Why Does My Back Pain Get Better With Movement?

If you suffer from chronic back pain, you’ve likely noticed that prolonged sitting or lying down often makes the pain worse. But when you get up and start moving around, the pain may seem to magically improve. Why does movement help alleviate back pain? There are a few key reasons.

One reason is that movement increases blood flow. When you’re sedentary for too long, blood flow to the structures in your back slows down. This can cause muscles to tighten and spasm, ligaments and tendons to stiffen, and discs to lose nutrition. But when you get moving, blood starts pumping more vigorously again. This delivers fresh oxygen and nutrients to aid healing and loosen tight tissues. Simply standing up and walking around for a few minutes every half hour or so can make a noticeable difference.

Movement also lubricates the spinal joints. The facet joints between vertebrae have cartilage surfaces, just like other joints in the body. When you move, the joints glide and roll over each other, spreading lubricating synovial fluid. This fluid reduces friction and discomfort. Staying still for too long dries out the fluid, allowing the joints to grind and stick. Getting up and bending, twisting, and extending the spine re-lubricates the joints to ease pain.

Additionally, movement promotes the release of natural pain-relieving chemicals in the body like endorphins. Endorphins interact with receptors in the body and brain to reduce pain perception. Any moderate exercise that raises your heart rate for even 10-15 minutes can stimulate endorphin release. A short walk, some gentle stretching, low-impact aerobics, or other light activity helps provide natural pain relief.

Changing positions also shifts the load and force on the structures in your back. For example, standing upright places more compressive load on the discs, while lying down unweights and decompresses the discs. Varying positions between sitting, standing, and lying takes pressure off different areas to reduce localized fatigue and discomfort. Simply alternating between these basic postures every 20-30 minutes brings relief by redistributing mechanical stresses.

Movement further prevents stiffening and shortening of the soft tissues in the back, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Immobility allows these tissues to tighten and shorten over time, which can increase compressive forces on the discs and nerves. Moving the back fully through its range of motion periodically re-lengthens the tissues to take pressure off irritated structures.

Lastly, stretching helps relax tense muscles. Prolonged sitting often causes muscles like the hips flexors and hamstrings to tighten up. Tight muscles can pull the pelvis and spine out of alignment, contributing to back discomfort. Doing some gentle stretches reduces muscle tension and spasms to ease pain.

The key takeaway is that the spine is designed for movement. Regular motion is essential for transporting nutrients, lubricating joints, stimulating healing chemicals, decompressing tissues, and preventing stiffness. So when your back pain flares up, your best bet is to get moving. A little activity goes a long way toward providing natural, temporary relief by addressing many of the underlying causes. Just be sure not to overdo it during painful episodes and always move gently within your limits. Check with your doctor about exercises appropriate for your specific condition.