The most dangerous time of the day for developing back pain

image001Between most vertebrae, the bones in the spine, is a sponge like disc. When we are upright or bending over we increase the pressure on the disc and very slowly squeeze the water from the tissue in the discs. When we lay down the reverse happens and the water is sucked back into the disc.

The sustained pressure on the disc causes a loss of fluid, amounting to a 10% loss in disc height. The fluid loss means an individual is 1 – 2% shorter at the end of the day and the loss is made up during sleep when the discs are re-hydrated due to osmotic pressure. The average daily change in human stature is about 19mm. In effect, the discs swell during the night and are compressed during the day. So if you want to feel taller, measure your height in the first hour of the morning, before the weight of the day compresses you.

The time of day affects not only the water content of the disc, and disc height, but this in turn affects spine flexibility. As the disc fills with water it gets stiffer. As the disc loses height it gets more flexible and less prone to injury. (McKenzie, The Lumbar Spine: Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy, 2003)

In conclusion: there is an increased risk of damage to the discs of the back with bending forward in the early morning.   Research shows that 1/4 of all low back injuries happen in the first hour of the day.

In other words, it is wiser to get up slowly and let your body warm up and compress a bit before you stretch or lift anything heavy. I suggest a 15 minute walk to loosen up before you stretch forward to touch your toes or get really active. Stretching is good but you are better off doing your stretches later in the day or before you go to bed rather than first thing in the morning. It is not advisable to wake up and do aggressive stretches before getting out of bed. This little bit of advice could help prevent 1/4 of low back injuries. Take it easy, at least for the first hour in the morning and save your back.