Why Does Your Back Hurt When You Wake Up?

Written by: Jessica Guht Reviewed by: Amy Dougherty, FNP-BC, AGAC
Jessica Guht
Categorized as Health
Jessica Guht
Categorized as Health

Waking up in the morning with back pain is typically one of the signs of getting older, and many people may just consider it to be a fact of aging. But why do we wake up in the morning with back pain?

There are many reasons why you may wake up with back pain, and, surprisingly, not many are simple facts of aging. The most common reason why you wake up with back pain is because your body is stiff from lying in the same position all night and just needs to get moving a bit to ease the pain. Additional causes of back pain can range from poor sleeping posture to pregnancy, so the ways to manage the pain also vary quite a bit.

Is It Normal to Wake Up with Lower Back Pain?

Having lower back pain after sleeping is a relatively normal experience, so it is not a cause of concern. It is quite common to have back pain at all times of the day, but especially in the morning when first rising from the bed.

Why is Lower Back Pain Worse in the Morning?

Lower back pain is often worse in the morning simply because your body becomes stiff from lying in one position for an extended amount of time. When sleeping, the body also decreases blood flow, which can also contribute to morning back pain as the blood flow increases upon waking up and moving around.

Those who experience morning back pain might not experience it every day, or even to the same magnitude every day. Some things that can increase back pain or cause it to flare-up include:

  • poor posture
  • stress
  • underlying medical conditions

What Can Cause Back Pain After Sleeping?

Sleep is a time when the body is supposed to heal and rest, so it can be confusing when you go to bed with a back that doesn’t hurt and wake up with back pain. However, there are many reasons why you may wake up with back pain.

An Old or Bad Mattress

Mattresses play an instrumental role in providing support for your body while sleeping. So, if your mattress is old or of poor quality, it might not provide the support your body needs, resulting in back pain.

The Way You Sleep

The sleeping position you lay in may be contributing to your back pain. This is especially likely if you are noticing back pain every morning. Sleeping in an inopportune way can put unnecessary pressure on your spine, which can cause the natural curve of your spine to flatten. This can then cause back strain while also putting additional pressure on your joints.

One of the sleeping positions that most commonly causes back pain is stomach sleeping.

Degenerative Disc Disease

As the body ages and experiences years upon years of wear and tear, it may develop degenerative disc disease. This is a condition where the spinal discs that reside between the vertebrae of the back begin to deteriorate.

As the vertebrae begin to rub against each other with the loss of their natural cushion, intense pain and discomfort can develop. The pressure inside the disc is higher in the morning, which is why pain might be worse upon waking up.


If you’re pregnant, it’s very common to experience back pain throughout the course of your pregnancy, starting as early as 8 weeks into it. However, back pain is most commonly a problem for pregnant women who are between 5 and 7 months pregnant.

Pregnancy can strain the lower back muscles, and after sleeping all night, this strain can cause a stiff back and tight muscles that can be quite painful.

When Should You Worry About Back Pain?

In most cases, back pain in the morning can be attributed to stiffness from staying in one position for an extended amount of time, which is why it often gets better when you start moving around.

However, if your back pain seems to be getting worse, does not go away, or is accompanied by irregular symptoms, it is wise to visit a doctor to determine if the back pain is due to a serious medical issue.

Common Types of Back Pain When Waking Up in The Morning

Lower Back Pain

This is the most common type of back pain to wake up with. Lower back pain affects 84% of people at least once in their life, with 23% of individuals experiencing it chronically. Lower back pain is most often due to added pressure on the nerves, whether from a poor sleeping position or disc deterioration.

Middle Back Pain

Middle back pain encompasses the area from the bottom of the neck to the bottom of the rib cage. A range of issues can cause middle back pain including poor posture, muscle sprains, and osteoarthritis.

Upper Back Pain

This back pain encompasses anything from the shoulder blades up and is most often the result of poor posture.

How Can You Stop Waking Up with Stiff Back Pain?

Get a New Mattress

If your mattress is old, try switching it out for a new one and see if that helps solve your back problems. As a general rule of thumb, cheaper mattresses might be more appealing price wise, but they typically lack the support your spine needs throughout the night, so be sure to choose a mattress that offers the support you need.

Change Your Sleeping Position

If you continually wake up with morning back pain and are a notorious stomach sleeper, it might be worthwhile to try sleeping in a different position.

The best positions to sleep in for your back are on the side and on your back. If you sleep on your side, place a pillow between your knees to hold your spine in proper alignment, while back sleepers should place a pillow under the knees to accomplish the same thing.

If you absolutely cannot sleep in any other position but your stomach, place a pillow under the pelvis or lower abdomen to help support your spine and keep it in its naturally curved position while also taking pressure off your back.

Morning Stretches

To help combat the back pain you experience when getting out of bed, try adding some stretches to your morning routine while still lying in bed. This can help relieve some of the pressure and increase movement in a spine that is stiff from a night spent in one position.

Lying flat on your back, reach your arms above your head as high as they can go while reaching your feet in the opposite direction. From there, bring your knees to your chest and hold your shins, rocking back and forth if that feels good. Then, sit on the edge of your bed with your feet planted on the ground and reach your arms above your head before reaching to one side and the other.

These stretches help to ease your back into movement, which can relieve some pain that results from a stiff back.

Go For a Walk

Exercise is exceptionally important when it comes to preventing back pain. Walking, in particular, is one of the best exercises to help reduce and alleviate back pain and prevent a stiff back.

Standing up and moving around is also vital for those with jobs where you remain sitting for extended periods of time. Try to get up every 30 minutes to go for a quick walk or stretch briefly.

Wear a Brace

A brace can be worn to help prevent back pain due to disc degeneration. Braces support the back and prevent the spine from sinking down on itself, causing pain.

Apply Heat

To help relieve your back pain, try using a warm compress or heating pad on the source of the pain. This can help loosen tight muscles and relieve some discomfort.

When To See a Doctor?

Back pain in the morning is common and typically resolves itself within a few minutes of moving. However, if you notice that your pain is getting worse, or if you notice any other irregular symptoms, see a doctor to try and determine the cause of the pain and rule out any serious medical issues.

Get Help from an Online Doctor

If you are not sure about the cause of your back pain, an online doctor is an excellent resource. At DrHouse you can meet with an online doctor to discuss potential causes of the pain and what you can do to help prevent and relieve it.

Key Takeaways

Morning back pain is very common and typically works itself out with the onset of movement. In most cases, morning back pain results from stiffness after the body has been in the same position all night. Additional causes include poor sleeping positions, old mattresses, pregnancy, and deteriorating discs. Back pain can affect the upper, middle, and lower back, although it is most common in the lower back.

Multiple actions can be taken to help prevent back pain in the morning, including sleeping on your side or back, using pillows as support, stretching in the morning, and wearing a brace. If you are not sure about the cause of your back pain, or if it appears to be worsening, an online doctor is an excellent resource to determine the cause of the pain and what you can do to relieve it.


DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.

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