Herniated Disc: Why Does My Back Hurt Worse In The Morning?

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Why Do I Have Pain In My Back And Leg That Feels Worse In The AM When Getting Out Of Bed and After Sitting?

Back and Leg Pain

Are you suffering from pain in your leg and back? Is the pain worse in the morning as you get out of bed? Does sitting for any duration of time cause discomfort? If this sounds familiar, then you may have a herniated disc in your lower spine.

Symptoms of a herniated disc (also known as a slipped or prolapsed disc) include lower back pain, neck pain, and numbness or tingling in your shoulders, back, arms, hands, legs, or feet. 

Tell-tale signs of a herniated disc will cause problems when bending down or trying to straighten your back, and you may perhaps feel a weakening in your muscles. 

If your pain also resides across your hips, buttocks, or both legs, then the disc may be pressing on the sciatic nerve. This condition is known as sciatica. You can find out more about this condition through this sciatica page.

Usually, pain associated with disc herniation is resolved or decreased by standing, walking, and bending backwards at the waist.

What Exactly Is A Herniated Disc?

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A herniated disc refers to problems with one of the rubber-like cushions that sit between individual vertebrae. These discs are circular rings of connective tissue with fluid in the center that resembles a liquid level or ketchup packet. 

Your discs sit between each of the bones (vertebrae) that make up the bony part of your spine, constructed of a soft centre (nucleus) that is shielded by a tough, rubbery outer casing (annulus). The discs provide the backbone with cushioning and shock absorption during any upright activity. 

A herniated disc can occur in any part of the spine, whereby some of the fluid pushes out through a tear in the annulus. This tear can be caused by overstraining or gradual, age-related deterioration; also known as disc degeneration. 

As our body changes with age, your discs can't offer the same flexibility as previously possible. Your discs eventually become more prone to a herniated disc during even a minor twist or strain. 

Most individuals can't identify the exact cause of their herniated disc, although most cases are generated by using back muscles instead of leg and thigh muscles to lift heavy objects. Twisting or turning with forward bending while lifting is also a frequent cause of back problems. The same case applies to exercise. Improper form when lifting weights can commonly result in a herniated disc.

While a fall or similarly traumatic event can result in muscle pain, it has rarely been associated with herniated disc issues. 

Why Do I Have Pain When Getting Out Of Bed In The Morning And Getting Up From A Seated Position?

Back pain when getting out of bed - herniated disc

As I mentioned earlier, the discs have fluid internally at the center to assist with shock absorption. The disc is thinner/weaker at its back/outside area. 

Think of the disc as though it's a ketchup packet. If you squeeze the ketchup packet together at one end, all the ketchup goes to the other end. Should enough pressure be applied to the ketchup packet on one end, the ketchup squirts out the opposite end of the packet. 

The discs function just like the ketchup packet. If you spend too much time sitting, or you lift an object with improper lifting technique (bending at the waist - especially when done with turning or bending to the side - instead of the knees), the fluid pushes against the back outside portion of the disc.

This activity creates a bulge or a tear in the disc, which presses on (or near) the nerve. This nerve pressure is responsible for the pain down your leg. When you lie down to sleep at night or sit for any prolonged period, fluid returns to the disc causing it to take up space near the irritated nerve. This causes an increase in pain. 

On the other hand, movement reduces the amount of fluid in the center of the disc and thereby creates less pressure on the nerve. 

Bending backwards at the waist while standing, or from a position lying on your stomach, reduces the pressure on the nerve by pinching the back part of the disc and sending the fluid in the disc away from the nerve root. This action usually results in the relief of leg and back pain.

In addition, customized strengthening of the back and stomach muscles, as well as the leg muscles, will work to keep your back and leg pain from returning.

Can My Lifestyle Cause Extra Risk Of Herniated Disc?

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Yes. There are certain aspects of your lifestyle that could be increasing your risk of a herniated disc. These include your occupation, weight, genetics, and whether you smoke or not. 

Excess body weight can cause enough extra stress on your lower back that the discs begin to break down quicker. If you are over your natural BMI (body mass index), then losing weight will ease your back pain and slow down the deterioration. 

If you smoke, then you are also at further risk of a herniated disc. It is believed that the inhalation of tobacco products lessens the oxygen supply to the disc and effectively speeds up the aging process. When it comes to genetics, some people inherit predispositions that assist in developing herniated discs. 

Your occupation may also play a part in causing disc issues. If you have a physically demanding job, then you are at greater risk of developing back problems. Repetitive lifting, pushing, pulling, bending, or twisting, raises the danger of a herniated disc tenfold. 

We would advise that you find time to exercise your core muscles (muscles that support the spine) and maintain a healthy weight. By keeping to a sensible weight, you lower your chances of herniation. 

Maintaining a proper posture can also make you less susceptible to herniation. Sitting and walking correctly reduces the ultimate pressure on your spine and discs, as does using your leg muscles to lift heavy items. 

How Can I Find Pain Relief For Herniated Discs?

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Despite the fact that the pain may be excruciating initially, it is best to try and keep moving, for  instance, walking can help to relax and loosen up muscle spasm along the spine, releasing  pressure on the disc. 

It is best not to try random exercises, but rather seek guidance from a  Physical Therapist immediately. Studies show that the sooner you seek proper treatment for  Disc injuries, the sooner and more completely you return to normal. 

Should the pain have stopped you directly in your tracks, taking painkillers will help keep you moving temporarily. Please don't come to rely on painkillers though. For the likes of a herniated disc, you won't find that painkillers solve the problem. They only mask it. 

That's where we can help. The Physical Therapists at Cardin and Miller Physical Therapy are experts in treating lower back and leg pain patients. 

How Physical Therapy Can Help With Your Herniated Disc

Mechanicsburg Physical Therapy Clinic

Painkillers only mask the pain. The likes of ibuprofen and pain meds/steroids do not solve the pain or discomfort. Suffering with the pain won't make it go away by itself, either. You will not wake up and discover that the herniated disc has gone away on its own. 

Going to your doctor will likely result in a prescription for painkillers and instructions to 'come back in six weeks'. Your herniation won't have solved itself, and you will still be in pain many months later. 

Guided specialist care and precise movement will make a difference, which is where Cardin & Miller Physical Therapy steps in. Our expert staff will take the time to listen and get to know you and your situation and then recommend the next best step to take to get you back to doing the things you need, want, and love to do! 

We don't treat our patients like a number. We also develop a customized treatment plan for you and your herniated disc. What works for others may not necessarily suit you. We want to get you back on your feet again and work with you to achieve happiness away from pain and discomfort. 

Suppose your herniated disc has prevented you from joining in with family activities or has ensured that household chores, work, and commuting have become problematic. If that is the case, we'd like to help you stop missing out on life. 


Our specialists will help you get rid of your back and leg pain to return to all of the things you want and need to do. Better yet, you can return to your desired activities without worrying whether or not you are going to have pain if you try to be more active.

We accept many insurances that allow you to self-refer to us without the need for a script from the doctor. This method will save you from waiting over extended periods to see your physician and avoid surgery and medication. We can save you time and money, and fast track you back to health! 

Why not get in touch with us about how we can help with your herniated disc, back pain, and leg pain? We'd love to get to know you and start the process! 

You can find out more information on our effective back pain relief through our back pain page

We operate physical therapy clinics in Carlisle, Harrisburg, and Mechanicsburg

Steve Miller PT, C.Ped is the owner of Cardin and Miller Physical Therapy. Please contact with any questions: smiller@cardinmillerpt.com 

Steve's column also appears in the Sentinel's Thrive section biweekly and on-line via:  Cumberlink.com


Steve Miller

Steve Miller

Steve has been practicing Outpatient, Orthopedic Physical Therapy in the Central Pennsylvania region since 1994. His academic history includes undergraduate work at Central Pennsylvania College and Lock Haven University, graduate studies at the University of Findlay, and pedorthic certification from Temple University. By combining his education and years of experience, Steve has been able to provide individual physical therapy and pedorthic services to his patients for over 15 years. Steve has been to more that 20 continuing education courses during that span, with the focus being on orthopedics, pedorthic implementation, and foot/ankle injuries. He utilizes a combination of McKenzie, manual therapies, and functional exercise in the treatment of clients with all types orthopedic maladies.
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