Back pain is something that can strike at any time, sun up or sun down. In fact, back pain is one of the leading reasons why people of all ages need to see a doctor. But for many people, nighttime back pain is a debilitating concern.
So, what back pain gets worse at night? What are the reasons behind this? And what can be done to help alleviate the pain? Let’s start by taking a look at 4 possible causes behind back pain that occurs at night.
Possible Causes of Back Pain at Night
1. Chronic Back Pain
This is perhaps one of the more general answers to the question, “What back pain gets worse at night?” However, chronic back pain is the cause of discomfort for a large percentage of people with back pain who are just trying to rest at night. Chronic back pain is defined as back pain that lasts for an extended period of time without much or any relief.
There are many different reasons as to why somebody might have chronic back pain that gets worse at night. For some people, it’s related to their occupation. Certain repetitive movements, like pushing and pulling, can create a significant amount of strain on the back. Then, at the end of the day, the pain is often worse because the muscles have been fatigued or strained further.
Other explanations for chronic back pain include:
- Wear and tear of the spinal column
- Muscle spasms
- Pinched nerve
- Ruptured discs
Many people with chronic pain, including recurring back pain, often feel that their pain is worse at night. One explanation for this is that there are less distractions at night. Often, when people with chronic pain have too much time to sit and think about their pain, it begins to feel worse—not because they are imagining the pain, but rather because they are more in tune with it when there are no other tasks to concentrate on.
In this scenario, reaching out to others who are also struggling with the dreaded pain-induced insomnia can be a helpful resource. Not only will this offer a distraction from the heightened pain response, but it can also help people with back pain to feel less alone at night or in general.
2. Kidney Stones
Did you know that some kidney stones are only about the size of a grain of sand? While it’s true that kidney stones are typically pretty small (at least the ones that can pass on their own), these solid masses of minerals can actually cause a lot of back pain, especially if the stones are lodged in the urinary tract. For many people, this type of kidney pain gets worse lying down.
This can happen because the stone puts pressure on the area where it is stuck. Additionally, stones can stop the flow of urine through the urinary tract. As a result, the people with back pain that is related to kidney stones might find it extremely uncomfortable to shift positions, move around, or lie down.
3. Types of Arthritis
Certain types of arthritis can contribute to back pain that gets worse at night. One of these types of arthritis is called ankylosing spondylitis. As with any form of arthritis, this condition comes with inflammation of the affected areas. This means that the ligaments of the spine can become inflamed, or swollen, as well as other joints in the body.
The pain that comes with ankylosing spondylitis can be severe. This is because the inflammation prevents the spine from being able to move as it should. It can also cause the joints to fuse together. Stiffness, aches, and waves of sharp pain are all common side effects of this type of arthritis.
There are a couple of key reasons as to why this back pain gets worse at night. To start, research shows that when the connective tissue that surrounds the joints in the spine, called the synovium, is inflamed, the amount of sensitivity to the back pain increases. The inflammation can happen at any point, but commonly occurs when there’s not enough movement in the joints. As expected, physical activity is low at night when people are trying to sleep. This often results in increased pain at night and upon waking up.
It’s also important to note that just like with chronic back pain, the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis can be exacerbated by strain during the day. When it’s time to lie down to sleep, the stiffness and soreness have often reached a new high. Unfortunately, this can cause sleepless nights, which only contribute to how much pain and fatigue somebody with arthritis has the following day.
4. Spinal Tumors
In some instances, people who experience lower back pain or pain that gets worse at night might need further tests to rule out the possibility of spinal tumors. These are tumors that grow along the spinal column. The growths can be uncomfortable when you lie down and therefore cause worsening nocturnal back pain. Furthermore, they can affect the central nervous system throughout the body, which might result in symptoms such as:
- Muscle weakness
- Mid- and lower-back stiffness
- Uneven gait
- Numbness and tingling
Spinal tumors aren’t always cancerous—malignant or harmful tumors along the spinal column are even more rare than benign growths. But that being said, it’s always important to communicate with your healthcare provider if you do have back pain and especially if this back pain gets worse lying down. They will best be equipped to give you medical advice, a diagnosis, or treatment options.
Coping with Nighttime Back Pain
Now that you know what back pain gets worse at night, you can have a better approach on how to handle the pain. When it comes to nocturnal back pain, it might not be possible to get to a point where you are entirely pain free. However, there are certain things you can do to alleviate the pain. These include:
- Putting a pillow under your knees
- Change sleeping positions
- Using ice and heat to relieve pain
There are preventative measures you can take as well, like resting your back during the day or using accommodations at work to reduce the amount of wear and tear on your spine. Additionally, options like pain medication can sometimes help in the short-term—just be aware of the risks associated with stronger painkillers like opioids.
If you feel like you’ve tried all of these tactics, you know what back pain gets worse at night, and you still aren’t able to find relief, hope is still out there. The emotional and mental side of dealing with back pain, especially it prevents you from sleeping, can be just as taxing as the physical symptoms.
Joining chronic pain advocacy groups is one way to ensure that you’re not alone with your aches. Plus, if you haven’t already, be sure to connect with others through the Pain Resource Community. At the very least, when your pain keeps you up at night, you’ll have others who’ve got your back through it all.
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