back pain on bed

If you find yourself experiencing back pain in the morning, know that you're not alone. An ailment that impacts people of all ages is probably benign and will go away with a bit of general maintenance and a few lifestyle changes. 

However, if you're in pain more often than not, it's essential to schedule a doctor's appointment as soon as possible. Whether the underlying cause is a minor injury or something more severe, they'll be able to give you the best course of treatment, ensuring that you avoid any unnecessary complications. 

You taking good care of your spine and core muscles is always welcome, even if it feels more like a chore than self-care.

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