Lower Back Pain When Arching Backwards: Causes And Treatments

Lower back pain is among the most common causes of pain among adults. It accounts for over 3% of emergency room visits.¹ When your back hurts, it can be uncomfortable, debilitating, and downright scary.

If you experience lower back pain when arching backward, don't panic. There can be many reasons for this type of pain, and learning what they are and how to avoid them can help improve or maintain your health and wellbeing.

Let's look at the reasons behind lower back pain and discuss what you can do about it.

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Most common causes of lower back pain when arching backward

Your lower back consists of several parts:

  • Vertebral bones

  • Intervertebral disks (a form of cartilage)

  • Muscles

  • Facet joints

  • Nerves

  • Spinal cord

  • Ligaments

  • Blood vessels

If you experience lower back pain when bending, any one of these structures could be causing you pain. Poor movements or extra pressure through these parts of the spine may occur as you arch backward. Examples of common conditions which may cause lower back pain when arching backward include: 

Muscle strains

Arching or bending your back is a normal day-to-day movement. However, if you do this while lifting a heavy object or repeatedly, you may risk overstretching your lower back muscles. Especially if you’re exercising, try warming up beforehand.

Besides pain in the lower back, the common symptoms of pulled lower back muscles include:

Lower back pain from muscle strains can seem significant, but people with this injury will tend to recover within two to four weeks. However, intermittent pain flare-ups can continue for six weeks or even longer.

What can you do?

If you think that you pulled a lower back muscle, below are some potential treatment options:

If the problem doesn't go away after several days, consider contacting a doctor. You may require further investigations or pain relief to help your muscles heal. 

Herniated disk

If you experience lower back pain when bending forward and backward, you could have a herniated disk. This injury can occur over time or after an awkward movement, e.g., lifting something heavy, bending forward suddenly, etc. While herniated disks can cause pain when bending backward, they will usually be aggravated by bending forward.

Common symptoms of a herniated disk include:

  • Pain and stiffness, particularly bending forward

  • Sciatica symptoms, e.g., numbness, tingling, burning down the leg

  • Discomfort and pain when moving

  • Weakness down the leg

What can you do?

About 90% of people who sustain disk herniation in the lower back will stop experiencing symptoms after about six weeks, even without medical treatment.² You can relieve pain by:

  • Resting for a couple of days (especially the first 24–48 hours)

  • Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatories or pain medication

  • Seeing a physical therapist

If symptoms don't go away after six weeks, you may need assistance from a healthcare professional, e.g., a physical therapist or doctor, for further investigation and treatment. In rare cases, you may need surgery.

Facet joint problems

Facet joints are located behind intervertebral disks and act as a connection between the spinal vertebrae. These joints connect between the bony parts of the back to form the spine. They help your spine bend backward and forward while preventing excessive rotation and keeping vertebrae from slipping. In short, these joints are like hinges that help stabilize your spine.

Problems of the facet joints are one of the common sources of lower back pain as you arch backward. Swelling of the facet joints from inflammation and aging can account for up to 45% of lower back pain cases.³

Symptoms of facet joint problems include:

  • Lower back pain, especially when bending backward or keeping upward

  • Stiffness in the lower back

  • Possibly sciatica symptoms, e.g., numbness, tingling, burning down the leg

  • Tight lower back or thigh muscles

What can you do?

Those that have been diagnosed with facet joint problems should consider:

People who do not respond to these treatments may consider additional treatment, including injections and surgical procedures.

Spondylolysis

If you experience sharp lower back pain when arching backward, it could be due to spondylolysis. This occurs when there is a fracture of the ‘pars interarticularis’ — the bony part of the vertebrae between the joints above and below.

Up to 7% of Americans have been diagnosed with spondylolysis.⁴ It can occur when you repeatedly extend your spine, e.g., serving in tennis or performing a cobra stretch in yoga.

Besides sharp pain, you may experience:

  • Stiffness in the lower back

  • Discomfort when arching or bending backward

  • Pain that radiates to the back of your thighs and the buttocks

  • Pain that gets worse with activity, particularly when standing

  • Pain that improves with rest, particularly when sitting

Those who have been experiencing these symptoms for several weeks or months should contact a medical professional.

What can you do?

If you have been diagnosed with spondylolysis, below are some treatments that can help manage your symptoms:

  • Using ice or heat to ease pain and spasm

  • Limiting extension or backward arching movements, e.g., cobra, shoulder press, etc.

  • Sleeping in a more reclined position

  • Over-the-counter medication, such as anti-inflammatories and pain medication

  • Attending physical therapy

In case the pain doesn't subside, contact your doctor. They may recommend stronger pain relief medications, steroid injections, and physical therapy. In rare cases, you may need to wear a brace for short periods to help with recovery.

When it comes to spondylolysis, the earlier you start the treatment, the better the outcome. If not treated promptly, the condition can lead to spondylolisthesis, where the fracture causes vertebrae to slip out of place.

Less common causes of lower back pain

Lower back pain when bending forward and backward can also be caused by:

  • Lumbar fracture - This injury can occur during trauma, especially if someone has osteoporosis. Postmenopausal women are especially at risk.

  • Pre-existing spinal condition – If you've had a previous injury, e.g., fracture or osteoarthritis, you are at a higher risk of stirring up your lower back pain.

  • Disease – Although rare, some conditions can cause lower back pain. Examples include kidney stones, infections, lupus, spinal tumors, and auto-immune diseases.

Whatever the causes of your lower back pain are, you may want to see a doctor about it. Some of these conditions could lead to serious consequences for your health and well-being when left untreated.

How to avoid lower back pain when arching backward

Keep these tips in mind to prevent lower back pain when bending backward or forward.

  • Bend your hips, legs, and squat before lifting heavy objects

  • Spend more time sitting forward rather than standing

  • Sleep with a pillow underneath the knee

  • Perform exercises to strengthen your core, lower back, and leg muscles

  • Do a complete warm-up before exercising

  • Manage your weight 

  • Stop smoking to reduce inflammation throughout the body

  • Be careful with your exercise routine. You may want to consult a physical therapist beforehand

When to see a doctor

If you feel lower back pain when arching backward, you should consider contacting a doctor if:

  • The pain is sharp and doesn't respond to over-the-counter medications

  • The pain lasts for more than two weeks and limits your day-to-day  activities

  • Unexplained weight loss

You have to see a doctor immediately if:

  • You spike a fever after experiencing lower back pain

  • Experiencing difficulty urinating and with bowel movements 

  • Losing your  strength in your arms and legs

  • You notice serious swelling and redness on your back

Under these circumstances, the first point of contact is your primary care physician or family doctor. They can refer you to a specialist like a neurosurgeon and orthopedic surgeon for further treatment in rare cases. However, they may recommend seeing other healthcare professionals instead, such as a physical therapist or chiropractor.

The lowdown

If you experience lower back pain when arching backward, it could mean anything from a strained muscle to a spine fracture. Although you can manage some symptoms at home, you should also consider contacting a relevant health professional, particularly if the pain is not getting better.

While most symptoms disappear with treatment, some lower back conditions may need more specialized treatment, including stronger medications, injections, and even a referral to a surgeon. Your physician may recommend these options depending on your situation.

Ideally, regular exercise, weight management, and kicking bad habits should be the first option for tackling most lower back problems.

Have you considered clinical trials for Lower back pain?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Lower back pain, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

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