Updated August 5, 2020Amid our busy, active lives, most adults experience a stiff lower back at some point. In fact, a 2017 study found that about one-quarter of US adults experienced lower back pain at least once in the last three months. Plus, low back pain is one of the most common reasons for a doctor’s visit in the US.Lower back pain ranges from acute to chronic, meaning it can last less than 4 weeks or sometimes up to 12 weeks. Chronic pain is often associated with arthritis and gradually becomes worse over time. Acute back pain lasts for a shorter period of time and is typically a result of strain or trauma to the area, which can cause the muscles in the back to seize up and spasm. In both cases, lower back tightness limits mobility and causes debilitating pain.Throughout this article, we outline some of the most common causes of lower back stiffness and simple ways you can find relief. We also highlight some more serious symptoms associated with low back pain and suggest when it is best to seek medical attention.Causes of a Stiff Lower BackAlthough a strain to the muscles or ligaments in the lumbar spine is the most common cause of lower back stiffness, there may be other more complicated reasons for this pain.Lumbar StrainAcute trauma to the lumbar spine often causes the muscles in this area to tighten up, leading to cramping and pain. This is the body’s way of protecting the muscle from further injury. The following are some of the most common causes of lumbar strain.Sitting or Standing With a Curved SpinePoor posture or sitting and standing with the spine curved for long periods of time can put pressure on the muscles in the back, leading to tension and pain. For example, sitting at your computer with your back hunched forward throughout the workday can cause a sore, stiff back.Resting on an Unsupportive MattressA sagging or broken down mattress can cause the hips to sink too far into the bed, forcing them out of alignment with the shoulders. When this happens, the natural curvature of the spine becomes exaggerated and the muscles in the back tense up.A mattress that is too soft for your body type can also cause excessive sinking. For example, heavyweight sleepers tend to sink into the bed more than lightweight sleepers. A mattress that is too soft can cause too much sinkage, forcing the spine to bow and putting pressure on the low back.Lifting Heavy ObjectsHeavy lifting without good form can cause trauma to the lumbar spine. A strain may occur near the extensors (back and buttock muscles) or the flexors (abdominal and hip muscles). When this happens, the damage to the muscles and ligaments in the spinal column may cause them to seize and spasm.Tightness Elsewhere in the BodyTight hamstrings, due to a sedentary lifestyle or poor stretching, can cause excessive spinal flexion when bending down. Excessive flexion from the spine can leave the lower back tense and sore.Hip flexors allow you to walk, bend, and turn your hips. TIght tips can cause the tissues around the lumbar spine to become inflamed and tender.OsteoarthritisThe cartilage and discs between the vertebrae work to lubricate the joints and absorb shock. Lumbar spine osteoarthritis causes this cartilage to become thin and brittle. Over time, the bones may rub against each other, causing inflammation and tightening of the lower back muscles. This condition makes it difficult to twist or bend the midsection.Rheumatoid arthritis, which can occur anywhere in the body, can also be a cause of back pain. In most cases, arthritis is due to aging and constant wear and tear on the vertebrae.Ankylosing SpondylitisAnkylosing Spondylitis is a rare form of arthritis that causes the discs between the vertebrae of the spine to swell. Over time, vertebrae may fuse, leading to stiffness and immobility. This type of arthritis typically occurs in men and is often hereditary.Herniated DiscA herniated disc occurs when one of the discs between the vertebrae bulges or ruptures. Although this can happen anywhere along the spinal cord, it is fairly common in the lower back and often occurs with trauma such as lifting or twisting. A herniated disc can cause a pinched nerve or sciatic pain. It is also frequently accompanied by a tingling sensation in the arms and hands.SciaticaThe sciatic nerve runs from the base of the low back down through the hips, buttocks, and legs. If this nerve becomes compressed, pain can radiate from the lower back and into the legs. This is called sciatica and often causes muscle spasms in the lower back as the body works to protect the area from injury. Sciatic nerve compression is often a result of a herniated or bulging disc. However, since sciatica pain can be confused with other back pains, doctors will conduct a sciatica test to determine if a pinched nerve is the source of your discomfort.Treatments for Lower Back StiffnessBefore deciding on a treatment plan, it is important to determine the exact cause of your low back pain. If your pain is deemed acute and not connected to a more serious underlying condition, you may be able to find relief with one of the following treatments.Light Exercise and StretchingIf you have severe pain, your doctor or physical therapist may advise against heavy exercise. However, in most cases, light physical activity and stretching exercises can improve your mobility and ease tension in the lower back. However, it is best to avoid any activity that involves twisting the midsection or lifting heavy objects from the floor without adequate flexibility.Keeping the body loose with light stretches can also help relieve low back tension. This is especially true for the hip flexors and hamstrings.Improve PostureTo avoid putting pressure on the spine while sitting, be sure to keep the spine straight. Roll your shoulders back and down and keep the arms even with the torso. When resting against the back of the chair, be sure the spine is kept straight and the lower back is supported. Improving posture not only eases back pain, but it also helps shoulder pain, too.Replace Your MattressThe best mattress for lower back pain keeps the body lifted and in alignment so the spine can remain neutral. When the spine rests in alignment, the muscles in the back can fully relax and release tension.Those with lower back pain tend to sleep most comfortably on a mattress that is medium to medium-firm. The firmness that is right for you will depend on your body type and sleep positions. For example, side sleepers and lightweight sleepers tend to rest more comfortably on a soft to medium mattress. Whereas, mattresses for back sleepers and heavy people are usually firmer.A mattress with a zoned support system will also protect the lumbar, prevent excess sinking, and keep this area protected from pressure points.Heat and Ice TherapyApplying heat and ice to the lower back can help the muscles in this area relax and loosen. It is best to start with cold therapy before transitioning to heat.MassageMassage therapy can help release tension and tightness in the lower back and improve blood flow. If your therapist is aware of the stiffness in your low back, they can pay special attention to this area.When to See a DoctorIf the stiffness in your lower back lasts for more than 3 to 4 weeks, and it is difficult to perform your daily activities, it is best to discuss your symptoms with your doctor or physical therapist. Your doctor may suggest physical therapy or acupuncture.Also, if your lower back pain is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, it is best to seek medical advice.Fever and sweatingExtreme fatigueInability to control bowel or bladder functionWeakness in legsPain in the eye or blurred visionFrequently Asked QuestionsIs walking good for lower back pain?Yes! Maintaining a regular walking routine can keep the ligaments and tendons in the back loose and flexible. Walking can improve mobility and relieve tension. Plus, it is a great low impact activity that can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle.How should I sleep with lower back pain?In most cases, sleeping on the back with a pillow under the knees is the best position for lower back pain. This position will keep the spine resting in a safe neutral position and alleviate tension in the back.Those with lower back pain should avoid stomach sleeping whenever possible. This position exaggerates the natural curvature of the spine and can cause the muscles in the back to clench and tighten.How do I know if my mattress is causing my back pain?If you frequently wake with back pain that continues throughout the day, your mattress may not be supporting you correctly. A bed that is more than 8 to 10 years old may have sagging and indentations that force you to rest in uncomfortable sleep positions that put pressure on the spine.Should you exercise with lower back pain?It is safe to exercise with acute lower back pain that is not connected to a more serious medical condition. In fact, exercise can improve mobility by lubricating the joints and improving blood flow. If you plan to exercise with low back pain, it is best to avoid activities that require twisting or lifting heavy objects such as equipment or weights.Is massage good for lower back pain?Massage therapy can help improve lower back pain by breaking up tension and increasing circulation. Massage is a safe, effective, and non-invasive way to find relief from back stiffness.ConclusionIn most cases, stiffness and pain in the lower back will improve over time. Our tips above can help you find relief in safe, natural ways. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet, getting proper rest, and avoiding activities that may strain the area can also help prevent lower back stiffness.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.