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16 Causes of Morning Back Pain and Their Solutions

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  • This article has been written and researched by Ana Luiza – a sleep scientist, psychobiologist, and biotechnologist, (Ph.D.) – to ensure the highest content quality and factual accuracy.

I have back pain upon waking mainly due to arthritis in my shoulders that causes referred pain.

However, there are many reasons for waking up with back pain in the morning.

So why does your back hurt after sleep?

The most common cause of morning back pain is poor posture caused by sleeping on a mattress that’s too firm, too soft, or sagging; the wrong pillow loft (height), or sleeping on your front. Being overweight, stress, and conditions like arthritis or muscle imbalances may also be the cause.

This article looks more closely at the most common causes of morning back pain and their solutions.

However, you should always consult with your own doctor to get the best treatment plan for your needs.

What’s the best mattress for morning back pain? The best mattress for curing morning back pain is the one that’s suited to your body type and sleeping style. Based on my own experiences, I recommend the DreamCloud for front, back, and heavier weighted sleepers (click here to see my review) – whilst the Puffy Lux Hybrid is better for side and lighter weighted sleepers (click here to see my review).

16 Causes of Morning Back Pain

Below are 16 of the most common causes of morning back pain and a solution for each:

1: Your Mattress is Too Firm, Too Soft, or Lacks Support

The 8 DANGERS of Sleeping on a BAD Mattress Revealed

One of the leading causes of morning back pain is sleeping on a mattress that’s either too firm, too soft, or lacks the right amount of support to keep you in good posture.

It’s quite common to experience temporary back pain when sleeping on a brand new mattress – especially if you have switched from a regular spring mattress to an all-foam one or vice-versa.

Similarly, you can experience morning back pain if you are sleeping on a mattress that’s old and worn out – mattresses that are more than 5 years old are at risk of sagging and intending to the point where your posture may be compromised.

A mattress that’s too firm can increase the pressure points on your body – which is a common cause of upper back pain because the prominent architecture of your bones and joints in this region means that they are hot spots for pain.

Sleeping on a mattress that’s too soft can lead to lower back pain upon waking because your posture will have been broken – especially if you sleep on your front – putting pressure on your spine and their surrounding muscles.

Sleeping on a mattress that’s not well suited to your body type, body weight, and dominant sleeping position can lead to both acute and chronic back pain.

Click here to see the best adjustable beds and mattresses to prevent morning back pain.

Solution: Sleep On a Mattress That’s Suited to Your Sleeping Style

As a sleep specialist, I recommend a mattress that adapts to your body’s curvature whilst providing enough support to keep you in good posture.

But if you don’t want to or can’t change your mattress immediately, you could invest in a lumbar spine belt support instead, and there are several types available at various prices. 

I recommend this option for those who have recurrent back pain, as it allows a more even distribution of pressure in your pelvic, lumbar, and chest region while avoiding the stress points that cause discomfort [1].

Or, you could place a firm or softer mattress topper over your mattress to correct any firmness imbalances – just be aware that this is a temporary fix if your mattress is old and sagging; in which case a new mattress is the only real solution.

Click here for 10 ways to sleep better with upper back pain.

What’s the Best Mattress to Prevent Morning Back Pain?

The Best Mattress and Bed Frame for Back Pain (Doctor Consulted)

The best mattress to prevent morning back pain is one that has the right level of firmness relative to your body type, body weight, and dominant sleeping position.

As a general rule, a ‘medium’ firmness will suit most sleepers, whilst softer mattresses suit lighter weighted side sleepers, and firmer mattresses are better for heavier weighted front and back sleepers.

I’ve tested many mattresses over the years and I’ve personally discovered that modern hybrid mattresses with either a memory foam or latex foam top layer provided the best combination of pressure relief and support to prevent morning back pain.

Pairing your ideal mattress with a compatible adjustable bed frame can further help to prevent morning back pain by allowing you to adjust the angle of the bed to dissipate pressure and help you find a sleeping position that’s right for you.

More specifically:

2: Incorrect Pillow Height

A pillow that is too thin can cause your head to drop too far backwards, whilst a pillow that’s too thick will push your head too far forwards.

In each case, your spine will be put under pressure – potentially leading to upper back and neck pain that is worse in the morning [2].

Solution: Sleep On a Pillow That’s the Right Height

The ideal pillow height (loft) varies depending on your sleeping position and body type [3].

The general rule is that side sleepers will feel most comfortable sleeping on a pillow that’s 5-7 inches thick, whilst front and back sleepers will feel more comfortable on a pillow that’s 4-5 inches thick.

Click here to see 10 doctor-recommended ways to sleep better with upper back and neck pain.

3: Sleeping On Your Front

Your sleep position influences sleep quality, and the most comfortable way to lay down when you first get into bed is not always the best option. 

Sleeping on your stomach can cause back pain and muscles aches and may even lead to sleep apnea, circulatory problems, and nightmares.

Solution: Sleep On Your Back or Side

The best sleeping position to prevent morning back pain is sleeping on your back because it keeps your spine neutrally aligned and removes pressure on your joints.

If you don’t find that sleeping on your back is comfortable, then you can try sleeping on your side.

An even better position is to support the left side of your body while sleeping, as it provides support for the heart, which improves blood circulation and aids digestion [4].

Click here for 15 ways to get to sleep after drinking too much coffee.

4: Getting Out of Bed Incorrectly

Did you know that even if you slept well in a proper position, with a good mattress and the ideal pillow, you could lose all those benefits by getting out of bed the wrong way?

Your spine is at relative rest after lying down for several hours, so when you wake up, you need to get out of bed calmly and avoid sudden moves to prevent harm or trigger pain.

Solution: Get Out of Bed Using the Pendulum Technique

How to Get Out of Bed Without Back Stress – Ask Doctor Jo

Without lifting your head, lie on your side and bend your legs, then push your body with your hand as you swing your legs off the side of the bed – as shown in the video above.

5: Getting Out of Bed Too Fast

Getting out of bed too fast and moving too abruptly creates tension that can lead to pain, and it’s why so many people suffer from aches and pains after getting up.

Have you ever watched a sleeping cat get up from a deep sleep? 

When cats awaken, they do it slowly, starting with a long, easy stretch before standing up and going about their business.

We’re always in a mad, last-minute rush – leaving little time for a relaxing start to the day.

But if you want a pain-free spine, you need to wake up calmly and allow your body time to adjust.

Solution: Stretch Gently Before You Get Up

5 MORNING STRETCHES IN BED | To Wake Up & Energize

Before you get out of bed, try any of the 5 stretches shown in the video above to help get your body ready to move before you get up.

The stretching routine brings several other benefits – such as extending muscles, tendons, and other joint structures, stimulating oxygenation, and improving blood flow. 

Moreover, stretching promotes lightness in the body that reduces muscle tension – so it’s a good idea to perform these stretches each morning to reduce the chance of you getting out of bed with back pain.

Click here for 8 ways to sleep better with tennis elbow.

6: Stress and Inflammation

When stressed, your body releases a molecule known as IL-6, which promotes inflammation, and inflamed areas of your body can lead to chronic pain.

It is a vicious cycle because the more pain you feel, the harder it is to sleep well, and disturbed sleep increases stress and the production of IL-6, which generates more inflammation and pain [5].

Solution: Have a Pre-Sleep Relaxation Routine

Reducing stress before bed can help to lower inflammation and reduce pain.

For example, turn off your cell phone, avoid calls – especially work-related – read a book, do a little meditation, listen to relaxing music, take a long hot bath, or have a massage.

A little quiet, relaxing ME time before bed will reduce your stress levels, improve your sleep quality, and decrease muscular pain.

Click here for 8 ways to get to sleep without relying on painkillers.

7: Bad Posture

Your body adapts to the postures you maintain the longest, whether slumped over the laptop, crouched in front of the TV, sitting the wrong way, or bent over while carrying heavy bags or backpacks.

Likewise, your body adapts to good postures, too.

Spending too much time in one posture causes your muscles to tighten, which can trigger pain, compromise your blood circulation, and affect your hormone-release system.

So if you spend all day sitting down, then you may find that this is what’s causing you to wake up with back pain in the morning.

Solution: Maintain Good Posture Throughout the Day – Starting With Yoga

Yoga for Back pain | 14 Minute | Full sequence | Shona Vertue

Maintaining good posture throughout the day – walking tall and sitting with your head, shoulders, and lower back in a good position – is a good way to prevent morning back pain.

Furthermore, practicing yoga upon awakening can kick start this process and improve your physical and mental state.

Yoga works by relaxing tense muscles, but it also develops bodily strength, balance, flexibility and improves your blood circulation.

Watch the video above for a good morning yoga routine that focuses on alleviating back pain.

Here are some other tips to help improve your posture throughout the day:

  • Sitting: Keep your spine straight, shoulders down, and feet flat on the
    floor. Avoid crossing your legs, as it can impair circulation and cause
    swelling. If you are going to spend a lot of time seated, get up every 1–2
    hours to allow your blood to circulate [6].
  • Standing: Be mindful of the correct posture and put your chest forward while
    contracting the abdomen. Your abdominal muscles help to stabilize your body.
    Keep your arms naturally loose [6].
  • Walking: First, support the heel, then the toes as you walk [6].

8: Sedentary Lifestyle and Being Overweight

Without physical activity, we lose our muscle conditioning, and then the musculature weakens, including the spine. 

Then, back pain emerges because the muscles that support your spine are not strong enough to withstand the impacts of everyday life [7].

Something similar happens with excess weight. 

The spine supports your body’s weight, but the musculature and spine struggle to cope if you carry too much excess fat [7].

In addition, a lack of natural exercise decreases muscle oxygenation, making it difficult to remove toxins, thus contributing to increased pain.

Solution: Follow a Gentle But Regular Exercise Routine

The solution is to engage in daily exercise and clean up your diet.

The intensity should be low to begin with to avoid injury – going for a daily walk is a good example.

The next step up would be to join a gym and have a qualified professional create a personal exercise plan for you.

A diet that includes fresh fruit and veggies supports weight loss – avoid foods that increase inflammation, like sugar, refined carbohydrates, and processed meals.

A nutritious diet combined with regular exercise dramatically increases your quality of life, disposition, productivity, and longevity.

Click here for 10 ways to stop sleep apnea from causing weight gain.

9: Exercising Too Much

Whilst exercise can strengthen the muscles that support your spine and help to reduce the excess weight supported by the spinal column – too much exercise can cause back pain, so it’s important not to overdo your workouts. 

For example, my upper back pain is related to arthritis in my joints that is the result of exercising and playing sport to excess for many years.

When you work out, you put your body under stress, and the more sedentary you were before you began exercise, the more stress your body experiences.

This stress generates an inflammatory process triggered by minor muscle injuries, and these micro-injuries stimulate the strengthening of your muscles over time. 

Therefore, a little discomfort is normal and disappears after a day or two, but excessive physical exercise can worsen back pain when overdone or performed incorrectly [8].

If you exercise too much and too often without resting between workouts, you will notice a drastic drop in performance, leading to lingering exhaustion and even depression.

Also, lingering pain can indicate a more severe underlying injury, or a sign of poor posture during training, or both.

Solution: Increase the Intensity Gradually

  • Start with easy exercises for short durations and progressively advance your training as your body gets used to it.
  • Warm up before any physical workout.
  • Don’t overdo the loads if you’re weight training.
  • Get familiar with pain-relieving anti-inflammatory foods and add them to your regular diet, e.g., fruits, veggies, olive oil, fatty fish, turmeric, and ginger.
  • Take planned rest days.
  • If the pain becomes intense – and lasts for several days – stop exercising right away and get checked out by your doctor [8].

10: Disk Degeneration

Sometimes, back pain on waking up can be a symptom of a more serious underlying condition that requires a medical follow-up. 

The disease most related to back pain is disc degeneration.

Your intervertebral disc is a flexible structure located between the bones of the spinal vertebra, working as a kind of natural shock absorber. 

The intervertebral disc is responsible for accommodating the vertebrae and reducing the impact of movement, thus protecting the vertebrae and nervous system [9].

These discs wear out over time due to the pressure and impact of natural bodily movements; it’s a phenomenon known as disc degeneration, where the discs lose their flexibility and elasticity from repetitive shock absorption. 

The tension begins to radiate to the vertebrae, and that’s what generates pain and discomfort.

There are different approaches to treat this problem, from non-pharmacological forms to medications and surgeries in more severe cases.

One of the methods used for milder cases is acupuncture or Swedish massage [9].

Drugs combined with muscle relaxants are helpful in more severe cases, but they are not always practical, and sometimes there is a need for surgical intervention to implant screws.

Surgery can be highly effective, but using screws can have severe consequences in some people if the body rejects them [9].

Click here for 12 ways to sleep better with a knee brace on.

11: Fibromyalgia

This disease rose to prominence a few years ago after the singer-songwriter Lady Gaga revealed she had fibromyalgia. 

The condition causes chronic generalized pain, tiredness, muscle stiffness, depression, and sleep problems and is one of the biggest causes of generalized chronic pain and a leading cause of back pain when waking up [10].

It is a disease of unknown origin, although some factors can contribute, such as genetics or the occurrence of trauma, as two examples.

There is currently no cure or adequate treatment for fibromyalgia due to the lack of information about its origin and difficulty in diagnosing it, which is why doctors consider it a mysterious disease [11].

Solution: Manage the Symptoms

The present treatment for fibromyalgia consists of self-care, physical exercises, drug treatments, and psychotherapy [10,11].

Click here for 6 ways to sleep better with a stomach ulcer.

12: Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis also causes wear on the discs between the vertebrae as the spaces in the spine narrow and compress the spinal cord, and the nerve roots come out of each vertebra [12].

Smaller spaces between the vertebrae mean less room for the nerves to branch through the spine, which can cause irritation and compaction of the spine or nerves, resulting in severe pain. 

This condition usually develops over time [13].

There are several causes, including:

  • Bone overgrowth: wear of cartilages involving the spine.
  • Disc herniation.
  • Fractures and spinal cord injury.
  • Congenital spinal stenosis (the person is born with the condition).

The main symptoms are:

  • Low back pain (predominantly upon waking): this pain is not constant and can come and go.
  • Leg cramps.
  • Numbness in the buttocks, legs, and feet.
  • Weakness in the legs.
  • Pain when leaning forward.
  • Lost bladder or bowel control (only in severe cases).

Solution: Medication, Therapy, or Surgery

There are several treatment options available, from medication to surgical therapy. 

The primary non-surgical forms of treatment are physical therapy, spinal injections, and lifestyle changes [12,13].

Some people seek alternative treatments, such as chiropractic and acupuncture, but so far, there is no scientific proof to support the health benefits of these therapies.

Surgery can decompress the spine and nerves but is always a last resort and only performed if symptoms persist after previous treatments have failed.

Click here for 6 ways to sleep better after ACL surgery.

13: Herniated Disc

A herniated disc is a serious injury to the discs of the vertebrae. 

This injury dislocates the discs and compresses the nerves, resulting in varying degrees of mild to severely disabling pain.

Genetic predisposition is the main factor in the formation of hernias, but it can also result from aging, prolonged lack of physical activity, smoking, muscle damage, poor posture, and carrying excess weight. 

Solution: Medication, Therapy, or Surgery

In most cases, these injuries improve naturally within three months and can be treated with medication and physical therapy, but sometimes, surgery may be the only solution.

If you don’t have a herniated disc, prevention is your best tool. 

Strive to develop healthy lifestyle habits such as regular exercise, stretching to strengthen your back and belly muscles, and be mindful of maintaining a good posture [14].

Click here for 7 ways to sleep better with a frozen shoulder.

14: Osteoarthritis (Arthrosis)

Osteoarthritis, also known as arthrosis, is a disease caused by the wear and tear of the cartilage that protects your bones. 

This cartilage and the discs between your vertebrae serve to protect the spine from impacts caused by everyday movements.

If the cartilage gets worn, it starts to deteriorate quickly – causing pain, clicking, and grinding sensations [15].

Varying degrees of pain in bones, joints, and muscles is a symptom of osteoarthritis, along with swelling, stiffness, and acute tenderness in the affected area(s).

Although back pain is the biggest complaint from patients, osteoarthritis can also appear in other body regions with joints, including the knees, hands, and hips. 

I personally have arthritis in my shoulders and I also have torn cartilage in both knees.

The most significant risk factor for this disease is aging, and it’s most prominent in the over 65s, although other factors can contribute to the condition, too, like genetic tendency, obesity, spinal misalignment due to poor posture, and smoking.

In my case, sport and weight lifting has made the condition worse.

Solution: Manage the Symptoms

Osteoarthritis is not curable, but existing treatments aim to ease the symptoms, such as pain relief, reduced stiffness, maintenance of functional capabilities, and improved quality of life. 

Possible therapies are low-impact aerobic exercise, weight reduction, acupuncture, medication, and surgical intervention (in more severe cases) [15].

Click here for 10 ways to sleep better with broken ribs in your back.

15: Endometriosis

Many women go to an orthopedist with complaints of lower back pain, believing they have a spinal problem, but it’s often a sign of endometriosis.

Endometriosis is a disease that affects the endometrium – the tissue lining the inside of the uterus – causing it to grow and spread to other places outside the womb. 

Thus, endometriosis is a major cause of pelvic pain and infertility in women of childbearing age [16,17].

As the endometrium grows, it can reach nearby regions like the ovaries, intestines, and bones, and when it spreads to the sacrum bone at the base of the spine, it can cause inflammation of the nerves in this region, resulting in severe low back pain.

Severe pain is the dominant symptom of endometriosis, most notable in these situations [16]:

  • Pelvic pain during the menstruation period (dysmenorrhea).
  • Pain when having sex.
  • Pain when defecating.
  • Pain in the lower back.

Other symptoms are also frequent such as:

  • Difficulty evacuating.
  • Bleeding on evacuation.
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding.
  • Bleeding before menstruation occurs.
  • Infertility.

Solution: Pain Management or Surgery

Endometriosis has no known cure, but some treatments can relieve pain and slow the progression of the disease, so the focus is to improve the patient’s quality of life. 

Treatment can include anti-inflammatory drugs and hormone therapy [17].

Despite these treatments, pain sometimes persists, and surgery to remove the uterus may be the only option.

However, the disease may still reappear even with the uterus removed.

Click here to find out if it’s safe to sleep in a maternity support belt.

16: Kidney Stones

Another disease that can cause back pain – but not directly associated with back problems – is kidney stones. 

Your bean-shaped kidneys sit on either side of your spine near the lower back, and it’s why there is often confusion between kidney pain and back pain, so let’s look at the differences between the two conditions [18]:

Kidney Pain:

Severe pain, usually on one side of the back, either left or right; the pain does not improve over time and intensifies or weakens, depending on the person’s position.

However, no position can relieve the pain in times of renal crisis.

Kidney stone pain can radiate to other places close to the source, such as the genital region, and may also cause nausea and vomiting.

A kidney stone is the most common disease to affect the kidneys and often arises due to insufficient water consumption. 

The job of your two kidneys is to filter and remove impurities from the blood, but dehydration impairs the filtration process, which results in those impurities crystallizing in your kidneys, which forms the hard deposits or stones [19].

In addition to pain, other signs can be urine in the blood, dilation of the kidneys, blockage of urine flow, and urinary tract infection – all of which can cause nausea and vomiting, too.

Lumbar Pain:

Pain may appear mild and intensify over time if untreated but does not radiate to other parts of the body.

Rest and medications such as muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory drugs can often help to relieve the pain.

Solution: Medication or Surgery

Doctors usually treat kidney stones with medications that break down the hard deposits, making them easier to flush out in the urine. 

Your doctor may also prescribe diuretic medications that increase the volume and flow of urine, but you may need surgery in more severe cases where the stones have gotten too large [19].

Regular water intake or hydration and good nutrition are the best ways to prevent these diseases, improve quality of life, and extend longevity.

Click here for 5 ways to get better sleep with Parkinson’s disease.

Conclusion: Prevention is Better Than a Cure

About 8 out of every 10 people will experience back pain at some point in their lives, but most complaints are not severe and tend to pass over time with rest and cautious behavior. 

Prevention is the best approach, like regular stretching exercises and improving one’s lifestyle, diet, sleeping habits, and sleep environment.

But if the pain doesn’t seem to be getting any better, or becomes worse over time, seek medical help without further delay to prevent further damage and unnecessary suffering. 

And remember, although back pain is common, it can also be a symptom of something more serious.

Are you ready to make a few positive changes in your life? 

Be mindful of your posture, and if you’ve been sitting for a long time, get up, walk around, do some gentle stretches, drink water, exercise regularly, and eat well… your body will thank you.

If you need a new mattress to help combat your morning back pain then click the button below now.


Sources and References

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No part of this article or website offers medical advice – consult with a qualified professional for such guidance.

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