Why is your back stiffer in the morning?

You may have noticed when you wake up in the morning that your spine is more stiff than it was before you went to bed.

I’d like to explain why this happens.

Why is my back stiffer in the morning?

The intervertebral discs between our vertebrae are made up of  multiple, strong, fibrous layers called the annulus fibrosis. The annulus encases the nucleus pulposus which is a jelly like substance. This jelly substance is attracted to water.

When we wake up in the morning our spine is approximately 19mm longer than it is at the end of the day. This is because when laying down the force of gravity on our spine is less than the force of attraction of the water to the nucleus pulposus. Therefore, water is drawn into the intervertebral disc.

This increase in water in the discs reduces the ability of the spine to bend forward by between 5 and 6 degrees.  Bending stresses on the spine are increased by 300% and stress on the ligaments is increased 80%.

Sadly, the muscles don’t seem to compensate for this stiffness by restricting the lumbar spine’s bending range of motion.  Therefore, when we bend forward this increased stress on the spine increases our chance of aggravating or injuring our spine.

Thankfully, approximately 50% of increased disc height is reduced within the first hour of the day.

Should I workout in the morning?

Based on this information it is highly recommended that if you want to exercise avoid spinal based movements that involve flexing the spine or bending within the first hour.

For those with chronic lower back pain this advice holds true as well.  Do your best to minimize the amount of bending that you perform within the first hour of the day. Plan your day out, the night  before, so that the first parts of your day involve less bending and heavy lifting.  Later in the day these activities would be more appropriate.

Dr Notley

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A Spinal Manipulative Therapy or Lumbar Nerve Root Injections comparative study

Herniated discs, especially those that result in pain down the leg are troubling for  athletes, weekend warriors or just the regular Joe/Jane.  I am sure there are people who avoid seeing a chiropractor because they have been told that they have a herniated disc. They have been told by others that a chiropractic adjustment would make them worse and to not go see one.

I treat people with herniated discs, sciatic, and back pain every day.  This is what I treat the most in my practice.  Spinal Manipulative Therapy, the chiropractic adjustment,  is often a part of a person’s treatment.  It does help and this paper shows that. The paper even shows that spinal manipulation has similar effects to medical procedures.

Should you be exercising when you are feeling sick?

A couple of weeks ago I started to feel ill.  I had a cough and stuffy nose. I caught a cold.  This put a damper on my training.  I took a couple days off from my workouts and on the third day I tried to exercise but with little success.  I felt short of breath. The next day a full blown fever hit me and I couldn’t train at all that day.  Not long after that I received an email from Tribesports.com to contribute to their website and they asked me to write a post on training for sport while sick.  Interesting coincidence.

So should you exercise when you are sick?

Generally speaking if your symptoms are above your neck then moderate training/activity is acceptable during the course of the cold.  

Light to moderate walking during the common cold does not negatively effect the severity or symptoms of sports performance.  Check out http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/9140895 &
http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/9813869.  If you have  a runny nose and sore throat without a fever or general body aches and pains then intensive exercise training may be safely resumed a few days after the resolution of symptoms.

If symptoms are below the neck  then don’t train and get to bed!

If you have a flu symptoms, fever, extreme tiredness, muscle aches, dizziness, light-headedness, diarrhea, vomiting, and/or swollen lymph glands, then don’t exercise.  Once the symptoms are gone take 2 to 4 weeks to build up to your previous intense training.

Words of Caution

If you are using a decongestant an increase in heart rate will result in addition to the increase from the workout.  This may lead to shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.  This is why I stopped working out during one of my workouts during my cold.

For those with asthma exercise with cold may worsen your asthma symptoms. Diabetics may also have problems when they are sick.  Being sick results in an increase in blood sugar at rest as well as a decrease in blood sugar during activity.  Monitoring your blood sugar more closely is recommended for diabetics who are sick.

Listen to your body before you decide to train.

Dr Notley
Winnipeg Chiropractor and Athletic Therapist