Understanding the Link Between Circadian Rhythms and Lower Back Pain

Understanding the Link Between Circadian Rhythms and Lower Back Pain

Today, we’re delving into the intriguing connection between circadian rhythms and lower back pain. This topic is particularly timely for people who travel between time zones and for all of us who are affected when the time changes due to Daylight Savings time.

The Impact of Time Changes

Each year, when the time changes, I notice an influx of patients reporting increased fatigue and difficulty adjusting to the new schedule. Personally, I’m no stranger to this struggle; when my routine is disrupted, my sleep quality suffers significantly. Interestingly, this disturbance in our circadian rhythm can also contribute to lower back pain, a common issue we frequently address in our clinic.

Redefining Circadian Rhythm

First, let’s redefine what circadian rhythm actually means. Many people automatically associate it with sleep cycles and shift work. However, the National Institute of Health offers a broader definition: circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle, primarily influenced by environmental light and darkness.

Circadian Rhythms and the Body

It’s important to understand that most living organisms, including humans, possess these 24-hour cycles. While we often focus on how the brain regulates sleep, there are numerous other processes in the body that follow this rhythm, including those in our intervertebral discs.

Research has identified around 600 genes within these discs that exhibit circadian patterns, influencing their structure and function. Disrupting these cycles—through poor sleep or altered environmental factors—can lead to the degeneration of these discs, commonly referred to as degenerative disc disease. This degeneration often manifests as disorganized discs, resulting in pain and increased vulnerability to injury.

Practical Steps to Align Your Circadian Rhythm

So, how can we mitigate the negative effects of disrupted circadian rhythms? Here are a few practical steps:

  1. Maximize Exposure to Morning Light:
    • Wake up early and expose yourself to as much natural light as possible. This helps signal to your body that it’s time to be awake and active, aligning your internal clock with the external environment.
  2. Adjust Your Evening Routine:
    • Go to bed a bit earlier, especially since it gets dark earlier post-time change. This helps maintain a consistent sleep schedule.
  3. Consider Melatonin:
    • While I’m generally cautious about recommending supplements, the week following a time change might be an exception. Melatonin can aid in adjusting your sleep cycle by signaling to your body that it’s time to sleep.

By ensuring you get good quality sleep, you can help your intervertebral discs stay organized and healthy, reducing the risk of lower back pain and injury.


In summary, disrupted circadian rhythms can negatively impact your spinal health, leading to lower back pain. By strategically using light exposure and possibly melatonin, you can help realign your internal clock and improve your overall well-being.

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