Waking up with a painful back

Waking up with a painful back can be common when you sleep on unfamiliar, old or overly soft mattresses. I’ve had my fair share of sleeping on uncomfortable mattresses this summer and felt how essential it was to stretch those tight muscles as soon as possible. When you ease muscle tightness immediately after getting up, you may prevent the pain from intensifying during the day. In this blog, I discuss some of the yoga practices that have helped me. I hope they can help you too when you find yourself waking up with a painful back.

After a night on a mattress that’s too soft, I’ll personally feel discomfort in the middle of my back. Together with my neck, this is the area of my spine I have to be mindful of. Because we’re all unique, the location and severity of the pain will be different for everyone.  It follows that the yoga suggestions below may not help everyone. Even though they also target the lower back, not everyone will feel they are right. After all, everything depends on the location and the cause of your pain. Yoga therapy for back care can give you a targeted programme, with practices to release tight muscles and align your spine.  Don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss how yoga therapy can help you. You can get in touch with me here: https://beneyoga.co.uk/contact-beneyoga-yoga-therapy-chiswick/.

You will find that the practices below release more than just back muscles. The health of the spine is inseparable from the functioning of other muscular groups. On the one hand, when spinal muscles are strained, other muscle groups, such as hip flexors, gluteal and leg muscles, will tighten as well. On the other hand, their weakness or strain may even have caused the back pain to start with.

Waking up with a painful back:

When your back hurts, there is a fine line between hurting it more, which we don’t want of course, and stretching tight muscles. Please be very mindful not to cross the line and know the difference between a stretch and pain. In general, easing tight muscles means you do less than you normally would. When my back is achy, I adapt my yoga practices to include just back care elements, and I usually avoid standing poses and strong dynamic sequences. For you at home, never allow a yoga practice to hurt.

1. Release the Back muscles

Gently lengthening the whole spine, this practice is beneficial every morning. If your knees complain, go back as far as you can without hurting them.  

Start on all fours, with the knees hip-width and hands under the shoulders.

Exhale and move your hips back towards the feet.

Inhale and return to all fours.

Repeat 5-7 times and if comfortable, stay in child’s pose or semi-child for a few breaths.

2. Release the Hip flexors

The psoas muscle and other hip flexors can benefit from this simple, passive pose.

Lie on your back and bend one knee towards the chest.

Hold the knee with both hands without pulling the knee towards you. Just allow the hands to rest on the knee and the arms to feel heavy.

Spend about a minute simply breathing in this position. Feel the heaviness of the body and release the weight of the body on the floor.

Repeat with the other leg.

3. release the Hamstrings

Because the leg muscles are linked to the pelvis, they affect the spine. They tighten easily and can make the back feel even tighter. Releasing them with gentle stretches will enable the back muscles to ease as well.

Lying on your back, bend the legs to the chest and hold the right knee with both hands.

Exhale and stretch the left leg up. The leg does not have to straighten all the way, just enough to feel a comfortable stretch.

Inhale and bend the left leg again.

Repeat 5-7 times slowly with the breath, and repeat with the other leg.

Other leg muscles may be good to stretch too. You can find more leg stretches in this blog: https://beneyoga.co.uk/the-importance-of-stretching-leg-muscles/.

4. Release the Gluteal muscles

The three groups of Gluteal muscles have a complex relation to the back. A painful back will often go together with glutes that are too tight or too weak. Inevitably, these muscles have to be strengthened, but often they need some releasing first. Although by no means the only practice necessary, glute stretches can be a good place to start when the back is painful.

Lying on your back, place the right ankle above the left knee.

Either leave your left foot on the ground, place the left foot on a wall or hold the left leg towards you as in the picture.

Allow the whole back to feel supported on the ground.

Stay for up to 10 slow breaths and repeat on the other side.

5. Releasing the hip joints

Fold both knees up to the chest and place one hand on each knee.

Gently circle the knees around, away from each other, so the upper leg bone is circling in the hip socket.

This helps release tensions around the hip socket and again can soothe the back.

6. Align the whole body

This practice brings in strength and alignment for the back and pelvis. Together with the releasing practices, I find this beneficial to lengthen the lower back and align the two sides of the pelvis.

Lie on your front and bring legs and feet together.

Tuck the toes.

Hold the leg muscles strongly. You will find the knees come off the mat but the hips stay equally down.

The gluteal muscles will contract and the lower back will feel gently lengthened.

Hold this for about 5 breaths.

Relax the legs, widen the feet and turn the heels out.

Stay in this position for 5 breaths and repeat both once more.

7. Stretch the Whole body

Finally, before resting on your back with your legs bent, stretch out your legs for a few breaths. Hold your elbows and stretch them overhead and enjoy the length of the front body.

Finally, rest for at least 5 minutes on your back with the legs bent.


The pictures were taken in the wonderful Cambo Estate Gardens in Fyfe, Scotland. They are beautiful at any time of the year, and the café serves delicious vegetarian food. I get no commission for saying this, but I would highly recommend a visit when you’re in the area!

Leave a Reply