Low Back Stiffness

Do you feel stiff in your lower back or lower body in the morning?  Does is take 15 minutes for you to warm up after you get out of bed?  

Many people complain that they have a stiffness in their low back that always seems to be worse in the morning.  Their legs or feet may even feel pain or tension until they get up and start walking around.  This is typically common for people between the ages 30-50 years of age who have had some type of disc injury.  The age range can vary based on activity level and health.  Don’t worry if you do feel this in the morning, there are many useful exercises and programs out there that can help you learn how to manage this pain.  Also, this doesn’t mean that you have a disc herniation.  A disc injury can simply be inflammation in the disc from a variety of things.  It is common in people who do repetitive movements and may be putting too much stress on the spine itself.  This is where core strength and stability come into play.  The muscles should be creating stability around the spine during movements and when this is lost then the body must rely on structures like bone, ligament and disc to do the job that the muscles are made for. 

So how do you relieve the spine from being overworked and decrease the inflammation in the disc?

There are many ways people choose to attack a disc problem.  I’ll go over 2 simple exercises here that you can try on your own.  

First, give your body some movement variety.  If you have a lumbar disc that is aggravated, then odds are you are doing some repetitive rounding in the low back throughout the day.  Some examples of this could be sitting for prolonged periods of time at a desk, driving long distances, or working with your arms held out in front of your body for extended periods of time.  The opposite of bending forward is bending backward.  Now I’m not saying go out and start doing crazy back bends all day if you’re not a yogi, but a more gentle version of this may help ease some of that low back pain.  

The exercise: Roll over onto your stomach before getting our of bed and try some lazy cobras.  Hands are placed under your shoulders and push your upper body up toward the ceiling.  Allow your lower body to relax and leave your hips resting on the bed.  Do this movement about 5-10 times and then see how your back and legs feels when you get out of bed.  

Some of the stress on the disc can also be alleviated by creating stability in the muscles surrounding the spine.  Core strengthening is a key component to alleviating the spine itself from taking on all the work.  There are a variety of core exercises out there but I have found that a combination of breath work and stability reduces tension on the disc the best.  These exercises combine diaphragm breathing and core bracing in order to pressurize the abdominal cavity and create 360 degrees of stabilization around the spine.  The pressure built up in the abdominal cavity with gentle diaphragm breathing can also create a natural decompression effect around the spine and disc.  

The exercise:

90/90 resting position: Lay on your back on the floor with your legs bent and propped up on a chair or couch.  Knees should be in line with your hips.  Place your hands on your stomach and try to breath into your hands.  

90/90 active position: Once you have got this part down lift your legs up off the chair (this now adds the bracing component).  With legs lifted off the chair try to breathe into your stomach again.  Keep your legs in this position for 20-30 seconds while practicing this breath work, and repeat this as many times up to your own tolerance until you feel the muscles around your core working up to 60% effort.  

Author: Dr. Marylou Garcia DC

Podcast: Why Does My Back Pain Only Come in the Morning?

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