If your morning is anything like mine, it’s chaotic. The buzzing alarm jolts me out of bed. The morning routine has been carefully planned, down to the last second. I have given myself just enough time to rush out the door and be to work on time. This means my body is instantly twisting, turning, and bending without any time to adjust. Whether you can relate to this or not, your morning routine may be causing harm to your low back.
While sleeping our body is working hard to repair itself from the previous day. The discs in your back are no exception. While you are dreaming away the night, your spinal discs are preparing themselves for another daily battle against gravity. Fluid from the spinal canal is absorbed into the disc, causing it to swell, rehydrate, and harness essential nutrients. It’s within this increased pressure that the door opens for an opportunity to hurt your back all before gulping down your first cup of coffee.
Our spinal disc are composed mainly of fluid. Rehydrating is extremely important, however it also comes with a down side. When discs reabsorb water, the pressure in the disc doubles.(1) Essentially doubling the pressure of your back in the morning. Higher disc pressure may lead to greater the risk for a disc bulge, particularly with a poor morning routine.
First Way to Ruin Your Back: Sitting
Take a minute to think about your morning routine. What is the first thing you do? My guess is something which involves sitting. Sitting is not an ideal position for our spine and there’s a lot of research to back it up. Compared to standing, sitting increases the pressure in our discs by 50-90%.(2) Think about all the activities of your morning routine that involve sitting. You may start by eating breakfast. Followed by reading the paper, checking email, or watching the news. It’s unlikely that you’re standing for those activities. You have already logged 20 minutes of sitting on a swollen disc before the sun rises.
Second Way to Ruin Your Back: Bending
There was a time when touching your toes 30 times before starting your day was a great idea. Well, I can tell you it’s likely the worst thing you can do. Other morning tasks that can cause injury: brushing your teeth, putting the leash on the dog, picking up the morning newspaper, tying your shoes. Can you name the common theme here? The correct answer is bending. Forward bending increases the pressure on your spine up to 150%.(2) Add in a swollen disc from the night before and the pressure on your spine is exponential.
Third Way to Ruin Your Back: Lifting
Finally, as I race out the door I bend down and lift my gym bag. The fact that I’m likely rushing out the door has thrown lifting mechanics to the wind. Whether it’s a gym bag or a toddler, we all lift in the morning. Mothers lift their babies out of the crib and professionals lift their computer bags. Executing a proper squat to lift in the morning while preserving neutral spine mechanics can save you from more damaging load to your spine.
Don’t be scared to step out of bed.
Whether you’re happy about it or not, getting out of bed in the morning is inevitable; however, simple adjustments can be made to minimize injury risk from a poor morning routine. First, start your day off by walking around for 10-15 minutes. Turn on the coffee pot, take a shower, walk to get the morning newspaper, or pack a lunch.
Standing is a safe way to progressively load your spinal discs. Think of standing as a way to “ring out the sponge” and let your spine “wake up” for the day. Standing and walking is a simple and effective way to protect your back before 9am. So, join me in changing your morning routine to protect your back. Mine will start with setting the alarm 15 minutes earlier!
1. Wilke, Hans–Joachim, et al. “New in vivo measurements of pressures in the intervertebral disc in daily life.” Spine 24.8 (1999): 755-762.
2. Sato, Katsuhiko, Shinichi Kikuchi, and Takumi Yonezawa. “In vivo intradiscal pressure measurement in healthy individuals and in patients with ongoing back problems.” Spine 24.23 (1999): 2468.