According to the American Chiropractic Association, half of all working Americans complain of back pain each year. Back pain is reported most frequently by adults between the ages of 30 and 50, and is usually attributed to aging, injuries or a sedentary lifestyle. Thankfully, most back pain symptoms are fleeting and disappear within a week or two. Good posture, strong back and abdominal muscles and a good mattress can all provide relief for morning stiffness and back pain.
The spine is composed of vertebrae--seven in the cervical spine or neck area, 12 thoracic (upper back in line with the chest) and five lumbar (lower back. They are separated by 23 cushions of tough tissue known as intervertebral discs which act as shock absorbers and protect vertebrae from wear and the nerves of the spinal cord from injury. A healthy spine should have a slight "S" curve; a perfectly straight back or one with excessive curvature indicates a postural problem which could contribute to back pain.
Good posture helps reduce back and neck pain, especially in office workers, those that work on their feet and anyone who lifts and carries frequently. Tight hamstrings contribute to poor posture by pulling the pelvis out of alignment. The excessively curved low back (swayback) that results can cause back tightness and pain. Bad posture can contribute to morning back and neck pain, and to headaches, compressed organs and reduced lung capacity during the day. Poor sleeping postures (such as sleeping on your stomach) can contribute to morning stiffness and pain in the shoulders and low back as well.
If pain is experienced only in the morning and you've had your mattress for 10 years or longer, it may be time to shop for a new one. You should sleep comfortably but with full spinal support whether you are a side or back sleeper. Therapists sometimes recommend a body pillow between the knees to help keep the body in alignment and relieve pressure on the sacroiliac joint. Egg crate foam mattress toppers and pillow-top mattress pads may also provide relief from morning back stiffness.
After the age of 35 or so, consistent morning back pain and stiffness could indicate arthritis. Ankylosing spondylitis is one of the more common forms of arthritis, affecting a higher percentage of males than females. The pain and stiffness of arthritis tends to be worse in the morning and is relieved by hot showers and movement. X-rays of the spine are helpful for a correct diagnosis, especially if you have a history of back problems. Some people find relief with chiropractic adjustments and/or therapeutic massage.
The muscles of the back, the abdominals and the hips all support the spine and are referred to as the "core" muscles. Strengthening the muscles that support the spine helps keep the spine in its proper position and reduce risk of sprains, strains and lower back pain. Maintain fitness with exercises that include back stretching and strengthening exercises. Instructions for core-strengthening exercises can be found in the Resources section below.