Most people accept a few aches and pains as a natural part of the aging process, but that is a big mistake. Your body only sends pain signals when something is seriously wrong. The problem is that we rely on specialists to fix pain in a certain area of the body without looking at the bigger picture. If you are waking up with lower back pain in the morning, you could have what is called non-specific lower back pain (NSLBP).
Waking Up With Back Pain
One of the first conclusions people jump to when their back hurts after sleeping is that they need a new mattress. But while a really old and lumpy mattress could possibly contribute to lower back pain in the morning, spending top dollar for a new mattress may not resolve your morning back pain. In fact, most experts agree that your mattress is rarely the reason your back hurts after sleeping.
Most cases of low back pain are labeled “non-specific” because doctors can find no evidence of any mechanical issues, like a bulging disc or a compressed nerve. Consequently, if you see an orthopedist for your morning back pain and they cannot find a specific cause, they are likely to prescribe anti-inflammatories and narcotic pain medications to treat your symptoms, but pharmaceutical treatments will not fix your sore and stiff lower back.
Common Causes of Morning Back Pain
When thinking about back pain, it is important to remember that your spine provides a conduit for your nerves as they descend from your brain and branch out to all areas of your body. Nerves often become compressed and irritated by a variety of factors, sending pain signals back to your brain that something is amiss.
Some non-mechanical reasons you could be waking up with a sore back include:
- Chronic inflammation. Ongoing inflammation is a serious problem that is associated with metabolic syndrome, a cluster of disorders that includes elevated blood pressure, insulin resistance and heart disease. A recent systematic research review found evidence of elevated C-reactive protein (CRP), a biomarker for inflammation, as a common thread among patients with acute NSLBP. Adopting a healthy diet and active lifestyle can reduce and reverse chronic inflammation and metabolic syndrome that can cause morning back pain.
- Being out of shape. Just like your car, your body functions at its best when all its parts are tuned up and moving synchronously. It only takes one malfunctioning part to throw the whole machine out of whack. A recent peer-reviewed article cites a sedentary lifestyle as the primary culprit leading to obesity and inflammation, and causing a cascade of chemical reactions that trigger sensations of pain in the low back. The authors recommend regular physical activity as a preventative measure.
- Low Vitamin D levels: Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to chronic low back pain, and could be a contributing factor to your lower back pain in the morning. One study looked at 68 patients with chronic low back pain who were deficient in Vitamin D and found that treating them with Vitamin D supplements resulted in a significant reduction in low back pain and a significant improvement in function. You can boost your Vitamin D levels by exposing your skin to sunlight for several minutes every day.
- Stress. Chronic stress triggers a fight or flight response that sends an “all hands on deck” message to your central nervous system. With your nerves on high alert, your muscles are unable to fully relax, and trying to sleep with tense muscles can cause morning back pain. Stretching, deep breathing and a relaxing bath or shower before bed can help your muscles relax so you can get a good night’s sleep.
- Myofascial trigger points: Trigger points are tight knots of muscle or fascia tissue that arise from stress or overuse. They can be quite painful, especially when located in the lumbar spinal region. Trigger points can become more excited when your body is at rest, causing morning back pain that gradually goes away as you move around and start your day. A recent study found low frequency shock wave therapy to be highly effective in reducing low back pain caused by myofascial trigger points. Ultrasound guided dry needling is another highly effective treatment for eliminating trigger points.
- Awkward sleeping posture: Sharing your bed with a significant other, a small child or a furry friend or two can force you into an awkward sleeping position that throws your spine out of alignment, making your back pain worse in the morning. Getting a larger bed and setting some household rules are two remedies you can try, to eliminate your morning back pain.
- Poor sleep habits. Sleep is essential to overall health. Your body takes advantage of your sleeping hours to repair, rebalance and rejuvenate itself. Poor sleep habits like falling asleep with the TV on, eating and drinking alcohol right before bedtime, sleeping in a too-warm or too-bright room, and other habits that interfere with quality sleep can cause you to wake up with back pain.
Where to Get Help for Your Morning Back Pain
Your body parts do not work independently of one another, and treating only the locus of pain without looking at the big picture is unlikely to resolve your low back pain. Many people undergo dangerous spinal surgery with no better results than people who opt for conservative care.
Surgery should be a last resort for low back pain, after you have implanted lifestyle changes and sought alternative treatments like chiropractic care or physical therapy. Look for a practitioner who specializes in integrative treatment methods, with a proven track record of resolving low back pain.
This information is provided by New York Dynamic Neuromuscular Rehabilitation, the premier clinic for back pain treatment in NYC. Follow this link to learn more about drug-free, non-invasive treatment options for low back pain in NYC.
- da Cruz Fernandes, Isabela Maia, et al. “Low back pain, obesity, and inflammatory markers: exercise as potential treatment.” Journal of exercise rehabilitation 14.2 (2018): 168.
- Ghai, Babita, et al. “Vitamin D supplementation in patients with chronic low back pain: an open label, single arm clinical trial.” Pain physician 20.1 (2017): E99-E105.
- Morris, Patrick, et al. “A systematic review of the role of inflammatory biomarkers in acute, subacute and chronic non-specific low back pain.” BMC musculoskeletal disorders 21.1 (2020): 1-12.
- Schneider, Rainer. “Effectiveness of myofascial trigger point therapy in chronic back pain patients is considerably increased when combined with a new, integrated, low-frequency shock wave vibrotherapy (Cellconnect Impulse): a two-armed, measurement repeated, randomized, controlled pragmatic trial.” Journal of back and musculoskeletal rehabilitation 31.1 (2018): 57-64.