A stiff back usually occurs due to unsupported posture or biochemical changes within the spinal tissues that may cause muscle, bone, and cartilage changes. Here are 4 common causes for a painful stiff back:

  1. Sitting in a slouched or hunched position. When you sit for a long time, the pressure within each spinal segment increases, strength in the upper and lower back muscles decreases, and nutrient supply to spinal tissues decreases. Sitting on the edge of your chair or hunched towards your computer causes even more strain on your spine—leading to stiffness and pain.
  2. Inflammatory changes in your spine. Ankylosing spondylitis: When spinal inflammation results in the gradual fusion between adjacent vertebrae, it is called ankylosing spondylitis. The condition causes progressive stiffness and chronic pain due to bony fusion in the upper and/or lower back.

    Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis is the breakdown of the protective cartilage between the facet joints at the back of your spine. As a result, your joints create more friction upon movement, causing pain and stiffness.

  3. Dehydration and shrinkage of your discs. The spinal discs are shock-absorbing pads between your vertebrae that distribute loads within your spine. Degenerative changes in the discs alter their biomechanics, such as a breakdown in fibrocartilage, loss of water, and a decrease in the disc’s height. Such changes can cause spinal stiffness, especially when bending.
  4. Tight muscles in your thighs and hips. Tight hamstrings: When your hamstrings are tight, they become shorter. Tight hamstrings can affect the curvature of the lower spine, disrupting the alignment of the spine with the pelvis. You may feel stiffness in your lower back with or without pain. The stiffness is usually more pronounced when you bend your spine forward.

    Tight hip flexors: Tightness in the iliopsoas muscle can create stiffness in the lower back. In severe iliopsoas tightness, spinal instability may occur. It is also possible for the surrounding spinal tissues to get inflamed and irritated, generating pain.

Talk to your doctor if you experience back stiffness that affects your daily activities. A doctor can help identify the cause of your back stiffness and formulate a treatment plan for the underlying condition.

This information is not intended or implied as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images or other information provided is intended for general information purposes only. Always consult with your physician for diagnosis or treatment.