For the last few years, I have found that if I don't exercise regularly, especially movements where my back is involved, I'm experiencing back pain and stiffness in the morning after waking up.

I know that it's probably related to my age and due to structural exhaustion from heavy manual labour to some point, but it would be interesting to know why only in the morning and why it is gone if I do my Deads and presses regularly.

  • I'm in the same boat. Late 30's, and unless I do lower back work I end up hurting within a few days. On the flip side, I know plenty of people who have lower back pain daily and they can't control it (or don't, more accurately). Mark Rippetoe made a comment in Strong Enough that he feels that your body gets used to the workload. I'd be interested in a biological reason if anyone knows of why. – Eric Dec 29 '15 at 12:32
  • I quite literally feel your pain. Don't have an answer though. – Berin Loritsch Dec 29 '15 at 13:13
  • Putting some context around it, I'm fine with injuries that I create myself and can regulate. It's a whole different ballgame from people walking around with "bad backs" who lack any knowledge and skill on how to address. I guess you can't stop being old, but at least you can be fit and old. – Eric Dec 29 '15 at 13:25
  • That are my thoughts too. I try to avoid stoping the jurney but sometimes live keeps you rebooting. However I believe knowledge about your own body is important and how to keep it healthy. one should treat it with respect - you have only one... and cant replace it. The question above has bothered me a while, but never had found a concrete answer. Appreciate your comments gents! – mitro Dec 29 '15 at 13:32
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    @mitro on a practical level I've found that I don't need to necessarily do 315 back squats to keep my back healthy. A bunch of air squats, a good hike, a long walk, 30 minutes on a kettlebell circuit, etc. Just something that causes me to use my muscles. I'm out of the gym a lot on professional business, but I can still stay back healthy if I just don't sit on my ass for two days. That being said, I still want the squat rack and a bunch of plates whenever I can get them. – Eric Dec 29 '15 at 15:48

I hurt my back in a football injury in 8th grade. Speared right in the middle of lower back. Was out a few days and have now had the exact same problem that you have for the past 20 years. My family has pictures of me stretching out and dying in lines at DisneyWorld because I wasn't able to workout on vacation.

Why do you feel better? Blood flow and muscles expanding and contracting. I find that even if I do an "arms" day that my back feels a little better after lifting, but not nearly as good as after I squat. And definitely no where near as good after I run - hard (do about 4.75 miles 30 mins - not record breaking but good for a 200lb meathead).

What do I suggest?

  • Get your body in better balance. Whether it is tight hams or quads or gluts your lower back will face the brunt of your poor flexibility. Also make sure that you keep you muscles in sync. If your back is much stronger than your chest you will bow and put pressure on areas of the lower back. Our bodies like symmetry.

  • if you aren't looking to get bigger than vary your workouts and concentrate on less weight, more reps, and better form. Often you can do this squatting and deadlifting by giving yourself just 60 seconds rest per set. Years ago I was squatting well over 600... I had a workout where I did 5 sets x12 at 245. Got them all in in less than 10 minutes. I found that this was much harder than my heavy days and I literally couldn't move the first few times I did it. The point is it emphasized working my legs instead of doing a shitload of weight and my whole body is pounded.

  • Do cardio that stretches your core. If you have lower back issues I suggest only running on grass or a treadmill. Also you should focus on your stride. The longer your stride the more you stretch out your hams and lower back. If you are lifting a lot running more than twice a week might not be doable. I suggest some sort of nautilus or elliptical that has a large range of motion for your legs (I know this rules 90% of them out), walking on an incline, or a real stair stepper machine.

  • start doing core movements a few times a week. Doing good mornings may seem anti-intuitive but doing them with really light weight (start with bar) a couple times a week can not only strengthen your lower back but also stretches your legs. And obviously you should hit your abs a few times a week (feet off floor exercises).

Your lower back issue in all likely hood is caused by a small amount of disc movement. When you work out your muscles force them back into a good place - for you. The fact is the situation will probably get worse as you get older. You will have to start incorporating smart lifting methodology, specialized cardio and core routine, along with a stretching (yoga) routine to offset the effects of aging and the years of pounding you have put on your discs.

I would also add that it really really helps to find a chiropractor that specializes in athletes. I used to go to doctors that talked about surgery and if not surgery told me everytime my back hurt to not do anything at all for 4-6 weeks (yep that made it much worse). A good sports chiropractor that understands that you are going to be active can help with alignment and stretching exercises and also deal with the 1-2 times a year your workouts don't fix the soreness.

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    I like the answer, but I'd really like it if you can back it up with some research or academic/scholarly work. – Eric Jan 13 '16 at 19:54
  • @DMoore, I know you are talking from personal experience, I would second Eric Kaufmann on some research / academic information on the biological reason ... if you could put that inside would be greatly appreciated. I´ll mark the question as answered though as I believe that the proposals you described are really helpfull. - Thanks – mitro Jan 15 '16 at 9:38
  • @EricKaufman - yea good luck with that. I was set for lower back surgery at 25. And then at 28 and 30. Almost 10 years later I live back pain free 95% of my life (yes 10-20 days a year my back hurts). I am an extremely active person - workout 4-5 times a week, hard cardio 3-4 times and sports. I have a few friends in my boat and I used to train people with back problems. The people I trained I convinced no surgery and I still get xmas cards from them saying how well they are doing.... cont – DMoore Jan 15 '16 at 15:54
  • ... cont... My point here is you can find people like me everywhere. Probably 1 out of 10-15 guys who were active in lifting and sports their whole life. Almost all are told to have surgery. So there is research and academic work. And that research is telling doctors to perform surgery which is blatantly wrong. I have friends that have had discs fused together and they aren't very mobile and are in constant pain. I think this is an area in general that modern medicine just isn't aligned right. I would never believe a doctor telling me to have anything done to my back. – DMoore Jan 15 '16 at 15:57

Age certainly has a role in your back pain, but I would move more towards your daily routine over a number of years as to why your current state is a painful and stiff one when waking up. Once upon a time when you were young and spry, you had less miles, thus there was less spinal compression and use overall upon your joints and structure. As time goes on, not only does gravity set in, but the repetitiveness of your job and habits lead to a creaky existence over time, similar to that of a car not being properly serviced. Also like an old car not being serviced, it has trouble starting in the morning, but once it gets going, it runs through movement. Keeping with this car metaphor, a car that is taken care of "properly" runs strong and powerful for a long time.

Your remedy is to do daily hip, spinal and shoulder mobility corrective exercises (based on your current postural position) to unlock your body over time. I say over time because it took you many years to attain your current state, thus change won't happen over night. If you start on this process, over time, your mornings won't be so painful and stiff. If allowed to re-find proper function, your body will find its way back.

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  • I don't think you read the question. – Eric Jan 13 '16 at 4:40
  • my questions regarding the issue is more for the biological cause of the 'adaption' process. What causes it is obvious...how to cure it is also not the issue as I don´t feel it, if do something...:-) btw. I am a martial artist and mobility and working out is a habit I have built for many years - so everything is 'unlocked' - thanks though – mitro Jan 13 '16 at 15:29

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