A spine-friendly morning routine and the European Space Agency!

In “Spine Hygiene – the biggest bang for your buck!” we look at how making small changes to how you go about your usual activities will help to protect your spine. Now, we turn our attention to getting our days off to the right start.

Why is the first hour out of bed significant?
When we lie down the discs in our spine suck up extra fluid from the bones above and below them. This is entirely normal, and is how our discs receive their nutrition and hydration. When we stand up, this extra fluid is squeezed out over a period of about 45-60 minutes, and this again is entirely normal. To use a very old metaphor, first thing in the morning we have lots of extra jam in our doughnuts which makes them fat, thick and more vulnerable to being squashed. After an hour, our doughnuts are more like the ones in the bottom of the bag, flattened and less prone to leaking jam. We are at our tallest when we first get out of bed in the morning, and at our shortest when we have been upright for a day. We have 23 discs in our spine, and if each one gains or loses a single millimetre in thickness, that makes a difference of nearly an inch. If you have ever wondered why your rear-view mirror is never quite right in the morning, that is why!

So where does the European Space Agency come in?
This diurnal ‘tidal’ change in our discs is problematic for Astronauts because they never experience gravity-driven spine compression while in orbit, and left to their own devices their discs swell – like they are on prolonged bed-rest, and most astronauts experience back pain on their return from prolonged space flight. The ESA conducted some groundbreaking research at the AECC University College in Bournemouth to look at precisely this phenomenon.


In the simplest terms, your spine is stiffest and least able to tolerate bending or twisting for the first 45-60 minutes that you are upright – and this gives us 2 game-changing concepts.

1) You need to pay particular attention to how you move and the positions that you adopt for the first 45 minutes out of bed.

2) Bedrest for low back pain – which was orthodox advice for back pain 20 years ago – is bad news because your discs get fatter and fatter with time, and the pressure builds and builds. There is a limit to how much jam you can get into a doughnut before something has to give!

So now we’ll break it down and show you how to start your day. The Golden Rule is to stand up straight for the first 45 minutes out of bed. Any ‘loosening up’ exercises have to be appropriate and spine-friendly. Avoid sitting and bending as much as you possibly can!

Getting out of bed:

Turn onto your side to face the edge of the bed
Bring your knees up in front of you
Brace your tummy muscles and push up sideways into a sitting position.
Use your hips and knees to push upwards to a standing position.

Curl forwards into a sit-up position and hold it there until your vision clears and you have drunk your cup of tea

Breakfast and Coffee:
Have breakfast standing up, or possibly perched on a high bar stool. Breakfast-in-bed, while undoubtedly one of life’s pleasures, is really bad for your back. Be careful when loading or unloading the dishwasher – use the Hip Hinge technique from Spine Hygiene.

Showering and Dressing:
Be careful with washing and drying your feet. Put your foot on the edge of the bath or loo seat and Hip Hinge so that you are leaning your chest on the raised knee. The same goes for putting socks and shoes on.

Cleaning your teeth, shaving, make-up:
These are forward-bending exercises and so again you need to be using a Hip Hinge strategy. This is especially important if you are sitting, perhaps at a dressing table mirror because we know that sitting further compromises your discs.

Helpful exercises:

Cat Camel Position

Cat Camel
If you are feeling stiff when you get out of bed, then “Cat Camel” is a useful, spine friendly mobilization exercise that you can safely use to loosen things up during the first hour. Many of you may well be familiar with Cat Camel or similar from discussions with me, or from Yoga or Pilates.

Hip Hinge
This is a fundamental movement strategy that we come back to time and time again. If you are unfamiliar, follow this link to see chiropractor Phillip Snell showing you how to do it.