Noticeable stiffness in back muscles often comes from added tension within the muscles and soft tissues that support your spine. The resulting stiffness can occur anywhere within the back. However, it occurs most often in the lower back since there’s less support and more possible sources of stress in this area. It’s usually irritated or over-stretched muscles that contribute to back spasms or stiffness. The staff at The Spine Institute in Los Angeles discuss some other possible reasons for a stiff back.
1. Facet Joint Osteoarthritis
Often affecting older adults, osteoarthritis can result in back stiffness experienced either early in the morning or later in the day. Sometimes referred to as degenerative joint disease, this condition is characterized by worn cartilage around spinal joints (facet joints). As this cartilage wears away, friction may develop between facet joints and nearby vertebrae, and it may reach a point where muscles are irritated.
2. Poor Posture
Sitting in the same position for hours at a time places added pressure on muscles that support the lower spine. Poor posture while sitting can further place extra stress on back-supporting muscles. Habits that may affect your posture include hunching while sitting, sleeping in positions that throw off spinal alignment, and routinely looking downward while using various devices. Minimize muscle strain from poor posture by:
- Taking periodic breaks to walk around and stretch
- Shifting positions while sitting or standing
- Keeping shoulders aligned with your head
Note: Better posture may also help ease back stiffness from facet joint issues.
3. Herniated Discs
When inner disc material pushes outward, it sometimes places pressure on adjacent nerve roots. Resulting pain or stiffness is often triggered by movement, especially leaning or hunching forward. Herniated disc pain can also result from prolonged sitting, poor posture habits, or not paying attention to correct form when exercising or playing sports. You may also experience muscle stiffness if disc herniation is aggregated by narrow spinal spaces (spinal stenosis) or an abnormal curvature of the spine (scoliosis). Affected muscles are often soothed by the application of heat or ice or by modifying activities.
4. Tight Hamstring Muscles
Running along the back of each thigh, the three hamstring muscles (semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris) can contribute to back stiffness when they become tight. Limited flexibility within these muscles may limit movements within your pelvis, which may contribute to inflammation and nerve irritation. Hamstring muscles can be conditioned with:
- Gentle leg stretches before exercising
- Slow, controlled yoga movements
- Hand massages or gentle rubbing motions
The risk of experiencing back stiffness can be reduced by doing simple stretching exercises. Before trying common stretches such as arm reaches, pelvic tilts, and lower back rotations, check with a board-certified spine physician in Los Angeles or consider working with a physical therapist. Frequently felt when first waking up, muscle stiffness is often temporary and will go away as you go about your normal daily activities. Report any discomfort that lingers or becomes progressively worse to your doctor.
If you’re having difficulty managing your back pain, it may be time to seek out a more effective solution. At The Spine Institute Center, we specialize in a wide array of minimally invasive procedures, including spinal fusion and spinal decompression. Los Angeles patients who want to alleviate their discomfort should give our office a call today at 310-828-7757.