Lower back pain when bending over can prevent you from more than just exercising and doing things you enjoy, it can stop you from doing essential daily tasks.
Things that you never even used to think about, like reaching on the floor to grab some dirty clothes, can send shooting pain up your lumbar spine.
In some cases this pain can become so debilitating it leaves you laying in bed, afraid to move because everything you do hurts.
We’ll help you identify the root cause of your lumbar pain when you bend over, and share some of our favorite treatment options for each condition. Let’s get you back on your feet and feeling good again. But first, we need to start with a quick anatomy lesson.
The lumbar spine
When we are talking about lower back pain, we are referring to the lumbar spine. This is the section of your spine starting at your tailbone and ranging up to your thoracic spine (which starts at your ribs).
The spine itself is a problematic bone structure, because it breaks down over time and has many working parts that can go awry. It is made up of individual vertebrae, each which have their own discs to prevent bone-to-bone contact of vertebrae.
There are also spinal erectors, which are the muscles that run along your lumbar spine. Sometimes though, lumbar pain isn’t even caused by the spine. It can be caused by issues in your hamstrings, hips, SI joint, or any of the organs surrounding your spine. We’ll cover some of the common reasons you have back pain when you bend over now.
Why does my lower back hurt when I bend down?
Lower back pain when bending over can be something as simple as a muscle strain to a complex condition such as spondylolysis.
We can break down this type of pain into two different categories: muscle related or spine related. Since muscle related back pain is easier to resolve, we will start there.
Lower Back Strain
A lower back strain can cause significant pain when bending at the waist, but is the most minor of back injuries you can experience.
It is often the result of overuse, or improper body mechanics, perhaps from lifting a heavy box incorrectly. It is a situation where muscles and/or ligaments are stretched excessively, and leads to tons of inflammation and thus, pain.
Treatment of a lower back strain is usually just bed rest for a few days with ice. After that, you should start getting blood moving in the area, by using heat packs, lower back stretches and starting to walk around. Throughout the first week or so, antiinflammatories can help calm things down.
After a short period, this issue should resolve itself, but in severe cases, you may want to seek a physical therapist to help you strengthen that area to prevent further issues.
Muscle spasms can also cause severe pain in the lower back when bending, and can even be caused by a lower back strain. They can also be the result of dehydration, poor blood flow, or nerve damage/issues.
Typically these go away on their own, but they can be remedied quickly with plenty of water, potassium, magnesium, and salt. You can also apply ice or heat, or better yet, get a massage.
Now, we are moving onto the spinal issues that can cause lower back pain when bending over. First up is perhaps one of the most painful – a herniated disc.
This is where one of the discs between your vertebrae slips from its position. The jelly-like center of the disc will burst through, causing severe pain in surrounding spine nerves. The type of pain is best described as stabbing or shooting in the lower back.
You can typically relieve the pain from a herniated disc with plenty of rest and NSAIDs, accompanied by ice and heat. Once the initial healing phase begins, you’ll need physical therapy.
Surgery is usually a last case scenario for those who do not improve after 8 weeks with regular treatment and occasional steroid injections.
This is another spinal issue that can cause excruciating pain in the lower back. Spondylosis is a stress fracture in one of your lumbar vertebrae. It is usually the result of an injury from sports, a car accident, a fall, etc.
It makes it incredibly hard to stand up strain, and the pain will radiate when bending at the hips. You may also experience pain in your hips, legs, and glutes, which typically gets worse with any physical activity. Even walking may be out of the question for a few days.
The good news is that generally, low-grade stress fractures are not a huge concern. They clear up and heal themselves within a few weeks to a few months with the help of a back brace, physical therapy, and other home care.
In rare cases, the fracture will be so severe that spinal fusion is recommended to secure the spine.
Ankylosing Spondylolis is an inflammatory condition that can take hold in the pelvis and hips. It results in severe lumbar pain when bending over. But, it also poses a second issue.
Over time if left untreated, Ankylosing Spondylolis can cause the joints in your spine to fuse. Furthermore, it will change your posture as you adjust your slouch to stay pain-free, causing a hunchback.
While this is a condition you will simply have to live with, there are ways to manage the condition.
At first, your doctor will start you on NSAIDs, before moving you to stronger drugs to manage the inflammation in your back. Some popular name brands are Humira or Enbrel.
You can also improve your range of motion and prevent fusion in your back through physical therapy.
Final thoughts on managing lower back pain when bending over
Prevention is the best medicine, so make sure you take good care of your spine. You only get one, so practice safe lifting techniques, maintain a strong core, and give yourself rest when you need it. Sometimes, there is nothing you can do to prevent a lower back issue, however, especially with age.
Most of the time these issues do resolve themselves with self care, and occasionally physical therapy. But, if you experience blood in your urine, unmanageable pain, changes in urine, or fever, see a doctor or hospital as soon as possible.
Stevie is Certified Nutrition Specialist and Certified Personal Trainer for the past 10 years. He specializes in mobility and chronic pain management. His methods have helped thousands of clients improve the quality of their life through movement.