What Causes a Stiff Back?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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A stiff back can be caused by overuse of the muscles in the back, a lack of conditioning of the core muscles that support the spine, arthritis, trauma-induced injuries, and many other conditions that can impact the function of the back. Poor posture can cause a stiff back as well, and people who sit at desks all day long at work are very susceptible to stiff back pain and discomfort. Using an ergonomic chair and improving one's posture can often help alleviate pain in the back and even alleviate pain in other parts of the body.

One common cause of a stiff back is arthritis, which occurs when ligaments and cartilage in a joint begin to wear out, leading to inflammation and excess movement in the joint. Arthritis can occur in any joint in the body, though it is especially common in the knees, hips, and back. There is no cure for arthritis, so pain management techniques are used for arthritis sufferers. These techniques may include taking anti-inflammatory medications, stretching regularly, exercising regularly, and applying ice or heat to the affected area. If an arthritis sufferer is experiencing a stiff back regularly, he or she should be sure to get up from the sitting position and move around regularly to keep joint movement functioning properly.


A herniated disc in the spine can also lead to a stiff back, especially if that herniation leads to other conditions such as sciatica. A herniated disc occurs when a spinal disc that sits between two vertebrae bulges, putting pressure on the nerves surrounding the spine. This can lead to nerve pain throughout the area of the body serviced by that nerve, and it can affect the way the spine moves during day to day movements. Altered movements of the spine can lead to muscle tightness or soreness, which can in turn lead to a stiff back.

Overuse of the muscles of the back can lead to pain and stiffness as well. As muscles tire, they tend to tighten up, which can lead to discomfort. Tight muscles are also more likely to become injured, since they can tear, leading to a muscle strain or rupture. Muscle strains can lead to a stiff back, and they require adequate rest as well as icing to heal properly. This recovery period can take a few days or a few weeks, depending on the severity of the muscle strain.


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Post 3

@donasmrs-- It could be a pulled or strained muscle, it could also be a herniated disc. You need to see a doctor, especially since this is something that happens often.

I have a herniated disc in my lower back. If I do something I'm not supposed to, like bending over or carrying heavy things, I also experience stiffness in my lower back and pain that resonates to my legs.

But this is not something that can be diagnosed over the internet. You need to see a doctor and get an MRI. Meanwhile, take it easy and rest.

Post 2

I've had a constant stiff lower back and back pain these past two weeks. This actually happens to me every couple of months, usually after carrying something heavy.

Does this mean that I have weak back muscles? What can I do to strengthen them?

Post 1

I get a stiff back if I sleep on a bad mattress. I have an orthopedic mattress at home but sometimes I have to travel for work and stay at hotels. I almost always wake up with a stiff upper back when I stay at hotels.

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