Let me guess: you woke up this morning with an achy lower back. Don’t be surprised if I got that right, this isn’t a magic trick – but it’s such a common problem that you can generally bet that most people will experience it at some time or other. And it’s not just a common problem, it’s also a big one as it can not only impact on the quality of your sleep, but also prevent you from doing anything useful for the whole rest of the day as you feel like you can’t move easily without experiencing a significant amount of pain.
Now if you haven’t already, the first thing you should always do is to see a doctor. Don’t read any further if you haven’t done that already as you may have a problem such as a slipped disk and thus you could easily end up accidentally making it worse.
However if the doctor can’t find anything wrong with you then they may give the problem the label ‘nonspecific lower back pain’. And if this is back pain that starts in the morning and eases up during the day, then there’s a good chance that it’s caused by a muscular problem. Read on and we’ll look at how you can reduce your discomfort if that’s the case.
Strengthening the Lower Back
This area of the spine is known as the ‘lumbar region’. It’s a rather important area too as it supports the majority of your upper body. If you sit down at work for long periods then there’s a good chance that you might have experienced muscular atrophy in that area – in other words it may have shrunk through lack of use. This then makes it incredibly easy to damage the area when picking things up, when moving suddenly or when doing anything else that might suddenly increase load in the region. As a result, you will often find that the pain sinks during the night, and you’re then left stiff and achy in the morning.
Fortunately there are a few ways you can strengthen the muscles in your lower back and thus reduce discomfort considerably. Here’s how:
• Reduce the time you spend sitting and spend more time standing – in particularly it’s good to go for walks, or you might consider investing in a standing desk to use while checking e-mails.
• Use back exercises like pelvic tilting. These involve lying flat on your back with your feet planted firmly on the floor, and then ‘curving’ the lower back into the floor. Hold for three seconds then release and repeat. Hip bridges involve raising the hips off of the ground on the other hand. You can also use ‘Supermans’ which involve lying on your front on the ground and then curving your spine to lift your head and legs up off the ground.
• Strengthen the core and legs. Other muscles in your core such as your transverse abdominis are also instrumental in supporting the spine. Likewise the leg muscles and particularly the glutes are all also important. If you’re unsure of which exercises to use then consider asking your doctor or a physio and they’ll be able to give you ‘homework’.
• If you use these exercises lightly before bed then you may actually find they can immediately reduce pain the next morning.
Choosing a Mattress
Choosing the right mattress is also very important for ensuring you wake up feeling healthy and limber. Often the problem comes from lack of support which results in the spine dipping into the bed during the night, especially when combined with angle of the pillow which can end up pushing your lower body downwards into the bed. If you think about the way we would have slept naturally in the wild, that would likely have been on a solid surface with perhaps a little grass or a few leaves as padding.
Ultimately though, different people have different preferences and you may find that you actually prefer a softer mattress. The best advice therefore is really to experiment with different types of bed yourself until you find one that works well for you.
One thing that everyone should do, is to make certain that their bed is high quality and not too old. Over time beds can deteriorate which can lead to springs digging into the back. Know when it’s time for a replacement!
Make a Night Roll
If this still doesn’t help, then you may want to consider making a ‘night roll’. This is a band designed to support your lower back while you sleep.
To make one, take an old towel or a small blanket and lay it on the bed. Next lay a belt across it so that the ends of the belt poke out just past the sides. Next you’re going to roll the towel around the belt and then sew or tape it down to create a sleeve that pads the belt. You’ll want to experiment with different folds and layers and the objective is to make the band just thick enough to fill the hollow of your spine when you’re lying on the bed. By sealing the belt you’ll be able to keep it in place and this will support your lower back to prevent it from dipping even if your mattress is a little unreliable.
Finally, it’s also important to improve your posture throughout the day. If your spine is curved while you sit at your desk or at the table then this will place unnecessary strain on the muscles and will again cause muscle ache. Practice sitting up straighter, and try folding your legs or tucking them under your chair in order to encourage this.