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How to Wake Up: 4 Back Stretches for a Better Morning

Published July 12, 2018
| Written By BackerNation Editorial Staff   | Medically Reviewed by Bridgit Kin-Charlton, CPT

If you feel pain when rising from bed in the morning, it may not be something you did overnight—rather, it may be something you didn't do when you first woke up.

Dr. Robert Oexman, director of the Sleep to Live Institute in Mebane, North Carolina, who is recognized as the industry's leading sleep expert, proposed a rather interesting question regarding our favorite hobby—“What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?”

And the answer? Stretch your back! “The greatest incidence of slipped discs occurs within 30 to 60 minutes after we wake up,” Oexman explained. “That’s because we get out of bed and immediately hit the ground running.”

Instead, Oexman recommended easing into the day with simple back stretches. Since sleeping can be difficult when your back aches, whether you have spinal stenosis, sciatica, a disc herniation or degenerative disc disease, pain sometimes leads to endless tossing and turning. Ironically, sleep is a necessary component of healing. If your muscles need to heal, you need to sleep.

“The stages of sleep also allow your muscles to relax in a way that can actually increase stress on our ligaments, spinal discs, and spinal joints,” Oexman reinforced.

Remember, things like an old mattress or even your sleeping position can place additional strain on your back overnight. Oexman recommends sleeping on your back in a neutral position—not arched, but not flat either—neutral. This takes most pressure off of your spine.

Experts advise that when side sleeping that you place a pillow in between your knees and when sleeping on your back, a pillow should go under your knees or a small, rolled-up towel under the curve of your back.

When getting out of bed in the morning, you shouldn't pop out of the bed, but instead slowly roll to the edge of your bed with knees bent, raise yourself up with your arms, drop your feet onto the floor, and elevate your body up with your arms keeping your back straight and neutral.

But before your feet touch the floor, David B. Scott, director of research at Sleep to Live works alongside Dr. Oexman, encourages a few bed stretches to warm your back muscles first.

“Hit the snooze button only once, but don’t use that time to go back to sleep. Instead, stretch out your back before you ever leave your bed,” Scott says.

Stretching allows your body to recover from unwanted bodily stress and can actually prevent the threat of further injury throughout the day.

It only takes an extra 10-15 minutes to stretch your lower back. Warming your muscles and opening your spine through back stretches can make the difference between a day riddled with pain from tightness in your back and a comfortable workday. Your body will thank you.

And, we aren't saying stretching will cure your back pain, but something as simple as adding this to your morning routine can make a difference.

Back Stretches to Do From Your Bed

Try these four back opening stretches before your feet hit the floor in the morning.

Stretch 1

• Lying on your back, bring your knees together.
• Pull your knees into your hands and rock gently from side to side
• Perform for 20 seconds.
• Then rock slowly forward and backward for 20 seconds

Stretch 2

• From the same position, lower one leg
• Take your left hand and grab your right knee.
• Let your right arm stretch toward the edge of your bed.
• Then bring the knee across your body and hold for 20 seconds.
• Repeat on the opposite side.

Stretch 3

• From the same position, bring both knees together with feet flat on the bed.
• Slowly twist knees from side to side like a metronome.

Stretch 4

• Position yourself with your hands and knees against your mattress.
• From your waist, gently arch your back towards the ceiling and then back toward the bed. Hold the upward facing arch for a deeper stretch.
• Do this for 15-20 seconds.

Updated: July 23, 2019

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  • If you spend a lot of time working in one or two positions — sitting or standing — you find that you feel a little pain shooting through the top or bottom of back. That’s when most people try to jog their memory and retrace their steps to figure out why their back is hurting. The simplest way is to check to see if your posture may not be one of them.

Contributors and Experts

Bridgit is the owner of Bdefined. She's certified as a Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor, Level I USA Weightlifting Coach, Level I Precision Nutrition Coach, and a Functional Aging.