Why does your back hurt in the morning?

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Probably one of the most common symptoms we see, back pain or stiffness in the morning

But why can backs hurt first thing in the morning? And is it something to be worried about?


Back Pain vs Back Stiffness

Let’s back track first of all (as I sit at 8am writing this with a stiff back!) and define pain vs stiffness.

Back Pain = ouch!

Not a very technical description! But back pain is painful. Its normally 6/10 or above on a pain scale, often accompanied by a ‘pain face’ when trying to get up out of bed in the morning.

Back Stiffness = extra effort.

It might be uncomfortable, but back stiffness (in this case) we’re talking about the extra effort it takes to get up and out of bed. Occasionally accompanied by noises not too dissimilar to those when lifting heavy weights!

It’s not uncommon to have some joint stiffness in the mornings but ideally we’re not wanting to have back ‘pain’ when we get up and out of bed.


Why does your back hurt in the morning?

There are a few factors that can be the cause:

  1. Lack of movement – pretty much in all situations the body prefers movement to inactivity. Laying still for 6-8hrs can easily count as lack of movement in this case. If you’ve ever had back pain you’ll know it doesn’t like long periods of inactivity. But I don’t see this as the major cause
  2. Lack of blood flow/warmth – similar to above overnight body temperature will drop and blood flow reduces to your peripheral tissues basically meaning you get cool and less supple. So when you get up you feel stiff and achey. This could be a good explanation but if it were the only reason then we should only expect back pain in the winter right?!
  3. Disc hydration – I LOVE this one! This is my explanation to most patients about why they experience back pain and stiffness in the mornings.

Discs have no blood supply

They’re actually fed by the vertebra above and below them.

So, throughout the day the disc is under pressure and slowly reduces in size (we’re shorter in the evening than the morning). Overnight the disc rehydrates and is able to increase in size again.

THIS would give a pretty good explanation as to why first thing in the morning things are stiff but then improve. Physically the discs are bigger, which creates more crowding, less space for movement. 


So does this mean if I have back stiffness in the morning that I have a disc injury?

No 🙂 But it would highlight any underlying mobility issues that you have. If you know you have a disc injury then of course this would explain the peak of pain in the morning that you get. And even if you are arthritic (which is more problematic when you’re cold) then having less mobility will cause pain and stiffness.


Should I be worried if I have back pain or stiffness in the morning?

Back Stiffness – This can be fairly common, if you don’t experience back pain throughout the day at any other time, or it is related to sitting or standing for long periods of time then simply begin to increase your exercise levels slowly and introduce some regular stretching. Particularly look for drills that focus on the lower back and hips.

Try a 10min Hip Mobility Routine

or join a 21 Day Hip Mobility Challenge

It isn’t anything to be worried about if there aren’t any other symptoms but it IS something you should start to address. Back stiffness isn’t uncommon but it is also a sign you could improve your back health.

Back Pain – Actual pain in the morning is something that we want to address. As above the key is increasing exercise, introducing mobility work but some things you could be doing as well would be to ensure you are drinking enough water on daily basis, practicing some diapraghmatic breathing exercises (as breathing pattern dysfunction is ridiculously common with back pain sufferers)

Leg & Back Pain – If you get both leg and back pain in the morning, so this could be anything from a mild ache to pain, tingling or numbness then yes you should get this checked out. Either head to your GP or book an appt with one of our team to get yourself assessed because there are a number of reasons this could be happening.

Follow Vicki:

Sports Massage Therapist

Vicki Marsh MSc BA (hons) studied at Oxford University before training as a Sports Massage Therapist. With over 12 years experience she specialises in chronic pain & complex cases as well as coaching Crossfit & Weightlifters. She runs specialist workshops, creates online courses and has spoken at events such as COPA on how to grow a successful business.

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