Lower Back Pain When Bending Over

Affecting 75 to 85% of Americans at some point in life, lower back pain is a widespread problem. Unfortunately, this pain can strike with basic movements, including bending over. 

If you experience lower back pain when bending over, you may need medical care for complete pain relief. Read on to learn more about what causes back pain when bending over and how it’s treated. 

Table of Contents

Is It Normal to Have Back Pain After Bending Over?

It is not normal to have back pain after bending over. 

Bending over is a very common back pain trigger. It’s a possible symptom of various injuries and medical conditions, including:

Herniated Disc and Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease occurs when age-related wear and tear causes spinal disc damage. The discs become thinner, drier, and weaker. This can lead to a herniated disc, a condition characterized by the disc interior protruding through a tear in the disc exterior. 

Both herniated disc and degenerative disc disease can cause back pain after bending over. Bending over increases stress on the spinal nerves around the damaged disc, causing worsened symptoms.  

Other activities that can worsen herniated disc and degenerative disc disease symptoms include sneezing, coughing, and sitting for prolonged periods. 

Back Strains and Sprains

Strains and sprains are among the most common soft tissue injuries. A strain is a stretch or tear in a muscle or tendon, while a sprain is a stretch or tear in a ligament. 

Various factors can trigger a back strain or sprain, including:

  • Lifting too much weight
  • Overuse and muscle fatigue
  • Sports injuries
  • Excessive bending or twisting

With a back strain or sprain, you may experience pain and muscle spasms when you bend forward. Thankfully, these injuries usually resolve with at-home care in around two weeks. However, if your symptoms persist for more than a few weeks, visit your physician for an evaluation. 

Spinal Fractures

Spinal fractures, including stress and compression fractures, can make it difficult to bend forward. With the fracture, you may feel unable to stand with the spine in proper alignment. 

Spinal compression fractures are small cracks in the vertebrae, often caused by osteoporosis. This type of fracture makes the vertebra collapse. Parts of the bone may then press on the spinal cord and nerves, leading to nerve pain. 

Spondylolysis is the term for stress fractures in the pars interarticularis, the small piece of bone linking two vertebrae. Usually caused by repeated stress on the spine, spondylolysis is particularly common in children and teens. 

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis affects 250,000 to 500,000 people in the United States. It occurs when the spinal canal narrows, either due to injury, degenerative changes, or structural defects. 

If you have lumbar spinal stenosis, bending forward may place more stress on the lumbar spine. This can lead to worsened symptoms in some people.

However, for others, bending forward can alleviate neurological symptoms of spinal stenosis (i.e. tingling and numbness). In the bent-forward position, foraminal spaces in the spinal canal open up, potentially improving spinal stenosis pain. 

Spinal Osteoarthritis

Spinal osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition. It occurs when the cartilage in the spinal joints breaks down, causing inflammation, pain, and stiffness. With spinal osteoarthritis, you may have pain and a crunching or popping sensation when you bend over. 

Other symptoms of spinal osteoarthritis include:

  • Chronic back pain
  • Swelling and sensitivity over the spine
  • Stiffness and lost spinal mobility
  • Grinding or crunching sensation with spinal movements

Why Does My Lower Back Hurt When Bending Over?

Your lower back may hurt when bending over because of a back strain or sprain, herniated disc, osteoarthritis, or spinal stenosis. 

Less commonly, your lower back may hurt when bending over because of a spinal fracture. However, with this injury, you may find it difficult to bend over at all. 

How Do You Tell If Lower Back Pain Is Muscle or Disc?

You can tell if lower back pain is muscle or disc-related because disc pain tends to be sharp, debilitating, and radiate to the legs. Muscular lower back pain feels more like an ache.  

Lower back pain from a spinal disc often involves neurological symptoms, like tingling, numbness, and leg muscle weakness. Lower back pain from an injured spinal disc tends to be more severe than muscular pain. Additionally, while muscle pain will likely resolve within a few weeks, spinal disc pain often needs professional medical care. 

Muscular lower back pain may feel like exercise-related soreness or achiness. It may also be accommodated by muscle spasms. Home remedies like rest, heat and cold therapy, and anti-inflammatory medications are often sufficient to treat this type of pain. 

Severe Lower Back Pain Treatment Options

Severe lower back pain treatment options include physical therapy, spinal injections, prescription medications, and surgery. 

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy helps with severe lower back pain from all types of conditions. It involves targeted stretching and strengthening exercises to reduce muscle tension and improve muscular support for the spine. Many physical therapists also implement alternative therapies for lower back pain:

  • Acupuncture
  • Massage therapy
  • Electrical stimulation 

Spinal Injections

Spinal injections (like epidural steroid injections and nerve blocks) can help alleviate severe lower back pain. They work by reducing inflammation at the site of the injection, which may reduce the stress on spinal nerves. While often effective as a short-term remedy, spinal injections must be used in moderation to prevent muscle atrophy. 

Prescription Medications

Prescription analgesics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and muscle relaxants can help manage severe lower back pain symptoms. Usually combined with physical therapy and lifestyle modifications, prescription medications are often implemented as part of a well-rounded back pain treatment plan. 

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Surgery for Severe Lower Back Pain

If you continue to experience severe lower back pain (despite treatment) for six to 12 months, it’s time to consider surgery. Spinal decompression surgery can alleviate back pain and neurological symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis, herniated disc, spondylolisthesis, and related conditions. 

If you’re struggling with persistent lower back pain when bending over, contact a spinal specialist in your area for an evaluation.