My lower back is stif and achy in the morning. What can I do?

Plenty! And you’re certainly not alone. More than 90% of us will experience lower­back pain and stiffness at some point in our lives.

Just bending over to tie your shoes or lifting a bag of groceries can be enough to cause a lumbosacral strain, in which the muscle fibers of the lower back are stretched or experience tiny tears.

It’s not uncom­mon to have some morning stiffness and pain with this injury, but you should feel better within a few weeks. Warm showers, heating pads, or gentle stretching may help.

Also, it’s a myth that you need to rest a strained back for weeks on end if this is more of a “use it or lose it” situation. So take it easy for the initial 72 hours of a lum­ bosacral strain, then begin to engage in gentle activity as tolerated.

After the re­covery phase, staying fit can help prevent back pain in the first place. Do plenty of core-strengthening moves. a sore back often occurs if your abs are weak and your back has to compensate to keep you upright.

To prevent future pain, look at activities in your life that could cause discomfort. Do you hunch over a com­puter and need a more ergo­ nomic work setup?

Maybe you’re sleeping in the wrong position-stomach sleeping can be bad for your back.Instead, lie on your back with a pillow under your knees, or on your side with a pillow between your knees.

If the stiffness has come on more slowly, it could be due to degenerative disk dis­ease, in which the soft cush­ions between the bones of your back shrink and stiffen over time. As with a strain, this usually improves with physical therapy and simple lifestyle modifications.

Some causes of back pain are more concerning, so if you experience pain radiat­ing down your leg, weak­ness, numbness, or fever—or if you’re just plain worried— consult your doctor.

Travis stork, MD, is an ER physician, cohost of TV’s The Doctors, and the author of The Lean Belly Prescription.
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