Nature’s Cycles – And Why Low Back Pain is Worse in the AM

By: Dr. James P. Urban

This time of year drives tens of thousands of people into the mountains of the northeast and other forested areas.  Travelers spend a few weekend days seeing the turning of leaves and the seas of reds, oranges and yellows covering the hillsides and mountains.  

Typically we associate the cycle of life with the spring season and the rebirth of everything green.  Bunnies, flowers and leaf buds are the symbols of nature’s annual re-birth.

But the cycles of life happen at all times throughout nature and in all places – and even in ourselves.  We also have all sorts of cycles that we go through, of all lengths and kinds.

A peculiar cycle that we all go through impacts the spine.  And particularly those with any history of lower back difficulty.  Anyone who has seen someone struggle in the morning with low back pain has observed how they can be so much worse in the morning.  

“Just give me an hour or two and I’ll be just fine!”

Until tomorrow morning that is.

It turns out the reason for this phenomena is the cycle of the ‘smaller-than-a-maple-leaf’ intervertebral discs in your spine.  The discs in the spine naturally absorb fluid like a sponge, and your activity and upright posture during the day squeezes some of this fluid out.  When we lie down for extended periods of sleep, these thirsty little discs soak more fluid back up to keep themselves healthy.  

Unfortunately, when the spine isn’t healthy, and the tissue is already stressed and swollen, this makes for an unhappy time in the morning.  Increased pain, stiffness and sensitivity is very common.  As the excess fluid levels go down to ‘generally inflamed’ from ‘way, way,  over-stressed,’ the movement and symptoms get a little bit better too.

Interestingly enough, researchers have found that not excessively bending forward (the position where the low back is weakest) early in the AM is a good strategy for people struggling with their lower spine.  They tested this out and found that being cautious with forward bending led these people to be less symptomatic than the group given general exercise recommendations.  

So try walking first thing in the morning before anything else if this all sounds very familiar to you or someone you care about.  And consider that chiropractic is natural health care that – just like nature – allows for cycles of growth and rejuvenation to alternate with your cycles of stress.  Make the call if you or someone you know needs some springtime for those faded leaves in your spine.

1. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1998 Dec 1;23(23):2601-7. The reduction of chronic nonspecific low back pain through the control of early morning lumbar flexion. A randomized controlled trial.  Snook SH, Webster BS, McGorry RW, Fogleman MT, McCann KB.