Updated December 31, 2020Lower back pain is a common complaint among adults. In fact, studies show that about 80% of Americans have experienced it at least once during their lifetime. A stiff lower back can be frustrating and uncomfortable, making everyday tasks and movements as simple as bending down difficult.If you are struggling with discomfort in the lower back, you may be wondering what you can do about it. The good news is there are many ways to effectively manage the stiffness and pain. In this article, we will go over some of the most common causes of a stiff lower back as well as various treatment options you can try for relief.Causes of a Stiff Lower BackThe root of back stiffness will vary widely from person to person, ranging from injury or poor posture to more complicated issues, such as autoimmune disorders. Here are some of the most common underlying causes of a stiff lower back:Lumbar StrainLumbar strain is the most prevalent reason for lower back pain. This term refers to an injury or tears to the tendons or muscles in the lower back that may result in spasms and soreness.Activities involving pulling, pushing, and/or twisting are the typical sources of lumbar strain. Lifting heavy weight incorrectly, participating in sports such as football, tennis, basketball, baseball, or golf, and even sudden awkward movements can lead to this type of strain.Poor PostureYou can develop pain in the lower back from standing or sitting with poor posture. Hunching over and leaning forward repetitively strains the spine, ultimately causing lower back stiffness. If poor posture is causing your discomfort, focus on keeping your core activated while sitting and standing to maintain a healthy position. To activate your core, gently bring your stomach towards your spine. Be mindful not to “suck in,” you should be able to breathe while your stomach is pulled in.To combat slouching when sitting for long periods of time, try to avoid leaning on the backrest of your chair and use your core to keep yourself upright. If possible, you may want to consider alternating your work hours between an ergonomically-correct sitting desk and a standing desk. Changing positions will help support the overall spine and back health. Outpatient physical therapist, Dr. Jennifer Miller, suggests, “While at work, I recommend standing, stretching, or walking once an hour.”Herniated DiscA herniated disc refers to the flattening and bulging or rupturing of the discs that sit between the vertebrae; this condition is sometimes also referred to as a bulged, slipped, or ruptured disc.Herniation can be caused by disc degeneration, genetics, or a combination of the two. It may also be accompanied by numbness and/or weakness in one side of the body, usually in one arm or leg.Tight Muscles in Thighs and HipsHamstrings and hip flexors are common culprits in back pain, as they are often tightWhen these large muscle groups become tight, they also become shorter—directly affecting the biomechanics and curvature of the lower spine.Stretching these muscles regularly will help lengthen them and reduce lower back pain.Arthritis in the SpineOver time, wear-and-tear can cause the spine to change and become arthritic. Osteoarthritis, for example, is a disease in which the protective cartilage between the joints of the spine starts to break down. This causes friction with movement, leading to pain and stiffness.Ankylosing Spondylitis is another type of arthritis characterized by inflammation in the spine that causes the fusion of adjacent vertebrae over time. The condition usually improves with exercise, but not rest.Treatment for a Stiff Lower BackCaring for a stiff lower back may include one or more of the following methods aimed at relieving discomfort, loosening the surrounding muscles, and relaxing the body.Heat Therapy: The warmth of a hot compress will help ease pain by increasing blood flow and relaxing the muscles. Make sure to have layers between bare skin and a heat pack.Cold Therapy: Ice packs are beneficial because the cold causes blood vessels to constrict. They also temporarily numb the pain and reduce overall inflammation. Make sure to have layers between bare skin and ice pack. Do not leave ice on longer than 20 minutes.Light Activity: Keeping active can be very helpful in overcoming back stiffness. Do not participate in activities that involve twisting of the back or lifting weight, until cleared by your physician or physical therapist. Stretches: Stretching exercises will help to gently improve flexibility of the back as it heals and keeps it mobilized.Massage: Massage relaxes muscle tissue, increases blood circulation, and may help some people to decrease stiffness and discomfort.Physiotherapy: With the guidance of a trained physical therapist, physiotherapy helps to restore and maintain mobility through injury prevention methods and physical rehabilitation treatment. The physical therapist will perform an examination of your range of motion, flexibility, strength, and joint mobility. Based on the exam findings, the physical therapist will provide treatments, activities, and exercises for the pain.Over-The-Counter (OTC) Pain Relievers: We suggest talking with your doctor about the best OTC medications to address your pain, but common go-to’s include acetaminophen and ibuprofen.Preventing Lower Back PainYou may be wondering what you can do to mitigate the chances of experiencing lower back discomfort. Here are some precautions you can take to safeguard yourself:Exercising RegularlyMaintaining a good, healthy physical condition will reduce the risk of injuring or tweaking your back by strengthening the muscles. Low impact exercises, such as swimming or walking, are an excellent choice because they are minimally stressful on the body’s muscles and joints.Try to avoid intense activities as these can increase the likelihood of strain and cause pain if performed incorrectly. Weightlifting and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are examples of activities to stay away from until cleared by your medical provider. It is also wise to avoid activities with repetitive movements, as this also increases your risk of injury.Warming Up and StretchingIt is vital to warm-up prior to engaging in any physical activity. Doing so will prepare the body for exercise and help increase blood flow to the working muscle(s), therefore decreasing the risk of injury or chance of muscle stiffness afterward. Stretching or walking for a few minutes before your exercise regimen can go a long way in preventing injury and pain.Sleeping on a Proper MattressThe best mattresses for back pain support your spine while conforming to the body for pressure and pain relief. Using a mattress that adequately supports the spine can make a world of difference in how your back feels when you wake up. The recommended firmness level will vary based on your sleeping position.Side Sleepers: Soft to medium mattresses are best because they provide relief and cushion for the body’s pressure points.Back Sleepers: Medium to firm mattresses are ideal, as they will keep the spine in healthy, neutral alignment throughout the night.Combination Sleepers: Medium mattresses work well because they strike a comfortable balance between cushion and support.Stomach Sleepers: This position isn’t advised because it places a lot of pressure on the spine. However, if you must sleep on your belly, firm pressure is best to keep the spine in a neutral position. Placing a pillow between your legs can also help.While there are many types of mattresses available, we recommend memory foam mattresses for back pain. Memory foam beds are highly rated by chronic pain sufferers for how they provide full-body support and pressure relief. During the first week of acute back pain, sleeping in your back with a pillow under your knees can be helpful. “If you sleep on your side, I recommend sleeping with a body pillow placed between your knees and supporting your top arm,” says Dr. Jennifer Miller. Maintaining Good PostureWhile sitting, using a lumbar support and keeping your computer workstation at eye-level will help minimize the chances of posture-related back pain. When standing, aim to have the head, shoulders, hips, and knees lined up. This will help reduce the strain on your spine.Wearing Supportive, Comfortable ShoesA good pair of footwear will help support natural spine alignment, absorb shock while walking, and ultimately, prevent back pain. It is especially important to choose shoes wisely if your occupation requires you to stand during most of the day. Avoid high heeled and worn-out shoes and instead, opt for ones that fit well, support the ankles, and provide ergonomic cushioning.Did We Help?Lower back stiffness is uncomfortable, but it is prevalent and usually treatable. There are several methods you can use to tackle the discomfort and keep it from happening again in the future.Implementing lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, sleeping on a supportive mattress, and using lumbar supports while working at a desk are good preventative steps to take. Whereas physiotherapy, stretching exercises, and using hot or cold packs are effective when treating the painful symptoms of a stiff lower back.If you are experiencing chronic pain and/or any unusual symptoms in addition to lower back stiffness, it may be time to speak with a health care provider. Together, you can address the underlying cause and evaluate the different options available to manage the pain.This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional. Comments Cancel replyLeave a CommentYour email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * Comment Name Email I agree to the Terms and Conditions of this website.