Lower back pain is a common complaint that can be accompanied by back stiffness, decreased lower back movement, and difficulty in standing. The CDC has revealed nearly 25% of US adults reported having lower back pain over three months¹.
While lower back pain is a common complaint that can last from a few days to a few weeks, some people may experience it only after bending over. This article looks at the causes, treatments, and measures to prevent lower back pain when bending.
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If you only experience lower back pain when bending over, your bent-over position is likely exerting additional strain on the lower back. This pain may be revealing hidden injuries or other underlying medical conditions.
The following are some common causes of lower back pain when bending over:
Lower back strain is a leading cause of back pain when bending over. When you strain your lower back, massive pressure is exerted on the area and causes muscles and ligaments to stretch excessively. The strain on the area may also cause inflammation that can lead to muscle spasms.
Resting your back for one to three days may help reduce pain
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen
Physical therapy exercises strengthen the back and help prevent other injuries
Spondylolysis is a stress fracture that occurs in the spinal vertebrae. The condition is common among athletes, especially those playing football or practicing gymnastics, and usually occurs due to repetitive stress. This condition is common and affects one out of every 20 people.²
Resting the back and taking NSAIDs can help with a low-grade stress fracture
Physical therapy and wearing of a brace to support the back
Surgery such as spinal fusion may be preferred if the injury is causing severe symptoms
The vertebrae in your back are surrounded by disks acting as shock absorbers to help cushion and stabilize the back. A herniated disk occurs when its soft center (nucleus) pushes through a gap in the tougher exterior (annulus).
Symptoms usually occur when the herniation compresses a nerve in your lower back. Apart from pain, you may also experience weakness in one leg and numbness in the lower back. The condition could be caused by age-related changes that lead to degeneration of the disks, thus making it easier for them to shift around.
Resting the back for three days and taking NSAIDs
Steroid injections to relieve inflammation
Surgical intervention may be preferred if symptoms persist
Sciatica is the pain or burning sensation that radiates along the sciatic nerve path running from your lower back to the buttocks and hips and down both legs. Sciatica may occur when a herniated disk, bone spur on the spine, or narrowing of the spine compresses part of your nerve.
Apart from back pain and significant leg weakness, a person with sciatica may lose control of their bowel or bladder. Some of the risk factors that trigger sciatica include being overweight and wearing ill-fitting clothing or shoes.
Surgical intervention to remove the part of the disk pressing on the nerve
Non-surgical treatments such as applying ice and heat
Physical therapy involving gentle movement and stretching exercises to relieve inflammation
Your lower back pain when bending could be caused by arthritis. The CDC has revealed that about 24% (58.5 million) people in the US have arthritis³.
Our joints are cushioned by cartilage, and when this deteriorates, the bones start rubbing against each other, resulting in pain and stiffness. Several types of arthritis could cause lower back pain, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis.
Physical or occupational therapies
Hot or cold compresses
Exercise and joint protection
Medications and sometimes surgery
Ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic inflammatory condition of the spine, affecting the joints near your pelvis and hips. A person with Ankylosing spondylitis usually experiences pain, stiffness, and general discomfort when they bend over.
If not treated early, the condition can lead to inflammatory changes that cause bones in the spinal joints to fuse.
Medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), for example, naproxen and ibuprofen
If NSAIDs cannot help, the doctor may recommend starting a tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blocker or an interleukin-17 (IL-17) inhibitor such as secukinumab (Cosentyx) and ixekizumab (Taltz)
Physical therapy can also help provide pain relief and improved strength and flexibility
Surgery may be recommended if you have severe pain or if the hip joint is severely damaged
A strained muscle occurs when your muscle is torn or overstretched. A strained muscle is usually due to physical activity, overuse, or lack of flexibility. If you have a strained muscle in your lower back, apply ice as soon as you notice the pain. Apply heat after two to three days of icing. Rest for a few days before you start gentle exercises.
If the low back pain lasts for more than one or two weeks, seek medical attention. However, seek immediate medical attention if any of the following symptoms accompany the low back pain:
Severe abdominal pains
Unexplained fever of more than 38 degrees
Loss of control of bowel or bladder
Diagnostic testing is usually preferred if the pain has lasted more than six weeks and the symptoms have not improved despite physical therapy. Diagnostic testing rules out underlying causes like undetected disk injury.
Testing and diagnostic methods include:
An X-ray shows the structure of your vertebrae and the outline of the joints. X-rays of the spine help reveal other potential causes of the pain, such as infections or fractures.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
MRI leverages powerful magnets and computer technology to produce 3D images of the body’s structure. The images can show the spinal cord, nerve roots, and the surrounding area. This helps in the search for enlargements, degeneration, and tumors.
Back pain is extremely common and can be triggered by everyday activities. There are things you can do to lower the risk of back pain when bending over.
One of the most effective ways to avoid lower back pain when bending over is to remain active through exercise. Your muscles are intended to keep moving, and if you are not in good shape, you are more likely to hurt your back and feel pain whenever you do simple movements like lifting a chair.
Additionally, exercise helps you to maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight, especially around your stomach, can put extra strain on your back.
When you practice good eating habits, you will maintain a healthy weight and avoid unnecessary stress on your body. Eating spicy and fast foods can strain your nervous system, ultimately triggering back problems.
Eat a healthy diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and dairy products.
Avoid sleeping flat on your back. The best position for sleeping is on your side. If you prefer sleeping on your stomach, place a pillow under your lower abdomen to relieve the stress on your back.
Maintain proper posture
If you spend several hours a day at your computer, be sure to work at an ergonomically correct workstation. Avoid slouching over your computer and phone as this position can damage your back. Break up long periods of sitting with healthy stretching exercises.
Smoking can cause persistent back pain, and studies also show smoking can make existing back pain worse⁴. This is because smoking narrows blood vessels, resulting in less oxygen and nutrients reaching the spine. This exposes your spine and back to a higher risk of injury.
Stress can cause your muscles to tense. Contraction of this kind can lead to back pain. You can help prevent lower back pain when bending by engaging in stress-reducing activities such as:
Lower back pain when bending can adversely impact the quality of your life. It causes a lot of pain that can prevent you from doing the activities you enjoy the most.
However, you can take immediate steps to reduce your risk of low back pain when bending by adopting simple lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, good sitting posture, and losing weight.