Have you ever woken up holding your breath as you roll out of bed hoping whatever pain is about to rear its ugly face won’t put you on the ground? What about the lower back pain you experience while trying to put on your socks and shoes? The first 1-2 hours after waking up is crucial for anyone who deals with morning back pain. You can be eating right, exercising, crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s but if you’re making any of these 5 mistakes, you may want to reconsider your morning routine.
There is nothing like waking up day after day and having the first portion of your morning focused solely on the pain in your back. It sucks. What I try to teach on this site is that there is always a reason or root issue that’s causing your back pain. A lot of us have our little morning rituals but what you need to realize is your ritual is what could be holding you back from experiencing true and lasting relief.
What I want to do is help you rethink and rewire your morning habits and finally get you relief from that debilitating back pain. I narrowed it down to 5 key things that need to be STOPPED if you’re looking to beat your morning back pain.
A little spine edu-mac-ation:
Overnight the discs in your spine swell with fluid. It’s a natural repairing mechanism that your spine goes through overnight. During the day the fluid levels in your discs are decreased but throughout the day they fill and decompress from your daily activity. Morning back pain is dramatically affected by this over-hydrated state which is why it’s super important to limit certain activities first thing in the morning. Everything you do is heightened due to this increase in fluid in the discs. The activities you choose to do within the first 1-2 hours of your day are extremely critical in fixing a hurt back.
Stop Doing These 5 Things if Your Experiencing Morning Back Pain.
One of the best things you can do for yourself within that first hour after you wake up is to reduce the amount of bending you do. This is huge when it comes to keeping the inflammation in your back down. Things like putting your shoes and socks on, cleaning or any other bending activity needs to be stopped. For busybodies like me this is probably the hardest thing to do but what I have learned is to use that first hour to get all of my “standing activities” done. Things like showering, making breakfast and lunch for the day, packing the truck up with whatever gear I need, etc. Whatever allows me to stay upright for the longest period of time possible I always do those first. Towards the end of my morning, I am doing things like putting on my shoes and socks, changing out of my sweat pants and into shorts or pants for work, etc. During this time I am a bit more lenient on how much bending I do.
Things to consider when you do have to bend over
ALWAYS, ALWays, Always, always remember to hip hinge. This is no joke. The American people suck at hip hinging. We would rather our discs take the massive amount of compression loads rather than using our hips to distribute the weight as God intended. It’s time that we stop sucking at this! I go over in detail how to hip hinge along with ways you can practice the hip hinge at its most basic layer. Check it out here
I remember for a while this was the most consistent mistake I would make on a weekly bases. I kick myself now because years ago before my back pain really started getting worse, I didn’t pay any mind to this simple truth. My morning routine was to be up by 5:30 am and be at the gym by 6 lifting. Keep in mind that during this time I was still squatting and deadlifting some of the heaviest weight of my career. Heed my warning! If you have to work out first thing in the morning then push it out to the last minute. Even if you have to reduce the length of time you spend at the gym just to still make it to work on time. This is especially true if you spend a lot of your time using machines or sitting on an exercise bike. Your discs need to release some of that fluid to allow more mobility back into your spine. Putting that compression load on the spine first thing in the morning is going to keep your spine in an inflammatory state. Give yourself at least an hour before you get into any full-blown exercise routine.
McGill Big 3
Wait for a second, I thought the McGill Big 3 is a must for anyone dealing with back pain! It is, but just like anything else you need to be careful during that first 1-2 hours of the morning. If you have been reading this site for any amount of time you should have noticed how often I talk about the McGill Big 3. I know for a fact that a lot of the people reading this now have been already implementing these three exercises. If you have been doing them in the morning and have also been experiencing discomfort or pain, this could be why. Even these exercises can have a negative effect on you if you abuse them. The first couple of months of doing the McGill Big 3 myself I was getting really discouraged but that was because I would do them 30 minutes after rolling out of bed and I was always in pain before I even started. I have since then switched my core training to midday or afternoon and have noticed a big difference.
If you haven’t ever heard of or seen the McGill Big 3 I will link them up for you below!
Bird Dog Skip ahead to 1:50
By now this should be a given, but just in case it’s not, we are going to briefly talk about it. Sitting is the root of all evil. Alongside a weak and unstable core, sitting holds one of the top places in major causes of back pain. It doesn’t matter how straight you sit or how much money you spent on your chair. It’s just not good for the lower back to be under those types of loads that early in the morning. Remember, your discs are the largest they will ever be during the first 1-2 hours of your day. Any kind of further stress will put you in a lot of pain and can start your day on the wrong foot.
Activities you want to stay away from or at least put towards the end of you’re morning ritual are
Using the bathroom for too long. If nature calls answer, just don’t sit there until your legs go numb. You may start off with good intentions but it never ends well. Do your business and get out.
Sitting down to read, drink coffee, eat breakfast or watch TV. I know stopping any of those activities seems un-American but you have to remember, your trying to fix what you have spent your life breaking. You have to make some changes until you can gain control of your back pain. I’m not asking you to stop drinking coffee or eating breakfast but you have to change your posture. It’s easy to stand in your kitchen and use your counter tops as a table. Do all the same things you normally do just do them standing.
I really could go on for days listing the stretches someone dealing with morning back pain should NOT do. Starting with 90% of all yoga moves. For the sake of my mood for the rest of the day and your attention span, ill leave you with two of the most common yet worst stretches you could perform before your feet hit the ground. It’s sad, If you were to google “best stretches for morning back pain” you see these over and over again. This is because most people are teaching based on what is called your stretch receptors. It’s like a false sense of relief. It’s when you pull and stretch on these receptors while making you believe you have “lengthened” the muscle belly yet 20-30 minutes later the pain is back and worse than before. This is real-life people. If you don’t believe me do these stretches before your feet hit the floor and let me know how you feel 20-30 minutes later.
Top 2 Stretches to never do first thing in the morning.
- The infamous knees to chest. Now listen, if you have ZERO back pain this can be a great groin and hammy stretch post-workout but I still wouldn’t suggest you do it first thing in the am. The compression loads on discs that are super hydrated are still bad which could end up putting you on the “bad backlist”. For those of you with morning back pain do not be fooled by the false sense of relief this stretch brings.
2) Side to side twisting. This is bad on a few different levels. First, it’s the twisting motion that early in the morning on over hydrated discs which never ends well. This movement will only amplify the pain sensitivity in the area. Not only that, you could already be dealing with a twisting type pain mechanisms from your job. The lifting and twisting motions during the day could be causing micro separations in the discs outer rings which could lead to tears. The pain from this could give you the illusions of a tight or stiff back triggering your need to crank on the area with this stretch. Again, it will give you a false sense of relief only to bring back more pain later in the day.
The first 1-2 hours of your morning are crucial towards setting your day up pain-free. Your goal with back pain is to put the spine in positions that promote healing and recovery. I am not saying you will never be able to get into these positions or partake in morning sitting activities ever again. I am just trying to buy your back some time to heal. I promise if you make it a point to put your spine FIRST before anything you do, your body will heal and you will dramatically reduce your back pain. Give it a shot!
Thanks for reading guys!
What unorthodox stretch seems to give you relief from your chronic back pain? Let me know in the comments below!