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Stiff Back Causes & Treatments

If you’ve ever stood up after staying in a seated position for a long time, you’ve probably noticed some stiffness or weakness in your back. Generally this stiffness alleviates after you move for a little bit, but other times stiffness is severe and sticks around for a while. So what exactly causes back “stiffness,” and what mechanisms are at play? We dive deeper into the condition in today’s blog.

Why is My Back Stiff?

Stiffness in your upper and lower back is caused by tension in your back muscle tissues. When tension sets in, proper muscle movement becomes restricted. This tension limits your normal range of motion, which gives us the sensation that our back is “stiff.” Stiffness in your upper back is categorized as thoracic or cervical stiffness, while an issue in your lower spine is defined as lumbar stiffness.

The mechanisms behind increased muscle tension include:

  • Muscle spasm
  • Active muscle contraction
  • Muscle shortening due to poor posture

Causes of Back Stiffness

Now that you understand the body processes that lead to muscle stiffness, here’s a look at some causes of muscle stiffness:

  • Acute trauma
  • Overstress and/or Overuse
  • Poor Posture

Treatment Options for a Stiff Back

Unlike some more serious causes of back pain and discomfort, stiffness is treated almost exclusively non-operatively, unless overstress is coupled with another condition like a herniated disc. Treatment is similar to a muscle strain, so the best course of action is heat and ice for 20-30 minutes a few times day, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, massage therapy and low-impact exercises. When other conditions or injuries are present in the spine, a minimally invasive keyhole spine procedure may be the best treatment option for the patient in question.

If stiffness lingers for more than a few days, or if symptoms worsen, consult with your doctor or a certified spine specialist.