Waking Up With Lower Back Pain: Causes and Treatments

Medically reviewed by
 Dr. Jordan Burns DC, MS

Dr. Jordan Burns DC, MS

Dr. Jordan Burns is a chiropractor and owner of ProWellness Chiropractic in Fishers, Indiana. He is an Indiana University-Bloomington graduate, where he received his first Bachelor’s of Science degree in…

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Waking up with lower back pain is no way to start the day. But unfortunately for many adults, back pain is an all too common complaint. In fact, research suggests…

Last Updated On August 20th, 2022
Waking Up With Lower Back Pain: Causes and Treatments

Waking up with lower back pain is no way to start the day. But unfortunately for many adults, back pain is an all too common complaint. In fact, research suggests as much as 84 percent of people Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source experience lower low back pain over the course of their lifetime, while 23% experience chronic low back pain. Acute back pain is often caused by overexertion, accidents, or trauma to the area. However, if you’re waking up with persistent lower back pain, the problem may be tangled up with your sleep and sleeping habits.

Common Symptoms Of Lower Back Pain

If something is “not right” with your back, you’ll know— back pain Verified Source Medline Plus Online resource offered by the National Library of Medicine and part of the National Institutes of Health. View source isn’t known for keeping secrets. However, it may be worthwhile to keep tabs on your symptoms so that you can clearly articulate details about your pain to your doctor if need be. Typical symptoms of lower back pain include:

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  • Dull/aches
  • Pain that travels down to your butt, legs, and feet
  • Increased pain with activity
  • Persistent back pain upon waking
  • Muscle spasms

Common Causes of Morning Back Pain

Mild back pain upon waking is actually pretty common. Understandably, sleeping in one position for hours on end may lead to some pain and stiffness when you wake. However, if your pain persists even after you get out of bed and start your day, then you might want to dig a little deeper to find the source of your pain. Any number of factors can cause lower back pain; here are some of the most common.

Sleeping Position

If you’re trying to determine the cause of chronic back pain in the morning, you might be surprised to learn that your preferred sleeping position may be to blame.

Understandably, sleeping in an unsupportive position for hours at a time can increase the pressure on your spine and ultimately lead to low back pain. But back pain stemming from your sleeping position may not end there. Stomach sleepers may find that doing so knocks their neck out of alignment with the rest of their spine, and sleeping in a supine position can lead to back pain as well. Quite frequently, misalignment issues are a result of using the wrong pillow.

In both cases, it all boils down to the quality and firmness of your mattress. A mattress that isn’t firm enough to support stomach sleeping will cause your lower abdomen to sink and stretch your back out of alignment.

Similarly, back sleepers may find that their mattress doesn’t support their spine and the natural curves of their body. At the end of the day, side sleeping is probably the best position to keep back pain at bay, though you still need one of the best mattresses for side sleeping to avoid waking up in pain.

Pregnancy

Expectant mothers should get plenty of sleep during pregnancy, but back pain often presents a direct conflict with a restful night. While pain in the lower back often worsens during sleep, pregnant mothers can take heart knowing it’s only temporary. Lower back pain that accompanies pregnancy generally goes away after giving birth.

Back pain is all too common Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source during pregnancy, particularly in the second and third trimesters. But choosing the correct sleeping position may be the difference between a sleepless night and catching some much-needed zzzs. But beyond a restful night’s sleep, the wrong sleeping position can have far more severe health implications.

It can be quite risky for pregnant mothers to sleep in a supine position, with research showing an increased risk of stillbirth for back sleepers after 28 weeks. Moreover, research has shown that pregnant mothers who sleep on their back also run the risk of compressing the inferior vena cava, Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source  which can ultimately lead to maternal hypotension and reduced blood flow to the fetus.

To mitigate these risks, doctors often recommend that expectant mothers sleep on their side during their third trimester. Sleeping on your left side with your knees bent is ideal.

A Bad Mattress

If you’re trying to pinpoint a cause for your lower back pain, you may need to look no further than your mattress. Old mattresses offer little to no support, and this is especially true if your mattress is five years or older. If you haven’t assessed the condition or age of your mattress recently, it might be time to do so. If it’s too saggy, it’s time to replace your mattress.

And you don’t have to take our word for it; research has shown that a new mattress can measurably improve sleep quality. One study even showed that a medium-firm mattress could reduce back pain by almost 50 percent. Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source

But before you toss your old mattress to the (proverbial) curb and head out to purchase a new one, it’s important to remember that you need to buy the best mattress for your preferred sleeping position. Mattresses come in a wide variety of firmnesses, and if you don’t take the time to figure out what type of mattress is best for your preferred sleeping position, you’ll end up right where you started—in pain.

Poor Ergonomics

While most people draw clear lines in the sand between their daytime activities and sleep quality, this is a big misstep. For example, bad posture throughout your day can take a very real toll on your back, ultimately leading to pain that worsens at night when you should be sleeping.

It’s important to have the best ergonomic office furniture if you’re working from home.

Fibromyalgia

Affecting anywhere from 2% to 4% of people across the globe, fibromyalgia is a chronic illness Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source  that causes widespread pain, physical exhaustion, poor sleep quality, and cognitive difficulties in those who suffer from it. For those who suffer from fibromyalgia, waking up with lower back pain is often par for the course.

Disc Degeneration

Disc degeneration is age-related and often the result of normal wear and tear on your body. You can think of spinal discs as your spine’s shock absorbers as they sit between the bones in your spinal column and act as a cushion of sorts. Disc degeneration is a medical condition where the discs in your spine wear away or wear down. While some people may feel relatively little pain with disc degeneration, others can experience an immense amount of pain. Disc degeneration can also lead to waking with lower back pain, and the pain is often worse in the morning.

“Morning back pain can be caused by a plethora of reasons, but the most common that I see in my practice is simply the lack of movement someone experiences while sleeping,” says Dr. Jordan Burns. “If your mattress is too soft and you are not moving for 6-8 hours, this can actually be a bad thing.”

“You should not be waking up with pain if you went to bed with no pain. A medium to medium-firm mattress surface has been shown to allow your body to rest comfortably in a neutral position but also doesn’t allow you to sink into the mattress and stay stagnant all night long.”

Best Treatments for Lower Back Pain In The Morning

If lower back pain plagues your mornings, here are some things you can do on your own to lessen your pain.

Stretches

Believe it or not, a few simple stretches before you get out of bed can go a long way toward alleviating morning back pain and stiffness.

To give your back a good morning stretch, lay on your back and extend your arms up above your head. Do your best to stretch your arms as far as you can in one direction and extend your feet out in the opposite direction.

Next, bring your knees into your chest and gently hold them there for a nice lower back stretch. You can also rock gently from side to side to deepen the stretch.

Finally, on your way out of bed, sit up straight, plant your feet firmly on the ground and reach your arms up over your head. For a deeper, all-over stretch, move your arms from side to side, bending at the waist.

Change Your Sleeping Position

Remember that one of the causes of back pain in the morning is a bad sleeping posture or position. Sleeping on your stomach can be especially painful. Side sleepers, on the other hand, often fare the best as the position works with the natural curves of their body to alleviate low back pain. So, while it may sound much easier said than done, you may be able to curb your lower back pain just by changing to one of the best sleeping positions for lower back pain.

Try Doing Planks

If you know anything about planks, then you know that this is the go-to exercise for strengthening your core muscles. And if you know anything about back pain, you know that the key to decreasing back pain is a strong core. So, if you find that you’re suffering from lower back pain in the morning more often than you’d like, you could try incorporating some planks into your daily exercise routine.

To do a plank:

  • Start by lying face down on the floor
  • Push yourself onto your forearms and toes, ensuring that your elbows are directly under your shoulders. Your elbows and forearm should also be in line with your wrist.
  • Lift up on your toes, keeping your body in a straight line

A proper plank engages your core and keeps your weight evenly distributed throughout your body.

Exercise Regularly

Not only does exercise improve your balance, flexibility, and overall health, but research has shown that exercise also improves Verified Source National Library of Medicine (NIH) World’s largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible. View source  overall sleep quality. The good news here is that in order to reap the myriad health benefits of exercise and keep your lower back pain in check, you don’t need to run a 5K every week. Something as simple as a daily walk can make a big difference.

“For anyone suffering from low back pain, I recommend doing more mobility routines or yoga in the mornings and more static stretching in the evenings before bed,” says Dr. Burns. “Being in bed for 6-8 hours can cause your muscles to feel very stiff so it’s a lot easier to “wake up” your body by getting subtle movement in your joints with mobility work.”

When To See Your Doctor

While many of the back pain treatments outlined above won’t necessarily lead to pain-free mornings, they can do plenty to decrease your pain level. However, if your lower back pain persists after trying any of these treatments, you may want to speak with your doctor to discuss further treatment options or rule out a more serious medical condition.

“Low back pain can be one of the most debilitating complaints that I see in my practice,” says Dr. Burns. “It’s also one of the easiest to help patients with. If your pain persists for longer than a week, I would highly suggest seeking the consultation of a trained healthcare professional, preferably one with more conservative approaches like a chiropractor or physical therapist.”


About the author

Sharon Brandwein is a freelance writer specializing in beauty, lifestyle, and sleep content. Her work has also appeared on ABC News, USAToday, and Forbes. When she’s not busy writing, you might find her somewhere curating a wardrobe for her puppy.

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