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3 Expert Tips on Eliminating Back Stiffness in the Morning

3 Expert Tips on Eliminating Back Stiffness in the Morning

Dr. Michael Derry, DPT, PT, OCS Jacksonville, Florida
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Back stiffness in the morning is fairly common with lower back pain. I have seen many of my clients complain of back pain or stiffness in the morning. The funny thing is that we can't really measure stiffness. It's different for everyone.  As an orthopedic physical therapist, I love helping my clients get rid of their morning stiffness once and for all. This can be done by just incorporating a morning mobility routine in as little as 5 minutes! Let's check it out together.

Why Do I Have a Stiff Back in the Morning? 

There are 3 simple reasons why you could be experiencing back stiffness in the morning.

  1. You are a belly sleeper
  2. You are not stretching before bed
  3. You don't have a morning mobility routine

The first one being you sleep on your belly at night. When you sleep on your belly, your spine is in a more closed off position, or what we call extension.

Woman in Lumbar Extension While Sleeping
Lumbar Extension While Sleeping

This is a normal range of motion for our spine. However, when you stay in this position for a long period of time (like 6-8 hours while you're sleeping) you can wake up and feel pretty stiff and achy in the morning.

The second and third reason you could have a stiff back in the morning go hand in hand with one another.

You probably do not do any mobility work or stretching before bed or when you wake up!

Mobility exercises and stretching your back before going to bed and right when you wake up can drastically change the way your back feels when you get up in the morning. A lot of people tell me they have barriers to being able to do these two things.

Some people say they do not know how do stretch their back or that they do not have the time. That is why I am here! I am going to show you a simple morning and evening routine that you can do in less than 5 minutes to make sure you wake up with less back stiffness.

3 Exercises Get Rid of that Back Stiffness After Waking Up

Like I said before, stiffness is 100% perceived by you! Therefore, it is different for every person. In this routine, I am going to show you how to stretch your back and get rid of some of that stiffness in the morning.

However, when you are doing these movements, make sure to listen to your body. If you feel like you need to do less reps, that is totally fine! Just make sure you do what feels right to you!

For both of these movements, you can do them either on the floor or you can even do them before getting out of bed in the morning. Super convenient! We are going to work on the 3 main things that your spine wants in the morning: Flexion, Extension, and Rotation. Let's get into it!


Thoracic Rotation

Thoracic Rotation
Thoracic Rotation for Back Stiffness Exercise

For this movement, you are going start by laying on your side. Pull your knees up to your chest. With the arm that you are laying on, put it on your knees to allow for some leverage. Then you are going to raise your arm and open up that spine by rotating to the other side.

Thoracic Rotation
Thoracic Rotation Exercise For Back Stiffness Starting Position

You will feel this stretch in your lower back. If you hear some popping of your joints, that is totally normal. Just continue to rotate for about 5 to 6 reps. Then switch and do the other side.

Press to Prayer

Press to Prayer
Press to Prayer Starting Position
Press to Prayer
Press Up Stretch for Back Stiffness
Prayer Position
Prayer Position From the Press to Prayer Strech

You will start this movement in the table top position. Then you will move into a press position. Then come back up into table top and sit your butt back down on your feet so you are in prayer pose. Do this movement without stopping. The mobility is what is going to give your spine exactly what it wants to loosen up! Do about 5-6 reps of this exercise as well.

Cat Camel

If for some reason you are unable to do the press to prayer stretch, you can do the cat camel. This is where you start in a table top position, round your spine up to the ceiling, and then come back down.

Cat Camel Stretch
Cat Camel Stretch
Cat Camel Stretch
Cat Camel Stretch

These two movements have helped me tremendously with my back stiffness in the morning and I know that they can help you too! If you do this easy, less than 5 minute routine in the morning for about a week or so, you should be able to feel a difference in your back stiffness in the morning.

In conclusion, are you tired of waking up with back stiffness in Jacksonville, Florida? As an orthopedic physical therapist, I've seen countless clients struggle with morning discomfort. But there's good news! By dedicating just 5 minutes to a simple morning mobility routine, you can bid farewell to that stiffness. Check out the video link to learn more and take charge of your mornings today!


Cary D, Briffa K, McKenna L. Identifying relationships between sleep posture and non-specific spinal symptoms in adults: A scoping review. BMJ Open. 2019 Jun 28;9(6):e027633. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-027633. PMID: 31256029; PMCID: PMC6609073.

Dr. Michael Derry is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and board certified in orthopedics. He is very passionate about treating lower back pain and helping people build their resiliency. He has spent time assisting at universities as well as managing large clinics before starting his own practice in Jacksonville, FL.

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