Why does my back always feel stiff when I get out of bed?

Do you dread getting out of bed in the morning?

Does your back feel like someone’s inserted a steel rod into your spine overnight?

Do you have to wait a few minutes before standing up and getting out of your bed in the morning?

I hear that story nearly every week from patients. So what causes your back to feel so stiff in the mornings and feel so much better within an hour or two of waking?

The answer is one of two posiibilities:

  1. You have wear & tear in the joints of your back
  2. You have inflammation and swelling around the joints or disc in your spine

Let’s have a look at the first cause. Wear & tear of the spinal joints. This is usually caused by age or overuse. As we age the spinal joints wear. In particular, the joint surfaces become worn and not so smooth. They rub against each other and don’t move as well. This causes the stiffness in the lower back as well as other spinal joints. This stiffness becomes worse with rest. The more you rest the more stiffness there is. So you can imagine if you rest for 8 hours overnight, you’re going to wake up feeling stiff in the morning. You generally start to feel better after an hour or two, once you start moving and lubricating the spinal joints.

The other common cause of morning back stiffness is inflammation and swelling due to injury. Most inflammatory conditions are worse in the mornings and even during the night. When you’ve got a disc problem the inflammation causes swelling in the lower back joints, muscles, ligaments and other sensitive tissues. This swelling builds up overnight and if it is significant, it can compress pain sensitive structures, causing you pain that disturbs your sleep. The swelling builds up because you are lying still. So it’s at it’s worst when you wake up in the morning after you’ve been ling still for a long period. It will start to improve once you start to move around. This is because the swelling gets dispersed by the body. As you move, the swelling moves. However, be careful, the more you move the more your swelling could develop, causing you more pain and stiffness.

Either way, whatever the reason for your back stiffness, sleeping on a poor bed will make it worse. Read about choosing the right bed in this article.

Dr Wayne

  • Neen2912

    I’m 28 years of age and the past year my back is so stiff and tight it’s untrue, I can’t sleep I move around all night I’m up all hours and it just gets worse, it started of being every now and then now it’s every night without fail, I have to get up for it to ease.
    It’s got to the point where if I have something planned it can ruin my plans cause I’m so tired of lack of sleep its also effecting my boyfriends sleep, what can I do to get rid of it, our bed is a good one we paid a lot of money for it. Now I work as a production line operator in a car factory so my job has me doing a lot of bending, moving, could this be the reason for my pain please help me I can’t carry on like this I hardly sleep at all. Janine

  • Anonymous

    Hi Janine. Great question. Sounds like your bed is ok. You should go to an Osteopath to find out how they can help you. They will need to take a full case history, examine you and I’m very confident that they’ll be able to find out what’s causing your pain. Common causes of the back pain you describe could be poor core stability, gluteal muscle weakness, degenerative changes in the lumbar facet joints or just simple lack of stretching & joint stiffness. If you do a lot of bending and twisting at work you should think of what you would do if you were going to a gym instead of work. If I asked you to go to the gym and do what you do at work for 8 hours, you’d probably be quite sore if you didn’t warm up.

    So what you should do is prepare yourself for work as if you were going to a gym class. Perform a dynamic warm up before you start work. A dynamic work out before work should replicate all the movements you do at work condensed in a short 5-10 exercise session. After work you should do some static stretches, holding each stretch for 30 sec or longer. Hope that helps.

    Dr Wayne

  • Sharad

    Hi, I am 33 year old and having this morning stiffness problem in my upper back. its difficult for me complete 8 hour sleep and i have to leave bed early morning in severe pain in mainly in thoracic back.
    this is for last 3 year and the problem is getting worse now. As u siad it becomes almost ok during the day. I play badminton. i have seen to some orthopedics surgeon but no one have any answer to this problem. pls suggest.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Sharad

    Please call the clinic on 61 3 95893777 to discuss your symptoms with one the osteopaths at the clinic.


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